Fortnite enticed me with a cinematic trailer that had so much personality and charm; it reminded me of my excitement for eccentric games like Overwatch and Borderlands. Little did I know that this is a game anything but eccentric. The game has generic gunplay that gets old quickly, a lacking personality, and a very repetitive and grind heavy mission structure. This is an Early Access game so it could very well change before its full free to play release in 2018 but at its current state, Fortnite is hard to recommend as it doesn’t respect your time and quite frankly, it’s dreadfully boring.
Fortnite is a title that blends crafting mechanics and a Gears of War like horde mode, but neither feels exceptionally compelling in a genre that has been repeated time and time again since the PS3/360 era. What is most important in a horde mode shooter are the weapons, and while the controls are expectedly precise (due to Epic Games’ history with shooters), all of the arsenal available to you is incredibly dull. Generic assault rifles, pistols, and melee weapons can be used, but they all feel the same and as weapons are vital loot to collect, this is a sore problem area. It’s especially a problem when the enemies are zombies, probably one of the most generic enemies you can think of in today’s landscape. There are different types of zombies that change up the formula, but none of them feel fresh in terms of game design. Waves and waves of enemies come and you’ll have to fight them until a forced specified amount of time runs out; this is the majority of the game and man, it grows old fast. Mission variety goes like this: collect objects, rescue citizens, and fight off zombies until time runs out: rinse and repeat. There are a few novel changes to free roaming like building to get up to areas that crystals are or a whack the mole type side mission, but they get just as tiresome. Mix that up with objectives that ask you to finish missions multiple times in ever so slightly different ways every time in order to progress and you’re going to turn into a mindless zombie soon enough. It’s a shame how generic modern game design has become, and unlike other games of this ilk, the grind is not worth the generic loot.
Fortnite ties you down to a repetitive mission structure that conflicts with the gameplay. When in a party of strangers, everyone can have a different goal. Some might want to get an objective of collecting 4 tapes done and then quickly finish the mission; others might want to collect resources in a slower manner and then defend the base because that’s the only way they can maintain progress. What doesn’t help is that there are goals attached to each mission to finish in a specific time frame and also restrict the amount of objects you can craft and build on your base. Some may love to build more traps or structures on to their make shift bases for the mission, and it’s incredibly frustrating for those who want to accomplish these goals for more loot. There are multiple deep conflicts within Fortnite’s game design that need to be resolved before its full release. A free roam mode and the option of having a majority voting to proceed with the mission or not would immediately alleviate a lot of these issues.
Crafting can be quite fun, however. Making your own bases on the fly is gratifying as you create walls, stairs, and hallways to stop zombies from getting to your core. A multitude of traps can be placed on ceilings, walls, and floors that can stop zombies in their tracks, but once again you’ll see the same sort of traps over and over again. On a controller, crafting feels unintuitive at first but after getting a feel of how everything is placed, it becomes simpler. As mentioned earlier, Fortnite frustratingly rewards players who are limited in their resource use as it provides a boost to the loot you get if you follow goals that the game gives you; one mission, for example, has players only using 55 objects in one makeshift base. This is both troublesome for those who just want to build cool bases and those who want to get as much loot as possible, but with your own base, you can build as much as you want. Some players have even built huge structures by crafting and building.
Exploration of the map can also be thrilling. Despite the loot not being that interesting in Fortnite, it always feels satisfying to find a golden chest hiding underneath or behind a wall. It rewards deep exploration within houses and locations around each town. The environments are disappointingly recycled in terms of art assets (which adds even more to the tedium), but there’s nothing more satisfying than having a pickaxe and tearing apart everything in your way. The sound design of beeps going from a low register to a high register also compliments this gameplay, and it pays off with a loud crash. Every single time you hit something, it hits that itch.
This game barrages you with so many mechanics, it feels messy: huge skill trees, many crafting materials to collect around the map, schematics to follow, followers, leaders, different types of heroes, special moves, and so so much more important mechanics which can’t be counted on two hands. It would probably take a Fortnite for you to figure out.
There is a lot wrong with the game’s core design. First, collecting resources conflicts with the mission structure. You see, there is no free roam mode that allows you to go around the environment as long as you want and with that, there is a conflict of interest between players. Some may just want to get through the mission as quickly as possible so they can get loot faster, but others might want to get resources for ammo, and creating weapons or traps from schematics. As previously mentioned, players have been frustrated by the limit of objects in one given make shift base. Those who just want to build are hounded by players who want the extra loot.
Second, is the map (with a lack of a legend) and the randomized nature of loot. Symbols on the map aren’t explained, and with missions that require you to find chests, for example, it can be frustrating to randomly run around (and then get constantly stopped by characters running out of stamina) until you can hear a faint noise of treasure that doesn’t stand out at all while zombies are hovering around. Objective focused side missions are quite easy to pinpoint on the map with an exclamation mark, but it’s hard to track survivors you’ve saved/or can save.
Third, are the defenders you assign to your base. They only hold as much ammo as the weapon you drop. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s no intuitive way to reload their ammo, and it gets frustrating as they constantly harass you about how few bullets they have and how much they whine when they inevitably get knocked down from zombie onslaughts. While playing, I just don’t bother as these defenders are so god damn annoying.
Unlike other hero based games like Overwatch, this game’s characters lack witty lines, have little personality, are plain in terms of design, and repeat generic lines of dialogue. The characters are nothing like the cinematic trailer and feel just like lifeless avatars for you to control; it’s such a disappointment. Plus, you have to unlock them through loot llamas as they’re not all accessible from the start; you just get one character. Each character plays in a very similar manner as they have no weapons of their own but they have different special abilities to use and perks they can provide in battle.
Fortnite has a cartoon like style to it that is charming. Purple poison clouds are swirling in the air polluting the environment and creating zombies out of people, made up brands are around the towns you visit with mascot tomatoes and a sign shaped like a pizza, and the designs of each zombie (despite them lacking in complexity) look interesting with differently shaped bodies and deep yellow eyes; some have purple smoke steaming from their bodies. However, the game sometimes suffers from drops in frame rate likely because of the map loading in or the processes of the amount of action and zombies on screen. The soundtrack of the game also completely misses that cartoony feel that the CG trailer and the game’s art style is trying to reach. It sounds so eerie to the point of it sounding like it should be for Call of Duty‘s zombie mode instead. Plus, the beeps and boops and the ambient tones that the soundtrack consists of quickly gets annoying; after a few hours I turned it off and tried to find a podcast or a playlist of epic/upbeat music to listen to instead.
Unfortunately, Fortnite is not a game I will revisit anytime soon. It’s repetitive structure and dull combat keep the game from being wholly entertaining, but the exploration of the map and crafting your own bases is fun to play. I will give it another shake when the game fully releases in 2018.
A PC Review code (PS4 codes are given with PC version) was provided by Epic Games for the purpose of this Review