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Review by Austen Golsin

Fortnite Battle Royale Review

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A fantastic blend of shooting and building that's unlike anything else in competitive gaming.

Stiff arming its way through the crowded battle royale genre, Fortnite Battle Royale sets itself apart by trading the traditional, bland military simulation vibe with vivid colors and an outstanding, freeform building system that’s unlike anything else in competitive multiplayer games.As its name suggests, Fortnite Battle Royale fits so neatly into the battle royale genre that blew up last year that the basic description sounds as standard as you can get: Up to 100 players are dropped onto a large but constantly shrinking map with the goal of gathering weapons and gear to become the last person or team left standing. But if you look just a little closer, it can’t be mistaken for any other game because the vehicle you’re skydiving out of is, inexplicably, a flying party bus – a nice change of pace from a drab military plane – and the place you land is a giant, beautifully colorful island, instead of a realistic landscape, surrounded by a violent storm.

Thankfully, unlike other battle royale games, like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, where an unlucky circle could leave getting out of the encroaching circle almost impossible, Fortnite’s map is at least small enough (relative to PUBG’s) that even if you have to run across the entire island to get to the safety of the randomly centered eye of the storm you run very little risk of being killed by the collapsing border.

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On the island are several large and totally unique cities, each with their own style of structures — a quaint suburb of houses, a giant office district filled with skyscrapers, or a retail area with an outdoor mall. Each city is full of vibrant colors, and the map as a whole has hundreds of buildings with randomly spawning loot in the form of guns, explosives, and healing items.

Wait, Which Fortnite Is This?
Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite was originally conceived as a third-person, co-op, survival game where teams of players could mine resources and build structures to hold off hordes of undead enemies. That version, now a standalone game called Fortnite Save the World, still exists, but it’s not great. But as the battle royale genre started to gain popularity early in 2017, Epic adapted its survival game’s basic systems into something new: Fortnite Battle Royale, a separate, free-to-play game that feels like the perfect home for Save the World’s wayward mechanics.

Fortnite Battle Royale’s inventory management is, thankfully, simple by design. You get just five slots, so you’re forced to balance your arsenal of guns with your need for healing or explosives to deal with enemy structures. It’s a neat limiting factor that forced me to keep a mental shopping list of exactly what I was on the lookout for as I ran across the island, and to resist the urge to pick up anything else. With such specific needs in mind, every chest came with the thrill of hoping it would reveal the weapons I wanted most. Fortnite gives you plenty of ways to mix and match weapons, so even if that chest doesn’t come up with the exact item you want, you’ll never feel powerless in a fight.

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Once you do find the weapons you’re looking for, most fights in Fortnite go about the same way: You start with one shot from a slow-firing heavy weapon like a sniper rifle or pump shotgun in hopes of ending the fight before it really started, then (if needed) switch over to a faster assault rifle or tactical shotgun to carry out the rest of the battle. While it’s far from the only way to play, this combination seems to be the preferred method for almost every player and provides the foundation of almost every fight in Fortnite.

It’s a chaotic and fun system that makes fights a little more complicated.

It’s a lightning-fast system where fights can end in the blink of an eye with just one slight miss. This makes for a stark contrast from other battle royale games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which is filled with long, tense standoffs where sustained accuracy often matters more than a single well placed shot. It’s a chaotic and fun system that makes fights a little more complicated than simply aiming at your opponent and firing, but after a few hours with Fortnite I started to get the shoot-and-switch rhythm down and fights started to become almost automatic.

It’s the stuff around the shooting that helps Fortnite differentiate itself from every other battle royale game and shows off what truly makes it special: The building.

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Carrying over the building system from Save the World is a brilliant choice that sets Battle Royale apart not just from other battle royale games, but most competitive multiplayer games in general. Just about everything that isn’t the ground can be mined for wood, stone, or steel, which can be used to create walls, stairs, and floors anywhere on the map (so long as some part of the structure touches the ground). It’s a massive system with so many possibilities that, at first blush, it can be daunting to try to figure out how to build the massive structures that others around you have created. But that’s one of the best things about Fortnite: It always keeps things simple.

