Tower defense and a dash of procedurally generated maps come together in this hodgepodge of brightly candy-colored zombie slaying gameplay. I’ll be the first to say, that procedurally generated games are not my thing. I can deal with MINECRAFT but outside of that, I’m just not into that sort of thing. I’ll also be the first to tell you that, the zombie genre has become stale and oversaturated for me as of late. AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD and countless other zombie infected formats have long since removed the charm and welcomed pace of early George Romero films. That is why I find a lot of my enjoyment of Epic Games FORTNITE to be such an on again off again surprise.
I have to add that this review is for the game in early access form. Many of you know that means a lot of things can get glitchy or in some cases can mean the game isn’t fully thought out yet. We will absolutely return for another review when the full final build of FORTNITE is released.
The setup is nice and simple enough. The earth has been enveloped in an apocalyptic mysterious purple fog that turns mankind into zombie-like creatures called Husks. These husks wear their victims skin like an American Apparel hoodie. So, hordes of these guys are roaming the face of the earth looking for more folks to turn. Your job, as one of a small group of survivors is to use resources to build in order to protect and upgrade a dome shield that keeps the Husks and fog out.
Primarily, for the first few hours I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the messy RPG upgrading tree system, learning how to build and well, that is about it. See, the first few hours are painfully simple in terms of gameplay. You and three other teammates are placed on a procedurally generated map, and spend the first half of the mission gathering resources and building a fortress around your objective, and the second half you and the group fight off hordes of Husks until time runs out and your mission is accomplished. For the most part, that is all there is to gameplay in this early access build. As you can imagine this gets intensely repetitive at a pretty quick rate.
Even when mission objectives are different, the approach remains the same. Basically, it always boils down to: get resources, find the so-and-so, then build to protect the so-and-so and fight off Husks to protect the so-and-so. Then mission accomplished rinse and repeat.
The design is really alluring, in its color scheme and there is even some fun to be had in the first few hours. The problem is you hit a wall due to what the early access build gives. A large part of this comes from teammate focus. When I’m dropped into a map, I begin harvesting resources and then start building a fortress. Sometimes, and even most times, your teammates will have different plans. Some go straight for the objective without building, some lollygag and do neither and some overbuild. If you have a group of four friends to play with and a unified direction, things tend to be a lot more immersive and fun, but playing with strangers makes goals ambiguous as heck.
Between missions, there is a lot going on your home screen. Here you are able to level up your character, assemble a team of ‘survivors’ to assist in protecting your fortress, and build weapons from blueprints. There is even a pretty cute random loot container that comes in the shape of a lama piñata. The problem here is that there is an overwhelming amount of this stuff and you are introduced to the jumble all at once. Seriously, this screen has a ton of stuff to sort through and for the number of things that are shown here, I found very little of it makes a notable difference once you begin a mission.
Once the hordes of husks start coming your way, all the cool weaponry that you equipped is made kinda useless by the us of simple melee weapons. It seems when people run out of bullets they discover that the whole time, they could have been running in and slicing/beating the hell out of the husks using swords or rakes. That aspect really killed the excitement over new guns for me. Why spend resources on that shiny new grenade launcher when you can just run in with a sword and make quick work of them baddies in half the time.
The building system itself is pretty rad. You are able to choose from floors, stairs, walls and ceilings, as well as the ability to choose brick, wood, or metal materials. From there you can lay traps to assist in case the husks get a little too close to your base for comfort. The sky is the literal limit as far as building goes, I built a towering fortress that would have made Sauron proud at one point. For me, the building took some getting used to but was ultimately the strongest part of the game. The problem is that after spending all that time building, the husks hardly ever posed enough of a threat to break into my fortress.
FORTNITE, has plenty of potential, but seems pretty scrambled on its scales of introducing too much info and properly balancing the gameplay mechanics therein. Over the 30 hours that I put in, the game fluctuated between being a blast and being a bore. At its height, a team would work together and have to use more than just a sword against the seldom challenging hordes of husks, at its worst the objective was scattered among teammates and the enemy could be taken down by simple melee button-mashing. I know there is a game in there somewhere though, otherwise I wouldn’t have put in as much time as I did. With several patches being added over the rest of the year, the game has the potential to be great when its final build is released. Once the full version drops, you guys can totally expect another review.
FORTNITE early access is now available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.