Fortnite Review – Problems in Infrastructure

What happens when you take a 3rd person shooter and add base building, tower defense, horde mode, zombie survival, random map generation, RPG elements, and card collection? You get Epic Games’ Fortnite. The real question is, do all these elements make a great game, or do they fall apart like a month old husk?

Fortnite
Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Epic Games, People Can Fly
Platform: PC, Playstation 4(Reviewed) and Xbox One
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Players: 1-4
Price: $40.00 + gacha micro transactions. 

This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.

Fortnite is a beautifully stylized game filled with colorful and unique characters, heroes, weapons, traps, and enemies. The design is rather unique for the zombie genre, being the middle ground between Plants vs Zombies’ colorful cartoony nature and Left 4 Dead’s mutated world ending themes.

Over all, the graphics and design are Fortnite’s strongest element and they are weaved well into the loss and empowerment the player is presented with. There are many unique types of “Zombies”, which are known as husks in Fortnite. These husks can range from loot chest mimics that will vigorously attack the player when they try to open them, to husks with beehives on their head that will throw a swarm of bees at you as if you were Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man.

Fortnite also has a large focus on its gacha card system, which is filled with unique art and designs that can be utilized in the game arenas or your home base. Just on heroes alone at launch, there are about 28 different base heroes who have 106 total variants all together, ranging from common to unique. This formula follows through with weapons, NPC helpers known as defenders, traps, and survivors. But more on how those are all implemented later.

Map and arena design of levels is also colorful and unique, almost mirroring 1950’s Americana. More importantly, they work with the gameplay mechanics in a way to reduce friction and promote function, as most building and items are destructible.

Before we go deep into gameplay, I want to note that load times are insanely long. I have had load times up to 1 minute 35 seconds. In recent memory, I have never experience load times this bad, and that includes games like Skyrim or Fallout 4.

When we dive into gameplay we should first talk about the building system. The building system centers around three main materials; wood, brick, and metal. These items can be obtained by chopping down trees, smashing stone, destroying cars, and so forth. This is all done with a upgradable pick axe like item you will always have equipped for easy access. Almost everything can be destroyed except the arena’s ground layout, so you won’t be going all Minecraft with the terrain.

On top of these three base materials, which serve to build structures, you will also be able to gather a multitude of items to craft weapons, traps, and other assorted items. Gathering these essential items at the start of any map is key to success later on, when you are tasked with completing objectives.

Each mission usually takes 30 to 40 minutes depending on the objective of the map. If you are looking for quick play sessions, Fortnite is not the game for you. This is also where we meet our second major problem with the game. I can’t tell you how many times I have been disconnected, dropped, or had the game crash on me at the tail end of a 40 minute mission. This leads to a total loss of experience points, as well as lack of quest completion. This is hands down unacceptable and had be wanting to throw my controller through the wall.

While I have been assured that this is being worked on, this has been a massive issue since launch and must be noted. This is especially notable since the price tag for getting into this game, on the ground floor level is a minimum $40.00. To date, I have had 41 games since release crash at the very end of a mission, costing me rewards and quests with a collective 23 hours of game time lost. This is half the reason why this review took as long as it did. Combine that with the load time and it can easily make players want to just walk away from the title.

The third major problem of the game is that initial community who jumped on to play the game quickly fled on the Playstation 4 version of the game because of these glaring errors. This reducing the in game population makes the completions of levels insanely difficult, as there is no proper balancing of the game. When there is 1 or 4 people playing, the game acts as if there is always 4 people playing.

The way the game justifies this by having “Defenders,” NPCs you can level up and hand weapons to to help you in missions. It seems like a cool idea, but in practice this means that you have to carry a spare weapon for this NPC and the ammo to use that weapon, sacrifice EXP you would use to level up your own character for the Defender you want to use, just to get some bad AI. They don’t follow you, instead they hover around the structure item you use to summon them onto the field of play like a glorified turret.

