So, I have been plenty aware of of the Battle Royale genre of multiplayer for a while, starting with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds(PUBG) and then Fortnite, amongst others. The concept of dropping one hundred players onto a large shrinking map and seeing which single player or group survives the longest actually interested me a lot. After all, I have always been a fan of “alternate” play-style shooters and this formula’s emphasis on stealth and survival, instead of plain aggression, resonated with me. But, PUBG has only released on XBOX One and PC which I don’t really game on and, for some odd reason, I never thought to pickup Fortnite on the PS4. So, I had not really tried my fingers at the genre. That is until recently, when Fortnite released for the Switch and I finally decided to download it. I had a good amount of Splatoon friends that were playing it and maybe a few Switch-owning family members. Not sure why it took me this long. It is free-to-play!
After a few minutes of initial setup, creating an Epic account and then letting it hook up with my Switch Friends List, I was able to queue up for my first match. I knew that skydiving into the map was a thing that happened at the start of every match, but the actual experience was a lot cooler than I anticipated. Also, I was not aware that you got to choose where to start your jump from. I mean, it is from a randomly predetermined line that the flying school-bus traverses but it is interesting that you already have to be making strategic decisions even before you put a single foot on the ground. What areas can I easily access from this bus route and which ones will be more effective to safely grab some loot? Heck, as I learned from watching some tips and videos, even when players choose to deploy their parachute or how they perform the dive can be a great decider on how fast they land and grab that pistol before the other ten people following their same path have the chance.
Once on the ground, the first obvious thing to do is to scavenge the vicinity (hopefully a house or two) for weapons and recovery items. Yes, if you were not aware about this detail about the genre, be aware now: players start each match with nothing but their pickaxe. Weapons have to be scavenged. Luckily, there are plenty of weapons lying around for those who know where to look. There are also chests scattered around, a little less visibly, that usually contain better quality loot. These emit a nice sparkly noise when nearby so players that keep their ears piqued are usually rewarded with fancy things. Actually, it is very key to keep your ears peeled in this game not only to hear chests but also other player’s footsteps. It could mean the difference between getting the jump on someone or getting jumped on.
Going with the arcade style of the game both visually and mechanically, there are several types of weapons and offshoots within these categories (i.e. Assault Riffles with and without scopes, normal pistols versus semi-auto pistols, etc). Each have varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the range and situation. Furthermore, each weapon you pick up has a rarity level, signified by the glow color on the item (and the background on the weapon picture). Needless to say, the rarer the weapon, the better it is within its type and class; sometimes beyond class. I have found Legendary pistols that fare better than common Assault Riffles (which are considered the most versatile weapon type in the game). It feels a lot like Diablo, Destiny or any other of those RPG-esque games that have loot tiers. It is awesome! Nothing is nicer than finding that purple or gold weapon early in the game, suddenly feeling like you might have a real chance at getting the “Victory Royale”.
No matter how you approach the match, whether stealthily looking for loot while avoiding other players or plunging headfirst into confrontations, one detail will be ever present in every player’s mind: The Cloud. At predefined points throughout each match, a poison cloud grows and encroaches the map. Players caught within the cloud will start taking damage every second until they exit the cloud. The farther into the match and the larger the Cloud grows, the more damage per second the Cloud deals to unlucky combatants.
The purpose of the Cloud however is not to eliminate players but to effectively shrink the available space in the map more and more throughout the duration of the match, forcing players to converge in a small area towards the end of the game. And, keep in mind that the final areas are never really the same from match to match, and rarely are they in the center of the island so there is no easy way to predict where the battle will end in order to prepare and camp for it. Players have to stay on their toes and continually shift their plans as the Cloud shrinks.
The good thing though is that the map shows players what the next safe area is going to be before the Cloud starts shrinking towards it, giving them ample time to fix their heading. And, this is something players should pay attention too since the cloud moves faster than players can run so there is no way to outrun the poison once it begins to shift.
It’s A Playground. Lets Build!
If all these nuances were not enough to make Fortnite stand out from the rest, its Building mechanic bats it out of the park. I mentioned earlier that all players start each match with only a pickaxe. Do not be tempted to use it as a weapon. It does some damage in a pinch but it will never win an encounter against ANY weapon in the game(unless the weapon wielder is truly horrendous).
