Fortnite Preview – Forage, Build, Defend, Repeat


It seems like everybody’s getting on the free-to-play bandwagon in some capacity, and Epic Games is no exception. Fortnite throws you into a mysterious apocalypse, where “The Storm” is spawning demonic little nasties called Husks all over the place, and it’s up to you to fight them back. Very little has been said of what The Storm actually is, but suffice to say it’s not great for humanity, so it must be stopped. You’ll be able to shut down “Gates” – constructs that somehow feed into The Storm – in the PVE campaign, which stops The Storm from spawning baddies in that area.

The hands-on demo offered three classes to choose from – Ninja, Commando, and Constructor – with more options to come for the game’s eventual launch. The Ninja is a close-combat specialist, preferring edged weapons like the katana to guns and bludgeoning tools. The Ninja has access to double jump, making it the most agile class, but being melee oriented, you have to be careful not to get overwhelmed. The Commando is a ranged class, using assault rifles and shotguns. Commandos specialize in taking out Husks from a distance, with class bonuses to gun damage and reload speed. The Constructor is just what it sounds like; a building class. The Constructor gets bonuses to building in speed and health, and can drop a device that gives bonuses to all characters building in the area.

Each class has its own unique set of skill trees, like the Ninja’s Shinobi tree, that allow you to customize your character as per your playstyle, or according to the needs of the mission ahead of you. Respecs are free, so you’re welcome to tinker around with different builds to see what suits you. I focused on the Ninja, and talents like increasing bladed weapon damage and reducing the energy cost of double jumps were fun to toy with. The current level cap is 20, meaning you’ll have a total of 20 points to assign. Some skills cost 2 or even 4 points, so you’ll have to pick and choose which path you want to go down. The class options play into how well the game does at providing offerings for all sorts of players. I’m not much for building – I’m lucky to get four walls connected into a single-room structure – but I’m a sucker for some katana-swinging mayhem, so the Ninja was right up my alley.

The PVE campaign is a series of missions on procedurally generated maps that takes you through the world map hex by hex. You’ll have choices on where to head next from the world map, and you’ll have to decide which area’s resources would be most helpful to the group at any given time. The missions consist of everything from base defense to escort quests, but invariably involve some kind of structure building component. If you’re trying to shut down a Gate, you’ll have to activate it, build up some defenses, and defend it for a specified time. You’ll might have to build a multi-story structure where you can construct a radar tower on top, all the while defending your progress from assaulting Husks. The demo was ostensibly just a small slice of what is to come, but there was a distinct lack of variety in the few missions we did get to play. The environments were varied, but the objectives were fairly nondescript.

The gameplay has something to offer most kinds of players. You’re welcome to focus on the combat segments of each mission if that’s your jam. You can be the go-to forager, collecting materials by attacking trees, cars, and rocks with a pick. Or you can be the builder, constructing impenetrable defenses, setting up traps, and repairing your structure between waves of Husks. Of course, you’re encouraged to do all three to some extent, but the ability to focus on doing what you enjoy will definitely make the game a bit more accessible to a wider audience.

There are already several different types of Husks in game, and there will be more to come in Beta and eventually at launch. The basic Husks are squishy little melee guys, then there’s Baseball Husks, wearing a uniform and tossing things at your head. There’s a Smasher that devastates defenses if you let it get too close, and a Flinger that will hurl other Husks onto (or into, if you fail to build a roof) your structure to attack from within. Learning how to combat all of the varieties of husks – especially with the promise of new types of enemies being released fairly regularly – is definitely a feather in Fortnite‘s cap. You can just swing a katana like a maniac at the base Husks, but you better come up with a new tactic when the Smashers come out to play.

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In addition to the action aspects of the game, there’s a base building meta game to play around with, too. You’ll get to construct and staff buildings in your Home Base, which will provide bonuses to your group during the campaign. You’ll collect resources from completed missions, which you use to construct your buildings. You’ll also rescue workers in the campaign, which you’ll assign to work in your facilities, providing additional bonuses during the campaign.

As you kill Husks and gather resources and loot, you’ll sometimes find weapons or schematics. Weapons are tied to your current campaign, but schematics are account-bound, so once you’ve got the recipe, you can create that item wherever you are. Schematics require special building materials, like Duct Tape, which you’ll have to create yourself from component parts. Some of the recipes get fairly involved, so you won’ t be able to simply craft an uber weapon in the first level of your next campaign and breeze through the rest. Hunting down specific resources to create your uberweapon is definitely a neat addition to the experience. Farming trees for wood and stones for rock are fine and good, but when you’re trying to create five pieces of duct tape so you can assemble your new weapon, you’ll need to be more particular about what you’re foraging. It takes time to knock down a tree or bust up a rock, so unless your group has saint-like patience, you’ll be on a clock to try to craft your favorite Husk killer.

The PVP demo was made clear to be a proof-of-concept only, so the specifics aren’t particularly relevant to what the title is going to ship with. Suffice to say, tinkering around with the game’s mechanics while fending off another team was a ton of fun. Building defenses around your own base while harassing your opponent’s Constructor requires coordination among your team to avoid leaving yourself too vulnerable, or getting crushed by a sneaky Ninja assault. The incorporation of AI enemies adds another layer of depth to the experience, as you no longer only need to worry about keeping your opponents on their toes, but fending off the hordes of Husks as well. Sneaking into the enemy base amid a swarm of bad guys is hilarious and entertaining. The enemy of my enemy, as they say.

Being a free-to-play title, you can expect some kind of microtransactions, but Epic insists that it’s looking to do this the right way; it’s not a pay-to-win model. Instead, there was talk of buying packs of cards, with a random assortment of workers and schematics for you to utilize. While it is incredibly important to avoid becoming pay-to-win, the random booster model has its own flaws, like doubling up on schematics, or getting worker types that you’re already full on. It remains to be seen if or how this will be addressed, but the team is aware of the potential drawbacks.

Fortnite is basically the intermingling of Left 4 Dead and an entry-level Minecraft, with a dash of Orcs Must Die! for good measure. If constructing buildings isn’t your thing, you can focus your efforts on foraging and combat. If you’re an expert in-game architect, the freedom allowed by the construction system will be quite the treat for you, although it is still significantly more restrictive than something like Minecraft, which doesn’t force you to use pre-determined structures like walls and floors. These restrictions are probably for the best, as building block by block would make the matches and missions drag on, and this allows much more flexibility in how you use your building chops. Expeditiously constructing a staircase and skybridge to the top floor of your opponent’s base defenses in PVP, then swarming the roof of the base with your whole squad offers a great sense of accomplishment, ingenuity, and teamwork.

Keep an eye on Fornite in the coming months. Whether you’re a PVPer or a PVEer, a builder or a fighter, it will have something to offer you for your preferred style of play and, being free-to-play, the price is definitely right.

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