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When Fortnite was first announced back in 2011, I was a very excited and happy chappie. I fell in love with the idea of building bases and fortifying them before defending them against hordes of zombies. What wasn't to like? If done correctly, there was no possible way for this to fail. So, expectations high, I waited with gleeful anticipation but as time went on, we heard less and less about Fortnite. The updates became less frequent while the setbacks piled up, all the while my enthusiasm was waning. Eventually, things went silent and to this day I'm not sure whether it was because development went cold or I'd just lost interest. Either way, the result was the same: I'd moved on.
Fast forward to 2014 and it was announced that the game would release as a free-to-play title and went into a closed alpha. A closed beta would follow a year later and now, finally, after years of waiting, we are getting a paid early access “release” on 25th July (as of writing, that’s tomorrow. Wow, that crept up on me). The plan after that is for the game to release proper next year. For free. Okay.
With this new information, the question right now, certainly for me anyway, is does this title still appeal to me? Or is it too little, too late to rekindle that excitement?
The key thing to think about here is context. The selling point of the game was the ability to build bases and defend them against zombies. At the time, it was an exciting prospect but in the six years that have passed since Fortnite was announced a lot has happened. You want to build bases, you want to survive against the elements and ferocious antagonists? There’s a wealth of games already with more on the way. 7 Days to Die, The Forest, ARK and, of course, Minecraft. Take your pick.
Six years ago the premise of Fornite was a fresh and exciting one, but the reality is the base building/defence sub-genre is reaching saturation point if it hasn’t already. I don’t want to write off Fortnite, but it’s going to have to bring a lot to the table if it is going to be successful. What does the game have that is ultimately a game changer?
Unlike many similar games, there is a sense of rigid structure here as you take on missions across a map and progress the story. This already is a major plus, as a lot of base building games are lacking structure and can just go on and on. The inclusion of a campaign is welcome as there is an anchor there and, ultimately, something to keep fighting for. The only drawback to that is that each mission takes place on different maps so instead of building a base and taking the time to fortify it and really make it your own, you’ll be building lots of smaller bases instead and coming back to them every now and again. This is a massive trade off and it may have been wiser to have the entire story take place over one large open world map. That way, you could go and build smaller outposts as it were and spread further across the map, but you’d always have the main base that you could upgrade and expand to your heart's content.
The one thing you’ll never get bored of, though, is the progression system. While it is a bit busy and has a bit of a learning curve, the options available to you are seemingly limitless. With what looks like hundreds of options to configure your character, whether you prefer stealth, explosions or all guns blazing, there’s something for everyone and with the wealth of items and weapons available, there is a lot of potential for unique gameplay. There is also the potential to rescue survivors who join you as to try to reclaim the planet. Once rescued, you can take these survivors, upgrade them, assign them to squads and send them out in the world to clear areas of zombies, gather items and resources, or (my personal favourite) station them at the bases you build up across the map. Here they can defend, maintain and hold the fort as it were. This is quite an interesting prospect and I’m hoping that you can visit these bases and see them at work. It would be a shame to station a squad at a base, pop over for a visit and then see a handful of people aimlessly wandering about with no one else in sight. I’m looking at you Metal Gear Solid V.
Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of Fortnite is the cartoon aesthetic. It utterly amazes and baffles me that with technology capable of achieving some stunning graphics (I still can’t get over how gorgeous Until Dawn looks and the game is two years old) the cartoon look is insanely popular. I honestly thought that died with the first PlayStation, but hey, what do I know? With games like Paladins, Team Fortress 2 still hanging in there, and perhaps the most popular of all, Overwatch, there is a time and place for bright colours and exaggerated features. Furthermore, I actually quite like it and for now it is a safe option to go for. However, will it still be as popular next year when the game gets a proper release? Don’t forget that tomorrow's release is only an early access. There’s still a long way to go and if the cartoon look drops in popularity, it could seriously affect how Fortnite is received. I guess we’ll have to wait and see for that one.
So, with all this mind, how am I feeling about the game now? Has my enthusiasm for the game been injected with new life? Or am I as indifferent as I was before? The answer is I’m not sure. I get that this is a different game to what I first imagined back in 2011 and that while it shares similarities to other games within the sub-genre, there is a lot there to help it stand on its own two feet. I’m just not sure if it’s enough for me personally and while I’d love to get in on the early access, it is a hefty price for what will eventually be a free game. As of writing the pre-order for PS4 is £32.99 (roughly $42.97), that is a lot considering I can get Minecraft for half the price. Obviously, the two are different games, but in terms of just pure building and some defence, the latter is a lot more appealing to me at this point.
I’m not saying that I’m completely abandoning all hope with Fortnite, but as it stands there is just not enough there for me to want to jump into the game right away, considering the price tag. For me, I think I’ll wait and see what people think of the early access iteration and take it from there. Worst case scenario, I can always just wait another year and play it for free.
What’s an extra year at this point?