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Fortnite Early Access: On Its Way to Excellence

Christopher Coke Posted:
Columns The RPG Files 0

Fortnite has a heck of a lot going for it. It’s made by Epic Games, the incredible team that brought us Gears of War and Unreal Tournament. It’s had buzz for literally years, even through a dark spell when we all began to wonder what would become of the game. It’s seemingly a greatest hits record for all of the trends gamers have loved over the last decade: stylized graphics, co-op, base building, zombies, skill trees, a great sense of humor. Even though there are so many places for this to go wrong, even in the pay-to-play Early Access version we have now, it just doesn’t and is a massive amount of fun to play.

Contrary though it might seem, the game Fortnite reminds me of most is Destiny. That seems crazy, I know. Apart from the obvious - character classes, skill trees, quests - there shouldn’t be a whole lot to tie these two very different games. But Destiny had gunplay that made the game. Even if you hated the story, never completed a strike, and dismissed every single other part of the game, blasting around the planets of Destiny was fun enough to carry you through the whole experience.

That’s how it is with Fortnite. Even though there’s a lot going on at any given moment, there’s not much that tops the fun of holding off the Storm with a group of friends. It helps that the surrounding systems are fun and charming on their own.

A lot of this is due to the art style, which is already divisive. Epic has opted for stylized graphics and a lightheaded feel to every aspect of their world. Chopping away with your pickaxe causes whatever it is you’re hitting to bounce and wobble like it’s made of jelly. Enemies aren’t threatening and can be hilariously imaginative. I’ve repeatedly heard people write Fortnite off as a kid’s game and these people are doing themselves a disservice. The art style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a wrapped on a heaping helping of good systems that go better together.

The general idea behind Fortnite is that the world has ended. A mysterious purple storm has wiped out most of the humanity and turned them into different kinds of zombie. There are common survivors, which you’ll rescue and bring into your group, and heroes. Heroes have different specialties that equate to classes: Constructor, Soldier, Ninja, and Constructor. You’ll collect these in the form of cards from loot pinatas bought with in-game currency or real money. They’re all visually distinctive and can even roll with sub-classes. The soldier, for example, can roll either as a Rescue Trooper or Survivalist. The Ninja, a Fleetfoot or Assassin.

A handful of tutorial missions introduce you to the basics of the game. Bill, in our Twitch stream last Friday, really hit the nail on the head with this game. ABH: Always Be Hacking. From the minute you load into a map, one of your main jobs is to hack away at everything you see with a giant mining pick. You’ll destroy cars for metal and trees for wood and so on. Everything you harvest goes right back into the building side of the game. You’ll craft weapons and ammunition (which can be done in real time, thank goodness), and most importantly walls and fortifications for your fort.

After you’ve explored and rescued any survivors, the game turns into a kind of tower defense. Missions follow a similar trajectory. You harvest, complete a few collection missions for survivors and whatever else your current mission tasked you with, and then make your way to a defense point to build up a fort. Building is incredibly, refreshingly easy. You can select from floors/ceilings, walls, and stairs and have a whole building built within minutes. Depending on the materials you’ve collected, you can build from wood, stone, or even metal. Once the structure is down, a simple editing interface that breaks each piece into squares lets you open up windows, doors, or even chop walls in half to make low barriers. It’s easy, fast, and fun. Then, the storm lets loose.

Once enemies start coming, they come furiously until a countdown timer runs out. Blasting or chopping away with any of the games weapons is a whole lot of fun. Every weapon is tight and responsive with an excellent sense of impact. In the first zone, you can build your fort and then run outside to blast away. Later on, things get much harder. Since these are fast zombies, it’s becomes a good idea to be strategic and build walls into choke points and apply other more advanced strategies. Fortnite can be played with strangers just fine, but voice chat only becomes more necessary as time goes on, and playing with friends always makes for a more fun experience.

The game seems deceptively simple at first, but play it for a little while and you’ll see that it’s actually much, much deeper than you initially thought. Epic has done a good job of onboarding new players, but their tutorials could still use some work. Take the survivor system. Sure, a quest has you add one or two to squads, but what then? Or weapon crafting. Certain icons still lack tooltips that would make it much easier to actually know what you’re missing. The game opens up the more you play and before long, your Rank 1 skill tree has turned into a sprawling map of icons.

Fortnite is an incredibly polished game, tooltips and tutorials aside. It’s clear that Epic has put their time into putting the game’s best foot forward. So many small touches make the game feel like a finished product. Voiceover, optimization, audio and graphical effects, they’re all just there. I’m impressed, but for all that, Epic is probably smart to keep the game in Early Access until next year.

Right now, there are certain parts of the game that just need more. The randomly generated environments are decent, but could still stand a little more variety. It doesn’t take long before you’re seeing the same interiors and house layouts. Likewise, even though missions are fun, there needs to be more than the handful of core setups we’re seeing today. And why can’t I actually duck behind cover or dodge? These omissions feel odd, even though they seem to be in service of the hero system.

And then there’s the cash shop. Most of your loot  will come from loot llamas, smashable pinatas you earn from completing missions and earning RMT “V-Bucks.” It’s here that you’ll get your rarest schematics and materials. Unfortunately, though I am not there personally, many players are reporting that after Rank 10, your ability to earn V-Bucks dramatically decreases, pushing you to spend real money to continue upgrade loot at a comparable rate. Theoretically, you could earn somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen llamas in a month. That sounds great; however, what you receive from them is RNG based. You could make out like a bandit or get a bunch of gear and items you don’t need. If this is indeed the case as many, many users are reporting, it needs tuning.

The best schematics come from llamas, unlocked for V-Bucks which get scarce past Rank 10

Is this Pay 2 Win? Not quite, because, you can earn a good amount in game. When the game launches its F2P model in 2018, they’ll need some way to make money, after all. At the same time, its current implementation feels too close for comfort. We can only hope they offer more missions that award V-Bucks at the higher ranks.

For all of that, Fortnite is still one heck of a game. Through its years in development, many of us grew concerned that the game was in trouble. I’m here to tell you that this is the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. Hands down. By blending so many different systems into this Pixar-inspired mash-up, Epic Games has struck gold. Sure, it needs some expansion - that’s exactly what Early Access is for - but I have no hesitation in recommending the game to anyone who is intrigued by what they’ve read here. It really is that good.

As always, we’ll continue to cover the game here on MMORPG.com. Stay tuned for a second review when the game launches to free to play in 2018!

Score: 8.5/10


  • Brings elements from other genres to make something new
  • Excellent gunplay
  • Extra easy building makes creating forts together a breeze
  • Deeper than it first seems


  • Still some bugs
  • Needs more content variety before launching F2P
  • Questionable monetization after Rank 10


Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight