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Review: Fortnite (Early Access)

Imagine a world where 98% of the Earth’s population has been wiped out by a strange and lethal storm capable of turning people into zombies. Now slap on a coat of a Pixar-esque cartoon aesthetic, a fairly extensive building mechanic and a whole lot of random-number-generated loot and you’ve got Fortnite.

The 4 Hero classes, clockwise from top: Soldier, Constructor, Ninja and Outlander

Fortnite is a Free-to-Play online co-operative sandbox survival game being developed by People Can Fly and Epic Games, who also acts as the publisher. The game went on early-access sale on the 25th of July, 2017 and sold over 500,000 copies on it’s first day. It bears repeating however that the game is actually slated to be Free-to-play when it finally releases further down the line, and buyers of the game in it’s current state are given ‘Founder’ status, which basically grants them additional goodies in the form of Founder Loot Pinatas and a Feedback message system to send comments and suggestions to the developers.

Distilled down to it’s base components, a lot of the actual gameplay part of Fortnite takes cues from many of the hyper-popular games of the past decade. You have a sandbox of procedurally generated areas which you can strip-mine with your trusty pickaxe to turn into base materials, with which you use to craft guns, melee weapons or traps. There are a handful of mission types, most of which will involve locating a random spot on the map, triggering it, and then building fortifications around said spots and defend it from waves of zombies (called Husks in this game). The combat in Fortnite is your standard fare of third person run-and-gun combat with zombies. As the loosely strung together plot progresses the game introduces more variations of Husks, each with their own special gimmick, such as being bigger and tougher, or having a rush ability to smash through walls. All of them are weak to bullets to the head, however.

The building mechanic in Fortnite takes cues from other base-building games like Rust or even Fallout 4. You have a phantom blueprint to help guide where to place down your walls, floors and stairs. The real meat of the mechanic is that you can edit the blueprint to allow you to change and modify the shape of the piece you want to put down. For example, editing a wall gives you a 3x3 grid, removing the centre-most block of the grid and setting the wall down will make a wall with a window. The level of customizability, as well as the aesthetic and structural changes you can make to your constructions lends depth to the game. The real fun happens when you learn how to create an elaborate impregnable death-maze, using different materials to shepherd the oncoming hordes into your traps (The Husk AI seems to prioritize weaker walls over much sturdier ones, allowing clever players to exploit their weaknesses).

Heroes in Fortnite are the avatars you play as in the Storm Apocalypse. Heroes come in 4 different flavors: Soldiers who enjoy ranged damage perks as well as combat support abilities. Constructors are the big beefy (or some prefer ‘thicc’) guys and gals that excel at constructing and fortifying bases, as well as being able to tank hits in combat. Ninjas are the game’s glass cannons; they can deal a lot of damage to a lot of Husks quickly, but are fragile. They are also the most nimble of the classes, being the only class with a double jump. The final class is Outlander, who specialize in one thing above all: Loot. Outlanders can smash things with their pickaxes faster, as well as detect hidden treasure chests in the map. They are however the weakest in combat. Each class has a number of subclasses, each with different character models, genders and palatte swaps. These subclasses have tweaked skills and specializations, so they can be often worth playing with to find the class you like. The problem with Fortnite comes with acquiring these Heroes, as well as any loot in the game.

Fortnite, being a free-to-play game, has lootboxes in the form of Llama pinatas, which you can buy with in-game currency, known as Vinder-bucks or V-bucks. You earn this currency by doing daily missions, usually some form of ‘Complete X amount of the same mission’ or ‘Get x amount of kills with this Hero class’. You can then spend your V-bucks on purchasing Llamas, which when smashed will get you a handful of loot cards. Usually these are pretty bad, normal up to ‘uncommon’ or ‘rare’ quality survivors, heroes, or weapons. Rarely, Llamas can upgrade when you hit them becoming Silver which grants more loot, and up to Epic quality items and heroes. They can upgrade two more times, each time granting even more higher quality loot.

The feeling of busting open a Golden Llama is sublime, and that’s where it gets you. So you just spent a day doing missions over and over to get enough coins to buy a llama. You remember that sweet feeling of getting all that loot, and swing the bat, but alas it was just a regular llama. You didn’t even get anything new that time, just more fodder to be recycled for EXP. You could either go back to the grind and try and get more coins, or you could just whip out your wallet and buy 1000 V-coins for a cool $9.99 USD. You might get lucky and strike gold again, maybe get a legendary version of that Hero you’ve been eyeing for days. Or you could just hit 10 Llamas and get absolutely nothing of value. Tough luck, you figure. Maybe next time. Now it’s been 4 days since you’ve actually gotten a new character to play with, much less a new gun. Everytime you smash a llama hoping for a rare drop, or anything new, you just end up with duplicates of the same cards you already have.

The biggest flaw in Fortnight’s system is it’s reliance on RNG (Random Number Generation) to draw players in. It feels downright amazing getting a gold llama the first time, seeing the words legendary prefix your characters and weapons, but it’s totally up to chance. When you play the llama game, you’re rolling multiple sets of dice, does the llama upgrade? If no, have this consolation prize. If yes, keep rolling. After spending about $50.00 USD (Around RM215) on V-bucks for llamas, only to come up without anything to really show for it, I can’t help but feel a little burned by the game.

While the gameplay can be fun for awhile, you eventually find yourself repeating the same activities over and over. Smash things with your pickaxe, collect materials. Shoot Husks. Build walls, defend for 10 minutes. Repeat. If the game had a better sense of progression, of letting you be able to actually work towards the characters or weapons you want to play, I’d be a lot more favorable to it. The game is remarkably polished for an Early Access title, however as it stands, with it’s crippling reliance on dice rolls to drip feed you new characters and toys to play with, it could certainly use a few more months to flesh things out.

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