Releasing into Early Access just over a week ago, Fortnite is the resource scavenging, base building and zombie slaying game that is already surging in popularity. Developed by Epic Games, known for the Gears of War series, Fortnite has received a lot of attention and excitement even prior to launch, but is the product that was released to the public worth the price of admission?
First and foremost it must be stated that the game is a work in progress, currently available in Early Access but expected to release fully sometime within 2018. It is also going to be a free to play experience when fully released, but early adopters are charged the price of a mid-tier game.
Fortnite does a lot of things really well but it also fumbles in some pretty unfortunate ways. So here is everything fantastic and frustrating with Fortnite.
The core gameplay that Fortnite presents is actually pretty tight. You go out on missions, move around a small open map, scavenge for resources by tearing down your surroundings, build up fortresses and traps using those resources, and then fight off waves of encroaching zombies. The game is part survival, part tower defence and part third person shooter – and no single aspect of that mixture feels underwhelming or incomplete. In fact, the gameplay is incredibly comprehensive.
Merely listing the systems involved with the gameplay alone would take far too much time to do. So you’ll just have to believe me when I say there is an insane amount of content here, particularly for an Early Access release. Hours upon hours can be put into the game within its current state and even after spending those hours upon hours you’ll be barely scratching the surface of what you can do. In this respect, Fortnite is the kind of game a player could easily dedicate months of their life to which is impressive for an incomplete game.
The building aspects of the game are also hugely worthy of praise. What I would think would be the biggest challenge in creating a game like this ended up being the best implemented mechanic. Building is intuitive, easy to pick up and has a lot of variability. If you begin to play enough the building starts to become second nature, allowing you to quickly whip up fort designs without needing much thought or wasting much time. Although for the grand designers among us you can absolutely take your time and make the impenetrable fort of your dreams, complete with a maze of traps and myriad of stairs and platforms that would make M.C. Escher proud.
What annoys me to no end within Fortnite are some of the additional systems they felt the need to throw into the game. Systems that the game demands you actively partake in or else you’ll be too underpowered to engage in the actual gameplay experience. The problem isn’t that any one system is necessarily badly designed, it’s that there are so many systems that things quickly become convoluted and unnecessary. It’s almost like every developer on the team individually got to pitch their own idea for a system to be implemented into the game, and every single one got the green light. Without any exaggeration, I can safely say that I have spent more time fiddling with the out of game systems than I have actually playing the game itself, and I view this as a huge problem.
Better tutorials are needed to teach these systems if they were (god forbid) all to stick around for the final release, because in their current state they are under-explained and a google search is all but mandatory to teach the things the game fails to. UI could also do with an overhaul. I didn’t know a game could be both abysmally lacking in information and yet also be so busy and overloaded.
Also, why can’t you access your inventory from the out of game menu? That just seems like such a terrible design decision.
Stylistically and aesthetically this game is superb. I haven’t witnessed a zombie game since Plants vs Zombies that has managed to have so much vibrancy and personality conveyed through art design. Epic found their own style here with the colourful and slightly abstract design choices really managing to resonate with me. It would not surprise me in the slightest to see a string of other games take inspiration from Fortnite in the graphical side of things in the not too distant future.
That vibrancy and personality that the game creates permeates throughout the entire experience. World design, character design, weapon design – it’s all top notch. Even the ever so popular loot box has seen some drastic changes for the better with the standard chest being replaced by llama pinatas that talk to you as you bust them open to reveal your loot. My favourite llama would have to be the one who sarcastically tells you that he “always wanted to be a pile of cards” when you crack him open to access your new loot cards.
Whilst on the subject, Fortnite managed to make collecting loot feel really good – which is as scary as it is awesome. When struck, llamas can upgrade to silver rather than breaking which rewards you with better loot, and then upgrade again to gold if you’re incredibly lucky. Each piece of loot within a llama can also upgrade to a superior rarity and some llamas jackpot rewarding you with a huge amount of loot. The system gives you an endorphin rush that could rival slot machines, so much so that I’d almost consider the system dangerous. Maybe I shouldn’t have classified this under the fantastic sub-heading?
I know Fortnite is intended to be a free-to-play game, and I know that means systems have to be put in place to encourage players to spend real money. However, progression in Fortnite can get so slow and content can feel so grindy that it goes beyond even what a free-to-play game should. The game just feels like such a slow burn. Early game you run into the issue of things being too easy. You can completely avoid fort building and trap building and still succeed.
The early game is also less engaging because so much of the fun skills, abilities and interactions are locked behind progression gates. Once you advance, level up your hero, get better fort and trap building tools and get into more difficult areas, the game becomes more engaging. Unfortunately it’s not too long after you reach this point that you also reach a very steep progression curve that makes it more and more challenging to advance. And you’re no longer failing due to lack of coordination or skill, but because you don’t yet have the necessary loot dropped by llamas to allow you to move forward.
There is also no offline play, no sandbox or freeplay mode and no real Australian server (Oceanic server is based in Asia).
All in all Fortnite is a challenging game to pass judgement on. On one hand it offers features and systems I have been craving in a game for a long time. It offers and creates a style and personality I didn’t even know I wanted until it was delivered. It also presents itself as such a complete and polished experience, particularly for the survival / tower defence genre and particularly for Early Access. Yet on the other hand the game is still a bit of a convoluted mess. It’s almost like the developers got the integral part of the gaming experience perfectly and then found a way to absolutely screw up the rest.
Regardless, I intend to continue following the development of this game because it has the potential to be something great. If Epic can begin looking into how they can make Fortnite more engaging, more fun and more balanced for their player-base and focus less on how to perfectly design a free-to-play system that will milk money from their users, then Fortnite may have a seriously good future ahead of it.