Time played: 30 hours
Platform: PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
It feels strange that Fortnite was once a long-gestating game focused on defending makeshift bases from zombies. The release of its standalone, free-to-play Battle Royale mode felt like a curio at best back in 2017, an attempt to hop onto a trend. Now, in 2019, the mode has outpaced many of its competitors, leading to footballers performing dances from the game at the World Cup final and the elderly sporting game merchandise.
Stripping back the mode's meteoric success, and in an increasingly crowded space, is Fortnite still worth parachuting into?
For newcomers, it’s worth a quick mention of the basic setup of a Battle Royale title - one hundred players jump onto a map, scavenging weapons and items with which to eliminate others and work to be the last player standing. Fortnite doesn't stray too far from this formula, offering solo, duo, and squad based modes, but its execution of these basics is what’s impressive...
Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows
In comparison to its more po-faced contemporaries such as Blackout or PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite's identity is all its own. Both the characters and the map are colourful, with a vibrancy that belies its tactical depth. Whether you're playing on a PC, a Nintendo Switch, or your mobile device, the game not only looks great but plays well too - perhaps entirely fitting given that Epic are the creators of the Unreal Engine (a suite of tools for game developers).
The lack of blood and gore makes it more child-friendly than other shooters, and the whole thing is wrapped in a Dreamworks-esque shell. Whether it's jumping out of the Party Bus to start a match, or picking up items like a launchpad to send you flying through the air, Fortnite feels reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon.
This personality filters down to the map itself - a hodgepodge of landscapes, from the urban skyscrapers of Tilted Towers, to the oasis-like Paradise Palms. Treasure chests are dotted around, each containing something useful, and Fortnite's reliance on a broader color palette than shades of greens and browns can make it easier to distinguish an opponent from a distance.
While Fortnite still keeps its battles confined to a single map, variety comes in the form of seasonal updates and transformations which apply to all players. While one season brought about an ice age, another has added flyable aircraft.
These changes mean that the meta is in a state of constant flux, which may rile competitive players, but it keeps millions checking in on a regular basis to see what has changed. In fact, it wasn't long ago that the shooting stopped so that players could watch an in-game concert from current superstar DJ Marshmello.
Last person standing
Of course, with this being a Battle Royale, it's unlikely you'll find much time to look at the scenery. Thankfully, Fortnite's combat still feels surprisingly fresh almost two years in, and that's primarily down to two things.
The first is the game's unique building mechanic, a holdover from its Save The World mode. By harvesting materials like brick or wood with your trusty pickaxe, players are able to build rudimentary structures with an intuitive grid-based building system. If you're out in the open, you might aim to create a wall to take cover behind, while traversing sheer cliff faces is much easier when you can construct a ramp, or a series of steps when descending.
Building has long been a big part of Fortnite's difficulty curve, and it isn't uncommon to see the last ten combatants duke it out around a snaking series of ramps reaching into the heavens. The need to manage both building and shooting in increasingly confined spaces means Fortnite has a high skill ceiling, although it is entirely possible to brute force your way to a Victory Royale (something we're certainly guilty of). Epic's addition of a Creative Mode even allows for players to put together their own maps and custom game modes, adding even more to the longevity of Fortnite.
A second key component of Fortnite's satisfying combat loop is in the shooting mechanics themselves. While it may seem strange to compare a third-person, cartoony battle royale to the developer's earlier work on Unreal Tournament, Fortnite's mobile, often strafe-heavy and "loose" shooting feels like it carries on that series' DNA.
Weapons, for the most part, conform to standard archetypes of shotguns, sniper rifles and the like, but with Epic's commitment to shaking the game up at regular intervals we've seen weapons such as a Boogie Bomb, that causes enemies to dance, as well as remote-controlled missiles. Fortnite feels at its best when it revels in its own ludicrousness.
Price of a royale
Reviewing a free-to-play title is a strange concept, because in Fortnite's case it can be easy to spend dozens of hours within its world without paying a single penny. Part of the game's appeal is it multi-platform ubiquity and the fact that it costs nothing.
While there are many that would question the longevity of a title supported entirely by micro-transactions, Fortnite's paid items are purely cosmetic and often just as zany as one would expect from a title sporting such a colorful aesthetic. Character skins, dance moves, and new pickaxe designs are available, but Fortnite's greatest financial value can be found in its Battle Pass.
Costing $9.99, the Fortnite Battle Pass allows for a steady stream of cosmetics that can be earned by simply playing the game and completing weekly challenges. These challenges are often a time for the community to come together and solve puzzles. Finishing one Battle Pass actually earns enough currency to buy the next one, too, and players that don't buy in will find their own stream of challenges.
Walls have fallen
It's now easier than ever to pick up your fix of Fortnite on the go. With Sony finally acquiescing and allowing cross-play between PlayStation 4 and the previously walled-off versions of the game on other platforms, it's now entirely possible to play with your friends across multiple consoles.
Perhaps just as important for many is the addition of cross-progression. If you purchase the Battle Pass on your Xbox One, for example, the same challenges will be available to complete on your Nintendo Switch - perfect for checking off your rewards while on the go. It isn't just the Battle Pass either - all of your purchases and currency can be found on all of your devices.
There is a reason that Fornite is arguably the biggest game of the last decade. Its influence can be felt throughout pop culture as a whole because it walks the line of accessibility and that competitive spirit that many enjoy so much.
Beneath all of the dances, the skins, and the Battle Pass, Fortnite Battle Royale is an excellently designed, ever-shifting platform of a game that respects a player's time whether they choose to spend money or not. There's enough of a learning curve to keep us coming back time and time again, while also being a fun place to play a quick game with a friend. It truly is a modern marvel.
(Image credits: Epic Games)