Another more minor issue, but equally infuriating, is when players join your game, you will get a massive lag spike where everything freezes on your end of the game, but the server keeps carrying on. This has lead to me walking off a cliff, being swarmed by husks, being unable to move, or failing objectives at the last minute.

On the bright side, the combat is satisfying and fun with a multitude of playstyles available depending on the class of hero and weapons you roll. Even if you don’t roll an epic or legendary weapon right away, the game’s middle ground rare or even uncommon weapons can be easily usable 60-80 hours into the game. Taking the time to level up weapons you like that are uncommon or rare is not considered a waste ether, as you will be able to recycle those weapons, earning back almost all the EXP you put into them, making it easy to move from weapon to weapon as you receive better rolls. This system applies to all aspects of the game, be it heroes, traps, defenders, weapons, and survivors.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the two types of “skill” trees that are available to players. The first being the basic skill trees that is based on your Commander level, which earns EXP every time you complete a mission, regardless of its optional rewards. This will earn you points that you will be able to use to earn skills and abilities listed in the massive trees. There is really no wrong answer when picking skills in these trees, as the game pushes you to complete them in their entirety as you move from area to area in the game.

The second set of trees is listed as “Research”. This is set up as an incentive to log in to the game every day. You will earn research points over time which can be allocated to earn similar skills in the skill tree. These points should be more thought out when spent, as it will take much longer to earn the points you need to get what you want in the tree.

The gacha system they have in the game is rather fair, and if you play the game a couple hours you will earn enough Vbucks to purchase a Lama, which is Fortnite’s version of a card pack. Many people complained about this system being in the game while being tied to the $40 standard price tag, but realistically if you just play the game, you will earn enough Vbucks to fill out your arsenal before you even leave the first area of the game. The game will also becoming out next year in a more free to play model for those who like to wait

The basic sound design of the game is on point, but there is a real lack of music in the game. This could help stager the silence of mission prep which mostly involves exploring the map and collecting resources. Almost anything would have been preferred over the silence that exists in the game. It is as if they looked at the tension of other zombie games that focus on horror and did not understand that their own game is completely dependent on action and exploration. A well placed soundtrack would have done wonders instead of the dead air the game exhibits. It could have also helped solidify the style of the game.

The story of Fortnite sits the player in the seat of a random survivor of a zombie apocalypse, who by chance stumbles into a laboratory specifically designed to try to prevent and defend against said apocalyptic situation. Problem is, there is no commander or survivors in this lab to control or oversee operations leaving the player to do just that.

It is an interesting take on the zombie genre that mixes its despair and humor fairly well, but has real issues bending around the massive multiplayer aspects of the game. Even after 100 hours of game time, I am nowhere near “end game” and the story line’s key plot points are still extremely vague. This leaves you wanting more, but not enough to keep playing the game, especially with all its flaws. Hell, I can’t even tell you why or how the apocalypse happened in the first place. This is a shame because there is really something interesting here, it’s just not letting me see it.

Fortnite is a game I personally have had a lot of fun with when it worked and extreme frustration with when it didn’t. It is everything I want in a game with a roll out that makes the Microsoft Zune seem like a success.

The game is polarizing to say the least. Great combat with extreme load times and massive crashes, interesting style with no music to back it up, and a story that gives you the literary equivalent of blue balls. I can’t recommend picking this game up yet, but when it goes free to play next year, it might be a game worth your time and money. Keep your eye on it.

Fortnite was reviewed on Playstation 4 using a review copy received from Epic Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 6

The Good:

  • Super stylized design.
  • Interesting world.
  • Fun gameplay.
  • Good Building and trap systems.

The Bad:

  • Massive game crashes.
  • Insane load times.
  • Paying to be a Beta tester.
  • Stability issues.
  • Literary Blue-Balls.
Michael Jordan

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Media, Marketing, Reviews, Interviews, and more. I do terrible things so you don't have to. Doing LIVE coverage of E3 to Tokyo Game Show for the last 10 years.