EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Johnathan Irwin
previewed on PC
When Epic Games first revealed Fortnite in 2011, I was skeptical. It was a time where zombie games were rising in the ranks of popularity due the common theme of surviving a zombie apocalypse and all the gloom, doom and gore that comes along with the scenario. So when the cartoon-style animation clashing with the dire sounding audio came on screen for the first time at the Video Game Awards, it was a very polarizing trailer. A game where players would have to secure supplies, build up their bases and battle against increasingly difficult hordes is the description of nearly every zombie fan's dream game, but the polarizing art style had people torn. But most talking about it soon came to a halt as the game seemingly vanished for years. A little info would pop up here and there, but I was becoming increasingly convinced that it was the game that would never come.
Fast forward to 2017, where the information on Fortnite began flowing freely AND it was revealed just how soon it'd be releasing: July 2017 for those who would purchase it in advance of 2018's Free-To-Play introduction. I jumped on the hype train that surfaced again, despite the lingering FTP 'threat' of the future, and I went all in. I bought the pricey Limited Edition that included two extra copies of the game, and even paid for a third copy for another friend just to make sure I could bring you the most accurate review possible. I can say this: as much as I was polarized on whether or not I should purchase this game several years ago, I'm feeling a similar feeling now after-launch. Should I have purchased this or left it up to someone else?
What Makes Fortnite?
Fortnite's setting and aesthetics can best be described as a smoothie being made in a way only Epic Games could. One part The Mist, one part an art style reminiscent of Jimmy Neutron, three scoops of zombies, two of tower-defense, blend well and then serve with a cherry-gone-bad on top - which I will address later, along with other potentially fatal flaws later on in the review.
If you're familiar with The Mist, then you know that a paranormal weather event has shrouded a small town in a blinding fog and within that fog monstrous creatures prey on anyone unfortunate to wander out into it. Upscale that to a global phenomenon, replace the mist with a constant electromagnetic storm and make sure the creatures are in clear view and you have The Storm, the event which plagues not one small town, but the entire globe. What's worse is that this weather event has spawned forth the Husks (zombies) by paranormal means and supernatural summonings rather than a manmade catastrophe.
When you first begin the game, the missions you can accept are limited as far as where you can go. The more you upgrade the Storm Shield at your home base the further back the storm is drawn, revealing more of one of four locations in the game world: Stonewood, Plankerton, Canny Valley, and Twine Peaks. As of the time of writing this, I can only comment on Stonewood after 10 hours of play time.
The Main Event
As far as actual gameplay is concerned, it can be broken down into two main segments: missions beyond the base, and the base itself. Missions out in the world consist of constructing Atlas technology to help aid against the Storm, surveying data from weather balloons, rescuing survivors and - now and again - plot-specific objectives that push progression forward just a little quicker. Maps are varied enough. I was never in the exact same place twice and they always felt like a treat to adventure through, though they were usually empty of any major threats unless it was an end-of-mission defense objective or dealing with an enemy encampment.
The good thing about this is that the quieter things are the more time you can spend gathering supplies for building up your fort and crafting weapons, ammo and traps. In my experience, missions were better used as times for gathering rather than rushing the objectives which is something that some players love to do. This is a game you're going to want to play with a full party of known friends, because getting randomly selected people to work together is just a mess.
Exploring (and completely tearing down) buildings is genuinely entertaining and seeing what is hidden in the nooks and crannies is generally exciting. Sometimes it's a treasure chest, other times it's an oddly place cutout of a cow, a lantern or a sleeping bag. Who knows what was going on in this comical world before the coming of the storm and monsters? At the end of most missions, there is usually a point on the map where you'll build up a temporary fort and hold out against the hordes that take anywhere from a cozy 2-3 minutes to an insane 8+ minutes. I'm speculating that on even higher level missions that timer will keep climbing. Hopefully the same can be said for the difficulty.
The main event of the game is also the most straightforward. As you progress, you'll also need to build up your main base, fortify it as well as you can and then expand the Storm Shield a bit further in scope. It's during this expansion that the base comes under invasion by hordes from all-sides and - depending on how well you've built up your defenses - determines if you will survive long enough to complete the objective. Again, though, so far in this first 10 hours of gameplay there hasn't been difficulty enough for me to judge if building up a large fort is even necessary, but I've enjoyed turning this green hillside into a ragtag fortress of brick, metal and wood with traps littered about gratuitously.
Flaws In The Fort
Don't get me wrong, it's rewarding to take on the hordes and see just how effective your defense has become, but it lacks a sense of urgency so many hours into the game that I'd gone from feeling the thrill of playing to just going through the motions a few hours prior. In fact, that's the general feeling I had since about hour 5. The more zombies the game piled on, the less fun I was having. It wasn't getting harder, my friends and I were decimating the hordes in missions and during the stormshield expansions. The only time we ever found any sense of difficulty was by taking on a mission we literally couldn't beat because of the power level gap between us and the mission.
There's no middle ground as far as we've seen. It's too easy 95% of the time and too hard for that remaining 5%. We did have more fun during that 5%, but it only lasted until our defenses at the temporary fort finally fell and we lost the objective. The game is early enough in it's life cycle that difficulty can (and should) be balanced better, so that players are feeling a gradual increase; not feeling like bored gods most of the time, and insignificant bugs being squashed at a few select times.
Another thing about the game is the rather clunky, social media inspired interface. Getting through the menus between missions is a chore: rather than condensing things in an efficient manner it's all spread out with reckless abandon so that you'll be clicking each tab to find the sub tab you're looking for, and then each sub tab for the sub-sub tab until you finally get what you want. All those goodies and heroes you've been picking up? Why not sacrifice most of them in favor of an experience boost, all to get some loot llamas (you read that right, loot llamas) that very rarely yield anything of worth. The fact there is a day-one cash shop in place, makes me feel they are betting on people sinking a lot of money into the game. Unless they fix some of these flaws, and quickly, I can see myself putting this game down and just checking back next year in the hopes that things have improved.
A Bitter Truth
I was really excited for Fortnite. To see this game finally coming to release, I was hoping the time and care put into it would make it not just a great game, but a juggernaut to be remembered. It's not that it's unfun, it's that it still needs a serious amount of work. Epic Games has said that this is an Early Access Release, but the fact of the matter is this game has been in development for years, by a major company. There should be more to the game than there currently is. The only difference there should be between an "early access" title like this and the F2P coming next year, is the entry fee now vs no fee then. More substance, more difficulty, more reason to care about my progression. Maybe there will be more by the time the game releases F2P next year, but right now I know that I'm left feeling a mix of fun at times, and disappointment at others.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.