We recently had a chance to play Epic Games and People Can Fly’s new Co-Op Survival game Fortnite, that merges 3rd person shooter with tower defense. The game has been in development for years, and is available today in early access for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. It is scheduled to release in full in 2018 as a free to play title but you can play it today as a founder starting at 40 USD. How has the game come along in 6 years and is it worth it to take the early access plunge? Let’s have a look.
Fortnite Early Access Review
Developed by: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Published by: Epic Games
Release date: TBA – 2018, Early Access July 25th
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Played on PS4)
Story & Setting
The game’s story has a pretty straighforward premise: All hell has broken loose with a vibrant and colorful zombie invasion. A cataclysm called the Storm came without warning which wiped out 98% of the world’s population followed by the emergence of monsters. You will lead a band of heroes to fight to save the world as you build huge forts, craft new gear, find loot and level up solo or in 4 player co-op.
When it comes to the story and setting, there is a slight bit of Borderlands vibe going on here, with some of the colorful explosiveness and playful, at times irreverant humor that we’ve also seen in twin stick challenge game Burn Zombie Burn.
Fortnite’s shooting and melee mechanics are fluid. You can equip 3 weapons at the onset and can swap out your loadout at will. The weapons all have a nice array of statistical properties from fire rate to reload, crits and everything in between giving you a lot of options to choose geat that suits your playstyle.
There is a strong build mechanic to the game where you reinforce your fort with traps, make repairs after attacks and protect survivors. The build editor lets you construct walls, stairs, traps and everything else you need to fend off the zombie horde. You can set your construction objects in many different arrangements and build it from various materials provided you have enough of the requisite resources like wood, brick or steel. The editor itself is a quick swap from the weapons bar and placing and arranging is all quite intuitive and easy to grasp once you get going.
Of course everything costs resources so you’ll have to harvest what you need. You will loot chests for materials and resources like ammo and raw building materials. You can also use your trusty pickaxe to smash up stuff in the environment like cars and trees to harvest more resources. Once you have enough of resources you can also engage in crafting to make new weapons and gear. This completes the loop of harvest, build, defend. It’s a simple premise but as you play you see there’s a lot of depth. There is a lot going on but the UI is clear and well explained with intuitive prompts and controls.
Repelling the Horde
Once you have built your fortification, you must withstand the onslaught. The baddies come in waves that test your constructions and ability to react on the fly. You’ll have turrets and other traps at your disposal, as well as your good old fashion gunplay. The zombies themselves range from mindless husks to some dynamic enemies that exploit fort weaknesses.
During the main mission, you set up a home base and that is your launching point for gameplay and then a series of quests unfold with their own objectives and rewards for completing. These rewards include V-bucks which are in-game currency that can be used to buy new items in the store. You can get your Bob the Builder on at home base as you construct a base around a central shield generator. At first your options are rather rustic, but eventually can progress to elaborate and high tech structures. The missions themselves can be completed over some time, and the game encourages you to really take your time harvesting resources before taking on the objectives. When you complete a mission, you earn some loot rewards such as materials or new weapons.
This is where the crux of Fortnite’s gameplay lies and once you get going it’s a lot of fun. There’s a bit of tower defense meets Borderlands meets Call of Duty Zombies at work here. I kept getting that great satisfaction you get from a good tower defense game where you’ve carefully laid out your setup and traps, and then you watch as your creation takes care of itself. In Fortnite, you get to support that or cover your building ineptitude with some old fashion gunplay. It’s a delicate balance to make sure that the shooting doesn’t trivialize the build mechanic and vice versa.
We Need A Hero
You will gather new characters as you play and they are from a variety of gameplay classes that fall into your traditional archetypes of damage dealer, builder, etc. You progress your character gradually by unlocking skills in different skill trees depending on your preferred roles like sniper, shotgunner etc. Eventually as you level them up you can evolve them to unlock their more powerful skills. You can also unlock and slot gadgets that help you in missions like turrets, teleporters and more. This all gets slotted into your mission loadout. This is a huge part of the gameplay and it’s all quite involved once you start digging into it.
Designing For the Future
The game will eventually go free to play. For now you can pre-order founder packs to earn some exclusive starting loot. You can buy Pinatas that earn you loot, survivors. Vault and inventory slots store your crafting schematics between missions, backpacks are the inventory you take into battle with you and tese inventory slots can be expanded, A lot of the gear progression comes from those loot drops and therefore much is tied to a bit of luck or your willingness to spend the in-game currency.
There are a lot of systems at play here and some of them seem quite complex but that’s good for the long term viability of the game, largely because the learning curve is handled well. If there was no complexity it would be hard to imagine it thriving via the free to play model, but if the complexity was poorly presented or implemented it could alienate the player base. Early on, Epic seems to have struck a good balance. What remains to be seen is how consistent the loot progression will be as right now it’s not completely tied to what you kill or completing missions. It’s important to note that there have been server issues, which takes the game offline so it’s something to monitor, although it’s likely more to do with early load than anything critical.