Fortnite Early Access Impressions – Building Something Special (PS4)
The age of early access was unavoidable as gaming continues its shift from physical to digital, and it presents a unique challenge for critics. Fortnite is available to play right now for those willing to plunk down $39.99 (or considerably more) on the Founder’s Pack. The game won’t officially release until next year (and will be a free-to-play title when it does release), so it’s certainly an interesting pricing model. Due to Epic Games’ shooter not being officially released, we’re withholding doing an official review for now, and are doing an impressions piece instead.
The core of Fortnite will be very familiar to most gamers. Players destroy everything in their path to get all sort of items (from guns to crafting materials), then take on waves of zombie-like monsters. When laid out like that it can sound a bit generic, and while Epic Games’ latest third-person shooter can feel familiar at times, it also manages to make it all enjoyable thanks to how charming the gameplay is. The zombies aren’t presented as terrorizing cannibals, but rather undead dummies that might have a beehive attached to their head. As far as flesh-eating dead people go, they’re certified cuties.
The one thing that really helps Fortnite differentiate itself from other cooperative wave-based survival games is that it has an incredible crafting system. This isn’t limited to creating new bullets and traps, but the ability to create incredible fortresses. These will have to be constructed to protect various objects from the aforementioned monsters, and at first I found this to be pretty bothersome. The tutorial did a good job of teaching me how to create everything from stairs to walls with doors in them, but I still managed to fumble around with the game’s controls for the first few hours. It wasn’t until I was about a dozen hours in that building really clicked for me, and I started to get inspired by the cool buildings that my teammates had constructed.
While it took me some time to really appreciate the building aspect of Fortnite, the way Epic has the player constantly working towards a goal immediately won me over. I always felt that each match was meaningful because once it was over I had either completed a story mission, leveled up my character, or unlocked a couple piñatas to break open for a bunch of new goodies. Never did a match end where I felt unsatisfied, and this is one of the finest examples of a game using a carrot on a stick to tempt the player into playing more. It also helps that there’s a ton to unlock in the game, as there are several layers of skill trees to go through, character classes to experiment, and the player can even send survivors off to fetch more building materials for them. Every idea here has been iterated upon, and it really shows.
As I continued breaking adorable talking piñatas into pieces, Fortnite began to introduce additional mission types. They were all focused on the conceit of defending the world against monsters, but sometimes instead of trying to defend a location I had to go all around a large map and help out survivors that were stranded behind. All of the core concepts are still present, as I was still smashing buildings apart and shooting baddies in the head, but they really help make the action stay fresh throughout.
Another area that helps the longevity of the game is how it constantly tasks the player with additional quests. For example, early on the game asked me to find a treasure chest in a level before I could continue with the main missions. This forced me to play in a different style than I was used to, and I had to explore every inch of a level looking for a chest. Eventually I found one in a hidden basement, that was only accessible because I destroyed the floor above it. These moments of discovery are great, and since worlds constantly randomize the placement of hand-designed objects, players are never seeing the same things at the same locations.
For the most part, Fortnite comes across as a heavily polished game. It wasn’t until I had played nearly 10 hours that I encountered my first major glitch, which made my right analog stick unusable after I died for the very first time. I was able to fix that issue by restarting the game, and it’s been largely smooth sailing from a gameplay front. I have had more issues with the game’s online play, though, as it’s denied me entry into the game before, glitched out while opening a treasure chest, and frozen while completing a quest. None of these have happened too often, but they really stick out in what mostly feels like a complete game.
Plenty of my favorite gaming moments have been playing a cooperative game online, but absolutely none of them have been with a group of entirely random players. Since I largely experienced Fortnite solo, it meant that I was teaming up with other players. I had a pretty awful experience right off the bat, as in my second game I was paired up with someone who spent three minutes yelling at me for successfully completing an objective “too early.” I eventually figured out how to mute the guy, who gave me the very helpful advice of “learn how to play the game.” It was a good reminder that people can often suck the fun out of an experience, and that the optimal Fornite gaming will be done with friends.
While there are a few rough edges that make it clear why Fortnite isn’t officially releasing until next year, I’ve had a really great time with the inventive shooter so far. I’m rarely someone that gets into a loot grind, but Epic does such a great job at constantly broadening the game experience that I’m always excited to unlock something new in-between missions. I’m not sure that I can fully recommend dropping nearly $40 just to play the game early (and get a bevy of bonus unlocks), but it won’t be a wasted purchase as long as enough friends are down to play it together.
Fortnite Early Access review code provided by publisher. Previewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.