After a couple dozen hours spent defending Fortnite’s charming, cartoony world from its swirling, monster-filled purple storms, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the chaos of those storms and Epic’s action-focused, base-building, horde-survival game. Its genuinely fun spurts of action and smart systems swirl around with its convoluted , drip-feed progression systems in the same soupy catch-all cloud. Fortnite feels like an effort to do a little bit of everything, and keep you doing it for a long, long time, and only partially succeeds.
While still in early access, Fortnite is in an admirable and constant state of construction, with new modes and content updates. Its newest addition, the PVP-focused Battle Royale mode, is the slimmest portion of the overall package. Its an unabashed adoption of the insanely popular 100-player free-for-all on an ever shrinking map structure, tweaked with Fortnite’s brand of base building and resource harvesting that adds a new twist on the formula. Though the first frantic minutes of each map are all about scavenging for weapons as quickly as possible, afterwards, the ability to construct stairs to reach elevated caches of items, or build some quick cover when you’re stuck in the open is unique and refreshing.
Though some small quality of life mechanics are missing from Fortnite’s version of this game mode, like the exclusion of vehicles to cover long distances relatively quickly, or a system for easily sorting through a lot of loot in a small space. But this much more arcadey take feels less intimidating thanks to the lighthearted tone and arcade-y action. It seems like there’s still quite a ways to go before this mode really finds its distinct identity on the strengths of Fortnite’s fun features.
The lion’s share of Fortnite is the PVE Save the World mode, pitting you against a storm that basically wiped out the world, leaving only hordes of zombie-like Husks to deal with. The crux of that experience boils down to two parts, the third-person action gameplay where your hero pillages a neighborhood, harvesting wood, stone, and steel and scavenging ammunition and items from literally everything around you. In these 20-30 minutes missions, Fortnite is great, carefree fun, running around a giant destructible sandbox, smashing and building and looting and slaying.
Though there are several different types of missions, they all boil down to one of two formats that, while initially fun, quickly become routine and generally run five to ten minutes longer than they probably need to. Missions like Ride the Lightning, Fight the Storm, and Repair the Shelter task you with finding a point, building a base around it, and defending against the encroaching storm of monsters. On the other hand, roaming missions like Rescue the Survivors and Destroy the Encampments require you to sprint around the map completing your objectives in the allotted time.
These main mission objectives quickly become routine, but a robust series of secondary and daily side quests mean there’s always something to be looking for in addition to the main quest, which is a much needed dose of change after you’ve run the same mission 20-30 times. Though the story quest line punctuates the standard mission grind with big, unique set piece objectives, much of the experience is tearing through the same type of objective over and over.
The star of this gameplay is Fornite’s building system, which strings together floors, walls, and stairs to create any structure you can think up using your harvested building materials. Each piece can be edited on the fly for hyper specificity, like a spiral staircase, or an archway, or low wall to shoot over. It can be overwhelming at first when you’re tasked with constructing your very own base, but there’s a real sense of pride that comes from slowly constructing a mega fort complete with a hefty arsenal of traps for the walls, floor, and ceiling that can neutralize an entire horde of enemies with enough ingenuity and careful placement.
When it comes to the feelgood combat, Fortnite’s wide cast of playable heroes has something for everyone. The Soldier, Constructor, Ninja, and Outlander classes each bring their own unique abilities. For example, the Soldier can gain a boost with War Cry, the Constructor can build a BASE shield that protects your structures, the Ninja can double-jump and use devastating melee skills, and the Outlander can build giant mechanical, twin-gattling-gun-toting teddy bears to mow down the monsters. And each class has several subclasses that emphasize different aspects of the class archetype: a Brawler Ninja focuses on melee weapon damage first, while the Deadly Blade Ninja immediately starts with throwing stars that can eventually do corrosive damage.
But no matter who you choose, every character can use the wide range of swords, axes, maces, shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, and sniper rifles to murderous effect against the Husk threat. And with the color-based loot quality system, it’s genuinely thrilling to get a super-rare orange schematic from a loot box. While the majority of the monsters rely on numbers to overwhelm, those weapons come in handy when facing specialize monster archetypes: the tank, the thrower, the mortar launcher, the behemoth, the assassin, to name a few.
The other half of the Fornite PVE experience is a huge mess of overlapping progression systems, multiple different kinds of experience, currency and resources, that are all needed to increase your home base’s energy level – which is the nearest thing to traditional progression.
Fortnite has a daunting number of different forms of experience and currency required to collect and put to use. You’ll collect Hero XP, Survivor XP, and Schematic XP to level up your weapons and traps. And each respective element can be further evolved on a star system (which, of course, requires its own set of training manuals and special reagents.) But first you have to unlock the ability to upgrade your squads of survivors, heroes, and weapons through one of two different skill trees, using two different forms of experience points.
There are menus and menus full of deeply customizable elements, but it all contributes toward your home base energy level, which eventually slows to a crawl once the steady flow of loot boxes begins to dry up, requiring a significant amount of grinding work for each blip of progress. Though you can spend money to earn loot boxes, it’s not required, but I can see the appeal to get over the next progression hump.
Early Access Review
Fortnite is a fun world with great action gameplay and clever building systems, hamstrung by overlapping progression systems that force you into monotonous missions for diminishing returns. That soon tarnishes its great first impression. While the constant updates and events add flairs of new gameplay and speak to the potential of Fortnite in the long run, the longer I play it the less patience I have for its rules.