Epic’s gun-toting Minecraft remix finally breaks cover
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Games Format PC
According to its creative director Darren
Sugg, the long-in-development Fortnite has become “a mirror for the evolution of Epic as a whole”. The game began life as an Xbox Live Arcade project during the heyday of so-called Epic 3.0, that middleware behemoth in thrall to a couple of premium action series. Seven years later, it will launch as a flagship title for Epic 4.0: a digital publisher with its own desktop app, a focus on indirect monetisation and five projects underway simultaneously, propped up by the enduring Unreal Engine business and a $330 million investment from Chinese juggernaut Tencent. It’s perhaps in keeping with the theme, then, that Fortnite feels undecided, caught between eras and traditions – both a cooperative survival shooter and a freeform construction sim, a pastoral toybox and yet another freeto-play content treadmill.
In a presentation at Epic’s Berlin offices, Sugg summarises the game as a love letter to playing at castles with your friends as a child, conjuring up ramparts and turrets from bits of discarded timber or sofa cushions. Publicly available from July 25 as a paid-access trial ahead of a full release in 2018, Fortnite sees up to four players combing procedurally generated levels for odds and ends to smash together into structures, then defending their rickety creations against undead spawned by a global maelstrom that has killed off most human civilisation. Between trips to these levels, you can also expand and outfit a permanent outpost, which serves (along with character levelling) as the backbone of your Fortnite career – host players are able to restrict editing privileges here, but when you’re out on a mission, anything goes.
In a familiar
turn for nostalgia exercises of this kind, the game borrows an aesthetic from the pop Americana of the ’80s. Its modestly sized landscapes, split between industrial, rural and suburban biomes, are a welter of pizza parlours, coin-op arcades and Saturdaymorning-cartoon mineshafts, dotted with wacky oblong candy dispensers and fizzing neon signs. It’s an earnestly and, at times, laboriously comedic spectacle, reminiscent of PopCap’s Plants Vs Zombies. Destructible objects wobble like jelly when struck, zombies shamble into battle dressed as baseball pitchers, and you can expect plenty of inane banter from a bumbling robot accomplice.
The aesthetic fosters a spirit of slapdash improvisation, but this is a fantasy soured by the game’s reliance on drip-fed unlocks and busywork – a deluge of X-of-Y bonus assignments, random gear drops of different rarities, skill points to invest, NPC survivors you can ‘equip’ to boost various stats and, inevitably, loot crates, which can be earned in-game or purchased. The prospect of another iterative festival of content won’t amuse F2P detractors – the presence of two different