First Impressions: Fortnite

The skies are blue and just ahead of you is land with enough grass, trees, and water to sustain any living organism inhabiting it. You hear nothing but the sounds of life in a setting most would find calming, peaceful. In this same moment, the atmosphere defies science and the once clear blue skies are now shades of purple and black. The green scenery is overshadowed by fog and debris blowing in every direction. Lightning crashes into the ground before you and snaps you back to reality. You are living in a post apocalyptic world. As your instincts kick in, you run to defend the home base you and a few other survivors have built. On your way back, you desperately tear down everything in sight to gather enough resources to fight the oncoming nightmare. You reach your base to find that the fight is already taking place.

The monsters birthed by the storm are coming through in waves attempting to destroy your fort. You craft a weapon as quickly as you can, making sure you have enough bullets to fight off the horde of fiends. You shoot down the monsters known as husks until you realize that your gun is damaged. As you take a few seconds to catch your breath, you can see more husks coming for you and your team on the horizon.

Now you must craft stronger weapons with ammo, build more walls with stronger materials, and set elusive traps to slow them down or eliminate them all together. Among all the choices you can make, the objective stays the same. You must defend your fort.

I imagine this is what Epic Games wants Fortnite to be. And while they do execute on these points, I left every mission expecting more.

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Before I express my thoughts on my experiences with Fortnite, I should first give you a little info on this passion project by Epic Games.

Fortnite is a sandbox survival game developed by Epic and People Can Fly. It can definitely be described as “unique“, straying away from Epic Games’ usual concepts. Fortnite was first announced during the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards, just three weeks after the devs came up with the idea. Epic stated they wanted to “switch things up a little bit and do something different and fun.” That said, it’s taken a while to get the game to this point, releasing closed access alpha versions as recently as 2014 and 2015.

Fast forward six years later and Fortnite is now available to the public through Early Access. There is an old saying that I think applies in this case that goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” And in all fairness, Fortnite does have a lot of good to offer.

A huge chunk of the “good” in this game is absolutely due to the simplicity of its gameplay. Simple is a key word in this game and many of its features stay within the confines of it. There is no better example of this than mining for resources. The motto here is “if you can see it, you can break it” and you should take that quite literally.

Light posts, cars, boulders, walls, RV’s – anything in plain sight can be broken down to items used for crafting, which is utterly important in a game that lives and breathes resources and crafting.

One of my best encounters with this was during a storm defense mission. After completing a few tutorial objectives, you’re allowed to roam free and add defenses to your base. I always subscribe to the notion of preparing for the worst so I built my homebase with that in mind. After adding walls, floors, and a staircase, I start the mission and the waves of husks roll in. These waves tend to feel endless with upwards of seventy husks per wave and bullets are crucial in these moments.

Through my preparations, I realize that I didn’t gather enough resources to craft more ammo, and naturally I run out of ammo. Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Scrambling, I run off in search of whatever resources I can get my hands on. I quickly find a few broken down cars and immediately mine them. As I run back I realize that if I hold the reload key it automatically crafts ammo for the gun I’m wielding. I was able to craft five or so sets of twenty-round magazines and complete the two remaining waves of husks with no problems. The fact that I was able to craft ammo on the go without hitting the inventory screen made the process of gathering resources and jumping right back into combat, a simple task.

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The third person shooting in Fortnite is impeccable. Coming from the studio responsible for the Gears of War franchise and the iconic Unreal Tournament, it is no surprise to me. From the sound of the bullet leaving the chamber to the satisfaction of getting a headshot on a pesky husk that’s inches from breaching your base, Fortnite delivers when it comes to gunplay. In a game all about choices, Fortnite does a decent job providing weapons that are both useful and fun to use. I found myself cycling through weapon schematics, going back and forth between the light machine gun and the automatic shotgun. While I enjoy the power and crowd control of the automatic shotguns, I ultimately found my true love in the defensive prowess of the sniping class.

