Zombie games have been smacking storefronts thick and fast lately, so much so that it’s rapidly becoming a tired theme. Several times have I read “Ugh, another zombie title” on the vast webs of social media, and I’ll confess, I was beginning to feel worn out with it too, well, until I got my hands on Fortnite that is. Fortnite is a brand new co-op survival game that’s being described as an “Action Builder” that sees you taking on hordes of undead and monsters, set across a large variety of missions. The premise? 98% of the world’s population has been wiped out, and in their place, an ocean of nasty fiends is hell bent of destroying the last 2%. It’s a straight forward story, granted, but are not all zombie stories?
Regardless, let me point out that this is an early access review. Fortnite is in one long ass Beta which will lead us all the way into 2018, where it will launch as a free-to-play game. If you want to play early then you need to pony up the dough, or alternatively just wait until next year and pick up the finished product (fine tuned, might I add) free of charge. With that in mind, do note that Fortnite in its current form does not reflect final product quality, content is subject to change as the game is improved upon in due course. This review is of the early access build, and we will follow up with another review once Fortnite has departed from early access next year. Now we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get stuck in.
The aim of the game is fairly straight forward depending on how you choose to play. Fortnite supports online four player co-op, in which you’re tasked with completing set missions across procedural generated maps. You’ll be scavenging for resources by breaking down pretty much anything that’s placed in the fields of play, rescuing stranded survivors, and building structures from a vast portion of blueprints. Scavenging resources isn’t too dissimilar to how Minecraft works, being that you’ll be using your trusty pick-axe to smash cars, trees, tarmac, lampposts, buildings, and anything else that isn’t bedrock. Depending on what you lay your pick-axe into, you’ll receive specific resources that range from wood, metal, string, and heaps more.
These useful items can then in-turn be used to craft walls, floors, weapons, traps, and so on and so forth. You’ll earn blueprints by completing quests or by locating them in the environment, which can be further levelled up to produce more powerful variants. This system alone is very robust and in-depth, but it can be tricky to navigate and understand at first, due (in part) to the often overly cluttered user interface. One of my issues with the game so far is that navigating the UI seems to always produce momentary freezing, which is all the more apparent when you’re moving from tab to tab. This is something that’s hopefully addressed sooner than later, but again, this is an early access build so issues like this are to be expected.
There’s a large roster of heroes that you can work towards in the game by unlocking them, or by earning them from loot boxes that are fashioned as Llama pinatas. Heroes are spread across four classes, Ninja, Outlander, Soldier, and Constructor. Each of these heroes have their own pros and cons, so it really falls upon your play-style to find who you’re most comfortable with. Much like the weaponry, heroes can be levelled up for better stats and skills. Subclasses for each hero will also introduce an additional layer of abilities that you can take into the adventure at hand. Again, this system is very well implemented but the UI could use some extra work on the proverbial drawing board to make it somewhat more simplistic to work with.
Fortnite is quite easy to get to grips with at first and does well at feeding you with the basics of play. However this is a game that leans heavily on RNG, and when you take into account that it only gets more intricate and difficult for every mission you complete, you’re forced to gel with whatever tools and weaponry you’ve earned or crafted to see the game through. Sure, you can level up your favoured sniper or assault rifle, but if you’ve got a legendary sword that dishes up twice the damage, it makes more sense to stick to that. Mission structure is as simple as you would expect, where you’re typically required to explore the map, farm your resources, save survivors, and fortify your mission objective before the wave-based enemies descend on you like flies to an old picnic.
Regardless to the fact that the game begins with some very basic steps, it’s not long before you’re thrown in at the deep end. You’ll quickly need to work out how to build structures and make the most of your scavenged resources. When you’ve hit that nail on the head, you’re all set to step into the vast world of Fortnite and take on some truly challenging moments of play. If you manage to complete some pre-set objectives on top of your core objectives, you’ll be treated to additional points that will tally at the end of each match, hopefully earning enough to unlock one of the many different tiered chests to nab yourself some sweet loot.
I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of Garden Warfare whilst playing Fortnite. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that these are two entirely different games, but on the wave-based side of the spectrum, it falls very much inline with that comparison. The monsters and zombies you’re faced with are comical in both appearance and behaviour, and although there’s far more enemy variety in Fortnite than there is in Garden Warfare, the gameplay on this front is quite similar. Unfortunately, Fortnite suffers from a massive issue that seems to strike in the middle of a mission. Several times did I get kicked from the game and sent straight back to the home screen just as I was about to sink some shots into the unsuspecting face of the undead. It’s not only annoying, but pretty disheartening when you’ve just spent north of ten minutes farming resources. Furthermore is that when this does happen, it appears to trigger a bug that prevents you from joining back with your buddies, something that takes several attempts and disconnects to overcome.
This, along with the previously mentioned issue with the UI, needs to be addressed as soon as possible. I can’t say that I haven’t had a good time with Fortnite, on the contrary, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, but equally disliked it just as much when dealing with these problems. Outside of that, Fortnite is well crafted and well polished. It’s certainly a game that plays better with friends, simply because you really need to coordinate and discuss actions with your team if you want the best mission outcome. I’m not saying you cant achieve this as a solo player or by playing with randoms, but it’s (for me at least) an experience that’s best served with your nearest and dearest.
Building structures does feel somewhat tedious at first, but if you submit to the clunky building controls and persevere, it becomes second nature before long. Structures that you can craft can range from sniper towers, basic defence nests, and more. Once you begin experimenting you’ll find yourself dreaming up some pretty wacky designs, all of which can be further built upon by your team to include traps, doors, and more. The possibilities, should you have enough resources, are near endless. In retrospect, you can come across the occasional player that just wants to ruin everything you do and get in your way, but for the most part, I have only witnessed players that want to game as intended.
I have to admit, for a game that’s in early access and will remain there until next year, Fortnite is a surprisingly solid experience. Each hero and weapon feels distinct, with both damage dropping over distance and weapon degradation pushing you to play it carefully and safe. With countless piles of loot to chase after, fabled chests to unlock, and general rummaging through each map to seek out hidden goodies, this alone will keep you engaged in the game for hours on end. When you take the level-up system and the skill-tree into account, it adds a decent progression path to rest upon to ensure that you feel as though everything you do has a purpose. This is all tied up by some excellent visuals and brilliant level design that’s further bolstered by some well struck voice acting, which brings a great deal of personality and energy to the cast.
Fortnite is both ambitious and massively engaging, offering up enough content and replay value to keep you engaged for tens of hours at a time. The UI could use some work and the constant disconnects are terrible, but hopefully the developers get these sorted as soon as possible, or at least certainly the latter. To sit back and digest that this game isn’t set to leave early access until 2018 and already has a staggering amount of people playing, shows how much staying power Fortnite has. It plays well, it looks great, and the systems within are brilliantly executed. It’s the perfect example of a game that constantly drags you back for that proverbial “one last try” before bed. If you can forgive the aforementioned issues, this is one addictive adventure that you don’t want to miss out on. Though even if you do, the option to join in on the fun via a free-to-play format will be waiting for you next year. No harm, no foul.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.