Fortnite: Impressions (Xbox One Preview)

There are a lot of sayings about home; where you make it, how you make it, is where the heart is, and whatever other cheesy pish you can mash together. What these hollow proverbs fail to really capture is how to defend said home. Thankfully, the good American folk at Epic Games have just the solution; building walls and buying more guns.

Yet, why we are defending this seamlessly innocuous piece of land kind of escapes me. Early on in the opening moments of Fortnite, we stumble into an operational command centre staffed by robots and deemed ‘The Commander’. As it transposes, The Commander is merely a vessel that affords us the mechanic of switching between a never-ending line of playable heroes. In the opening hours of the game, there is very little direction as to what has happened or why we would really want to defend these particular zones. It all feels vaguely aimless in the grand scheme of things, and with the structure as it is, very few characters leave a lasting impact beyond your trusty robotic friends – an aspect of gaming that grown more insufferable with every iteration of ‘the cake is a lie’ meme.

Thankfully, Fornite’s experience reaches far beyond that of the story, although what it’s reaching for isn’t always clear. Described as a mix between Minecraft and Left 4 Dead by one of the lead developers, it follows satisfies the basic entry level requirements to be a clone of either; an insistence on collecting materials in the pursuit of better equipment and a buttload of zombies swarming you in waves. What sets apart from these two is really what will either make you love or loathe Fortnite.

Although on the surface Fortnite appears to be a simple third person shooter with a rather simple base building twist, it also checks the box for an endless loop of gear collection. In fact, it’s not just gear. As you are The Commander, you often manage expedition parties to collect supplies to continue building these makeshift bases throughout the various mission spaces as well as creating various defense teams. You can even create squads that support your hero character–the hero character is the name given to the literal character you control as The Commander.

These heroes add a much needed variety to what would otherwise be a fairly vanilla third person shooter. Each hero has their own specific ability and over time you will be able to level them up with up experience, which is earned through bashing in piñatas (Fornite’s equivalent of loot boxes), retiring other heroes, or as rewards for missions. There are even different rarities of heroes, ranging from standard all the way up to legendary in the traditional colour scheme you’ve come to expect from the likes of Diablo and World of Warcraft to indicate rarity. Although all these heroes play largely the same, they do add different stat bonuses and possess their own special attacks, which is just enough to give them a look in if you’re devoted enough.

This same approach extends to the traps you place, the survivors you amass, and the weapons you wield. Everything is ruled over by the almighty gods of rarity and loot drops. Even the progression system requires you to grind out daily missions and quests to make the most of Fornite. Even in the week or so I played, it became ritual to check back every few hours to collect my tech points and to check up on expeditions.

But that’s where things got a little confusing in Fortnite; I was regularly logging in to spend these points, bashing open a few brightly coloured paper mache skulls, and totally lost as to what the actual correct approach to this whole base building situation was. During some missions, I had stumbled across giant radio towers and clambered to build them while focussing on core objects, I had to juggle survivors while I built walls, and I had waded myself through the countless number of generic zombie types without any real idea why I was there. There was never any direction and some aspects, like crafting better materials, flew completely under my radar. Perhaps this was because I had stumbled upon them ahead of time, or they were lost in the dialogue spewed forth in the heat of battle, but something definitely wasn’t clicking.

Even though I had my digs at home-related proverbs, one does ring true for Fortnite and that’s “home is where the heart is”. Fortnite is the anti-thesis. It lacks heart. The daily grind wears thin and the general approach feels a tad soulless and that extends right down to the aesthetic of Fortnite, I struggle to recall any memorable zombie or piece of scenery that couldn’t be described as generically cartoonish. It’s a mobile game on a grand scale, mashing together familiar aspects of games that do it just a little bit better. It’s far from a bad game, in fact it manages to capture my enthusiasm for minute moments of my day but it rapidly became routine in the first week and all I was checking in for was the daily bonuses and to spend points that accumulated overnight. Then again, that’s exactly what you should expect from a free-to-play game, right? Just enough to tide you over, a small fix for nothing in a self-fulfilling loop.

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