STAFF REVIEW of Fortnite (Xbox One)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Fortnite Box art I’ve spent many, many hours in Gear of Wars' Horde modes over the years, and possibly even more in Halo’s Firefight modes, so I clearly enjoy the genre and gameplay, but something about recently released Fortnite just hasn’t clicked for me yet to fully enjoy it. Fortnite is portrayed as a mashup between a survival, building and shooter, and it has some great concepts, even in its Xbox One Game Preview state. Normally we don’t do full-fledged reviews for titles in Game Preview, but given that Epic is currently charging $39.99 to $149.99 (CDN) to play (though it will be Free to Play in 2018), we’re treating it essentially as a regular release since it costs to play.

Story wise, "The Storm" arrived without warning, wiping out 98% of the world’s population. Shortly after, a seemingly endless horde of monsters started to arrive, called Husks. Clearly victims from "The Storm", these creatures are obviously former humans, as you can notice some of them wearing their former skin almost like a jacket. You’re tasked with fighting and pushing back by any means necessary. Overall it’s a pretty intriguing story, though I wish it was delved into the premise a little bit deeper and in a more interesting way than what is presented.

Fortnite is essentially a mashup of Horde mode and the game Minecraft of sorts. You need to split your time gathering resources, building a base to defend and defeating waves of Husks to survive before moving onto the next mission where you repeat the process once again. You’ll collect many different heroes with varying abilities as you progress, so there’s no one hero for you to focus on, as you’ll want to have some diversity to round out your groups. You’ll even have a home-base to call your very own, allowing you to showcase your creativity given you have the materials needed to build your dream base.

Most missions follow the same structure, dumping you into a map so you can harvest wood, stone, and metal resources with your pickaxe. At one point you’ll need to defend the Atlus, a device that thwarts those affected by The Storm, so you’ll need to use your materials to build a base on, and around, the device so that the Husks don’t destroy it as it charges power. This is where the gameplay turns into a shooter with Horde-like elements. During a match it feels as if the genre of gameplay shifts quite quickly from one type to another.

The basics are easy to comprehend, but the game eventually opens up to the point of being vastly overwhelming, which is furthered by the fact that so little is taught to you. I normally play and finish my reviews quite quickly, but this one has taken much longer than usual, and to be completely honest, there’s still a few things I still don’t fully understand; that’s how involved Fortnite can become, yet it doesn’t do a satisfactory job at teaching you much of it. That being said, it’s very simple to jump in and start harvesting and shooting, but the more in-depth meta game will take a lot of time and effort to learn on your own.

Your first dozen hours or so will breeze by, rarely being challenged, but eventually you’ll hit a brick wall and you will be forced to figure out how to craft better weapons, break down unused items, how the game's survivors work and more. It also feels that eventually you get to a point where, if you don’t have some of the top tier weaponry and know how to grind efficiently, you’re going to fall behind, unable to progress without frustration.

In the beginning Fortnite will feel as though you’re playing a survival game, chopping down trees, breaking down buildings and demolishing cars with your pickaxe. Once you have your materials, gameplay then switches to a Minecraft-like style of gameplay. Using your spoils you'll create floors, ceilings, walls, and ramps to defend your base. Lastly, the game then feels like a Horde type of game with non-stop shooting and meleeing hundreds of Husks in an attempt to survive. The varied gameplay is a novel idea. but the problem is that nearly every mission plays out exactly in the same 3-tiered path. To top it off, there are collectible cards, items and literal 'loot pinatas'; this is Fortnite in a nutshell.

Weaponry includes your typical pistols, shotguns and rifles, but you can also arm yourself with hammers, axes, swords and more if you want to be a more melee centric character. Obviously, the more rounded your group composition the better you’ll do, but given you’re randomly acquiring specific characters from loot boxes, you may not find a character that suits your play style for quite some time. It took quite awhile to finally get a decent rare character with skills that I enjoyed before leveling him up. Each different type of class has its own strengths, weaknesses and bonuses, so it’s all based on how you want to play, even if your focus would rather be gathering or building as opposed to shooting.

When you start a game session you’re simply dumped into a world with a short checklist of things to work towards. You’ll want to harvest as much as you can for materials, but there are also items that can be searched for bonus items, allowing you to craft ammunition and gather pieces for crafting better weapons. Treasure chests also randomly fill the world, so you’ll want to find these as soon as possible, as it’s everyone for themselves for the loot within (and material gathering for that matter).

Once you’re onto the building section of the game session, you essentially have freedom of what you want to create and how, though your tools are a bit limited. You work with 3x3 sections of floors and walls, and you can also make ramps from your different materials. If you want to create a window in your wall you just cross out the middle block of the grid before placing it (or edit it afterwards). If you only build the bottom 3 cubes of the grid you’ll make a low lying wall to block Husks from charging in, allowing you to shoot easier. It’s nowhere near as creative as Minecraft, and the interface is very simple, but it gets the job done for basic designs done quickly, which is what you’re usually after.

A major gameplay issue that is quite noticeable is that during most matches anyone can trigger the next phase of gameplay, and without fail someone will always trigger the Atlus defense, usually well before a solid base has been created. This 10 minute defense period requires cooperation to complete successfully, so it’s a little frustrating playing with random online gamers that are just doing whatever they like, sometimes unknowingly.

One of the main issues I have is that items have specific durability. So, you spend all this time farming materials and finally get an awesome blueprint, only to have it decay after a certain amount of use. In the beginning to mid-game point this isn’t a big deal, but when you’re crafting the high end items and they break over time, it’s clear it’s a design mechanic to sink more money into as an artificial challenge. Once you finally wrap your head around the crafting system you’ll come to realize that most of the items you get are pretty standard and not worth much of the hassle.

With all the matches I played, I can without a doubt say that Fortnite is a better game if you play strictly with friends. Playing with random people can work, but rarely as evidenced by the times that I encountered random online gamers. People will go off doing their own thing, and some won’t even help during the defense phase, so it becomes maddening to try and make up for others slack. That said, with a group of friends, especially with one or two that know what they are doing, and can help teach you mechanics better than the game ever attempts to, then it becomes fun. Rounding out your squad is a lot of fun, as is creating a base together to defend exactly however you wish.

My biggest complaint is really just the repetitiveness of the design. Nearly every match plays out the same way and the load times are quite lengthy, which doesn't help. Even though Fortnite will eventually be Free to Play, you need to purchase it to be able to play now, and numerous times, when loading the game, it checks to verify your purchase. This stage (checking my purchase) failed for me quite a few times, requiring me to hard reset my Xbox One to solve the server issue. Yes, this game is in the Game Preview program, so of course there will be bugs, but when people are laying down a lot of cash, this is not acceptable.

For whatever reason, Fortnite simply didn’t sink its hooks into me. I appreciate that it’s trying to be different by melding different styles of gameplay together, but when you’re not a fan of certain aspects and are forced to focus on them every match, it can become tiresome. If the tutorials were better, and taught more of the metagame, I probably would have understood things much clearer than I even do now. Trying to figure out all the currencies, crafting mechanics, strategies, cards and more is quite cumbersome and requires some serious dedication. In the end, you’re going to have to grind, even for simple things like creating ammunition, or of course you can pony up some cash and bypass these roadblocks.

If you have friends to play with and want to devote a good chunk of time into it, Fortnite can showcase a lot of entertaining times with some great teamwork and cooperative builds. As it stands right now though, I think gamers should wait a little while and see what gets added, changed and tweaked. Maybe by then there will be some more variety added to spruce up the tired repetitive gameplay and it will be more of a game that will make a more positive impression on those who play it.

Overall: 6.6 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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