There is nothing more satisfying for me than going on a headshot streak on a line of husks that are yards away. Although I did enjoy sniping the most, it ultimately is not a feasible option when playing single player. It just does not work to your advantage as the rate in which husks spawn increases. The same goes for melee weapons. You will find yourself opting for an assault rifle or machine gun in single player scenarios.

I understand that a game like Fortnite is designed for a multiplayer experience so these are minor issues in what is otherwise a phenomenal third person shooting experience.

The simplicity in mining, crafting and remarkable third person shooting is what ultimately makes Fortnite a decent game. I do however, have my issues with some of its other functions like the skill tree. The skill tree is where you will apply skill points for upgrades to hero classes and boosts in attributes. At first glance, the skill tree looks simple – apply the appropriate points to whichever upgrades you want and boom! Done. In a lot of ways that is the gist of it.

The only problem is that the skill tree has several tiers that are dependant on factors other than skill points. I’m talking about the research tier. This tier relies on the rate in which you collect and store research points. Research points are stored whether you’re logged in or not, and start off at a rate of 54 points per hour. There is a max storage limit and once it is reached you will have to collect the stored points in order to begin storing points again. In other words, you will have to log in to Fortnite to ensure you collect the points and restart the storage cycle. At first,  I couldn’t understand the purpose of this and it really didn’t make too much sense to have that tier work within those parameters.

Then I realized I completely forgot that Fortnite is a free-to-play game. There’s nothing wrong with this log in model and it isn’t a game-breaker for me but it seemed like a distraction and something I shouldn’t care about. Of course, after more research and talking with other players, I learned that the research tier is useful in the long run and helps increase attributes alongside the skill tree. If I played Fortnite on a more consistent basis, I would see more benefit to this system but as a casual husk killer, I don’t let it consume me.

Research tree

The most disappointing aspect of Fortnite is a personal one for me. As great as the shooting is and as creative as the crafting can be, I still find that Fortnite lacks purpose. Now, this is a game with a lot of depth in its RPG elements, and a lot of variety in its weapons and loot system. But after two weeks of doing missions and quests, I found that many of them lacked substance. See, conceptually Fortnite is really intuitive and inspired but after running a few shield home defense missions, you start to realize that the game’s randomness cannot beat some of its redundancy.

I must reiterate that this is a Free-to-Play game and I say this to keep my criticisms in check. There is only so much that can be done within this model and I understand that I will get the “Defend the Van” or “Find the Survivors” mission throughout the entirety of the game. My wish is that they were more spread out or that the husk spawns were more randomized. I wish that mission progression was a lot quicker and that things like Building the Radio Tower were more precise.

I wish that I didn’t feel like I’m always a player short when I can’t fulfill the bonus objectives. I wish I didn’t have to go to the inventory every time I needed to craft a damaged weapon that I have the schematic for.

Overall, I wish that something more could be done with the story in Fortnite. I understand that most sandbox games have no real story or plot device. That’s usually the point of the sandbox genre but Fortnite feels like it would greatly benefit from one. I also feel like it doesn’t provide the right environment for players to be imaginative in a way that other sandbox games do. It gives us just enough freedom to make the experience fun and exciting but cuts us loose right when we are beginning to mold the world into something we want. It’s a tease but the kind that makes you want more because of how great you know it could be.

At the end of the day, Fortnite has great potential. The foundation offers great minimalistic mining and crafting as well as some amazing third person shooting. With these elements currently in-game, Fortnite is a good game that becomes even better with friends. There’s still work to be done however, and Epic Games is doing a great job of engaging with players and listening to their feedback. I for one will continue to play and see how the game grows. The direction it’s heading in is good and with some tweaks, Fortnite could be great!

If you want to get your hands on Fortnite it’s currently available through an early access model that features different buy-in tiers starting at $39.99 and going all the way to $149.99. Each tier offers different incentives that range from a stack of loot llamas to rare weapons pack and more. Fortnite will also be free-to-play once it officially launches in 2018.