It all happened so fast, or at least my racing heart made it feel like it. The safe area had just shrunk down to cover a small hill I was standing upon, with a small ridge below where the last remaining opponent was hiding behind a tree. Low on ammo and knowing the safe area was going to shrink yet again, I noticed my opponent was building walls to cover his approach up the hill. “This is my chance,” I thought, and with my shotgun equipped I slid down the other side of the hill, flanking them just in time for the final kill.
It had taken me well over 20 attempts, but I had just got my win in Fortnite Battle Royale, and it was glorious.
As I sat there reflecting on my victory, I thought back to a conversation I had several months ago with some friends I game with regularly. The gist was they felt I wouldn’t get on with the Battle Royale gametype. In fairness, their reasoning was sound – I’m more of a team player when it comes to online games, and I usually lack the aggression needed to survive on my lonesome. So, while PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds was making waves within the industry I stayed away, watching from the sidelines.
The inevitable attempts to replicate PUBG’s success soon emerged, but when Epic Games announced that Fortnite was getting its own Battle Royale mode – which would be free-to-play – my curiosity was piqued. I’d skipped the Early Access for its Save the World PvE mode, but a chance to try out the Battle Royale game-type without putting any money down? You better believe I was ready to see if my friends were right.
As we’ve already established, my friends were ultimately wrong, but was I won over by Fortnite’s twist on the gameplay, its visual approach, or something else entirely? The answer lies somewhere in-between.
Fortnite Battle Royale shares plenty of similarities with other games in the genre. Up to 100 players are dropped onto an island with no weapons, forced to scavenge them from random spawning point across the map. All the while, the game area gets smaller, with players facing off against each other until only one is left standing. So, a familiar affair so far.
How Fortnite differentiates itself from its peers is immediately evident in its presentation. While PUBG and H1Z1 take a relatively realistic and serious approach, Fortnite goes all in with a colourful and playful art style. Everything from the font, to the more rounded silhouettes in-game, to the cartoon-like movements & explosions makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s a game that wants to have fun along with the player, all of which is evident as players make their way to the island on the Battle Bus – a school bus with a hot air balloon attached. It’s a sense of fun that grabbed my attention from the word go.
This playful nature extends to the gameplay as well. The arcade approach of the controls doesn’t have the floatiness of a Bungie title or the speed of Unreal Tournament, but it still manages to encourage players to be more proactive instead of reactive. There’s still an issue of weapon balance, admittedly, as sometimes I find myself being outgunned by a shotgun at medium range whilst wielding an assault rifle. Epic are aware of this, though, and will hopefully be refined in the near future.
For now, it’s a case of being proactive getting hold of the best weaponry and items. Finding higher tier guns is crucial to success, but you’re always at the mercy of RNG loot chests laughing at you as they throw out yet another grey pistol. That’s never stopped me from searching for the next one, or even risking it all to see what’s inside a Supply Drop. The way Fortnite presents these opportunities makes risk vs reward feel fun and rewarding, if bloody tense (but that’s part of the fun, or so I keep telling myself.)
As for taking the sneaky approach, stealth had previously been difficult to achieve with no prone option, but that recently changed (a little) with the addition of the Bush item. In true Fortnite style, it’s as ridiculous as you might imagine, covering the player in leaves in a comical manner. Clever players will no doubt use it to get the drop on unsuspecting players, but I haven’t had the fortune to get one (or misfortune to have it used against me… yet.)
However, the biggest twist to the gameplay is the ability to build & destroy structures in the world. Want to get to the roof of a building quickly or get up a steep hill? Build some stairs. Need to break down a wall to get a loot chest? Smash it with your pickaxe. Need some cover while you heal yourself? Put up a wall. You can always blow stuff up with explosive weaponry, so impressive looking forts can be reduced to rubble if you have the means.
It adds a dynamic nature to every match, as familiar locations can be transformed for or against you. A good example from one of my matches was another time I was battling for the victory on a hill with my opponent below me (yeah, there’s a pattern to my tactics.) All of a sudden, they speedily built a long staircase that went above me, jumped off at the top, and fired a rocket launcher to seal my fate.
I would have been annoyed, but it was brilliantly done.
What this all means is that memorising the map will certainly give you an advantage, but knowing how to manipulate the environment will ultimately give you the edge over opponents who just run-and-gun. That’s not to mention the unexpected verticality it can add at a moments notice, all of which keeps me on my toes whenever I play.
Of course, the main reason the Battle Royale mode works so well is that it’s all action with no downtime, with players able to try and try again as quickly as they are killed. Fortnite’s arcade approach blends well with this, but a lack of progression and stat tracking had made longevity tricky to hold down. That all changed with the recent patch, and now I can see how many games I’ve played, how many wins I’ve had, and how many kills I’ve accrued so far.
There’s still plenty to be added, such as characters customisation, and I’d really like to see some more variation in the geometry of the island (especially when compared to the giant island in the background) but the base game that’s currently in place is more than just a copy of others in the genre – it has its own identity. More than that, it encourages players to dive into the world of Battle Royale an in an accessible manner. This is why Fortnite has captured my attention – it makes me a more daring player because it feels fun to do so. And if I die trying? Well, there’s always the next round.
Or the round after that. Definitely the one after that one.