The pickaxe’s true purpose is for players to gather resources; wood, brick and iron. The unexpected twist is that there are no “resource points” in the game. The whole environment, with the exception of the ground, can be whacked to get resources. Whack a wall inside a house and you’ll probably gather some wood. Hit the base frame of a bridge and you will probably get some iron. Smack that insert cement/stoney structure and you will probably get some brick.
Now, the wonderful catch is that everything that can be whacked for resources will eventually get destroyed. Yes, this means that almost EVERYTHING in the world can be demolished. Houses, tall buildings, bridges, cars, flagpoles, etc. If it is not “the ground” it can probably be destroyed.
So, what are all these resources for? Well, in Fortnite, players have the ability to build. The core concept is that players can place one of four types of square pieces on the environment near them: a floor, a ramp, a wall and a pyramid-like ceiling. Players can connect these four building blocks in however numbers they have the materials to produce in order to build countless structures.
Now, do not go thinking that everyone is just playing house. Not at all! Building in Fortnite is both a mobility mechanic and a defensive/positioning mechanic.
- Need to quickly get up to that tall hill?
Build a set of ramps to get up.
- Found yourself under fire in an open area?
Quickly put up walls around you for defense and then start throwing ramps to either escape the engagement or gain the higher ground against whoever is shooting you
The possibilities are endless and I have seen such good uses for building already. Just pull up videos of pro players and you will be baffled by the level of skill and speed with which they build. In Fortnite, building is almost as important as shooting skill.
Another detail to strategy is that, because everything can take damage from pickaxes and weapons alike, there is no cover that cannot be removed or destroyed. So, even that player with the nifty legendary sniper riffle that built himself a tower needs to watch out. Most structures will begin to collapse if the pieces that connect it to the ground are blown off. Yes, this includes the actual buildings that load up with the map so do not feel too safe on any roof. If enemies are not patient enough to knock the ground from under you, they will quickly build ramps to get on top of you.
To sum it all up: Fortnite is a ton of good! Every inch of it was so well thought out and, to make matters even sweeter, Epic Games continues to patch and evolve the game as time passes. There is currently a crater in the middle of the map. Apparently, this used to be a city area. For several weeks, players started noticing a comet in the sky grow larger and larger. Then, one day, there was no longer a comet and the crater was now there. Even between the time that I started playing recently and now, the crater has gone from being bare, to having trees and bushes growing on it. Then, leading up to the most recent patch, a huge growing tear in the fabric of space began to hover above the whole map. What happened? Nobody is really sure but now the map has a dessert in the south east and older structures and statues popping up in odd places. It is a very cool way to keep a potentially repetitive experience fresh.
Then there is the reward system within the game. All rewards are cosmetic and offer no advantages in gameplay but it is really fun to customize different aspects about the playable character like clothing, glider, skydiving effects and emotes. This is, however, where Epic Games tries to recoup some of their time investment in the game. The free-to-play track of rewards is pretty bare in comparison with the payed-for track. If you are curious, Epic Games runs the game in seasons, each season consisting of ten weeks. Players that pay for the Battle Pass gain access to tons of rewards gained through normal leveling but also gain unique weekly challenges for every week of the season. As for the price tag, each season costs $10 and there seems to be no “lifetime passes”. So, players that want all the cool loot on a consistent basis will be treating the game like a $4 a month subscription ($10 every two and half months).
But seriously, even though I am a complete amateur with a successful kill/death ratio of too many zeroes on this decimal value, I caved and payed for the pass as soon as the most recent season started. The game is just that much fun. Where most shooters seem to maintain an atmosphere of tension and aggression, Fortnite manages to deliver something just as competitive but exciting and casual at the same time. And, I like to think I have gotten a little better over time; maybe just a tiny bit.
Anyways, this is Fortnite, everyone! It is free-to-play and now on every console. Furthermore, XBOX ONE, PC, Mobile and Switch owners can all play together on the same matches. So, go download it if you have not already done so. At the least, it should give you a couple of hours of fun…
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