That’s one of the best things about Fortnite: It always keeps things simple.

With just three primary tiles – floors, walls, and stairs – the building toolset may seem limited, but it’s got everything you really need. Whether it was building a staircase up to that hard-to-reach loot chest or quickly laying down an impromptu piece of cover to protect from an attacking enemy, I found I always had the tools I needed for the job at hand, and I could swap to the piece I needed without missing a beat. In fact, that swapping is so easy that one of my favorite moves is placing one platform and jumping off of it, then switch to another type in mid-air and place it before I land. That trick allows you to scale vertical walls or go straight up a mountain. While this may sound like an impressive feat of dexterity, Fortnite makes it so simple that almost anyone can pull it off – and they do, making it one of the most common tricks to getting around the island.

The first time I really understood how Fortnite’s building and shooting played into one another came in the middle of a fight in Retail Row, one of the map’s many cities. Another player and I were sheepishly taking shots at one another from behind single walls we had built. After I ran out of ammo in my assault rifle, I was forced to turn to my shotgun – a weapon I had largely disregarded up until this point. With the few resources I had left, I built stairs over my opponent’s wall, jumped off, flipped around, and shotgunned him. Looking back, it was as routine a play as it gets, but it was an absolute revelation for me at the time. Suddenly, everything made sense, and I realized that Fortnite Battle Royale is more about building than it is about shooting.

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While the little things you can use it for may seem obvious – like building stairs to get to the roof of a building, or making a wall to block an enemy’s shots – the system also gives you room to think outside the box. You could build around a downed teammate that you can’t help yet, or create a decoy fort to lure enemies into an ambush while you wait behind a tree. The system even provides some elegant solutions to getting caught outside the trademark random circles of the battle royale genre: If you find yourself on the wrong side of a lake or chasm, no problem – just make your own bridge to the other side.

One player lured me into his elaborate fortress of hallways in hopes of forcing me toward his waiting shotgun at the end of the maze.

Thanks to the building system’s simple but robust design, you can throw structures together in a way that suits your style. While some people love high towers that stretch into the sky, I like to keep things at a lower altitude, giving me more room to bounce between my platforms and the ground. One player I faced lured me into his elaborate fortress of hallways, with doors that led to nothing, all in hopes of forcing me toward his waiting shotgun at the end of the maze.

Creative uses of building become even more apparent in the heat of battle. With every building decision made in a split second, every player develops their own unique techniques. Where one person might build a wall, another builds stairs they can use to rush forward. When I might create a window in the middle of my wall to take an extra shot, someone else might try to flank around the side of the building by adding a new section entirely. What might start as a simple staircase at the beginning of a small fight between me and another person could morph into a twisted modern art spire as more people join in and add their own pieces. Fortnite’s building mechanic is an incredible system that allows for personal expression in a way that really isn’t present in many other competitive games.

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While building is a freeform system, there’s an invisible grid that exists around the entire island that helps every piece that you build snap into place, and it works almost flawlessly. Of the hundreds of structures I’ve placed, it was rare that even one piece landed where I wasn’t expecting, and I’ve never gotten myself stuck or killed as a result. That’s a pleasant surprise, considering how much building happens during chaotic firefights.

All of this adds up to a system that is simply a joy to use. Everytime a fight broke out I’d get a spark of excitement as I started to think about how I would fight and build my way out of the situation at the same time. Quickly doing the math to determine if I had enough resources to build a staircase for a daring rush toward my enemy adds an extra mental thrill to combat. Every new plan felt like I was learning more about Fortnite Battle Royale and the way it would let me play – even if most of them ended with a shotgun in the face, it’s how that shotgun got to that face that mattered.

Epic has shown a willingness to make big changes to the weapon hierarchy overnight.

Even if you find something that works, you can’t get complacent because part of the beauty of Fortnite Battle Royale is its constant state of upheaval. Epic has shown a willingness to make big changes to the weapon hierarchy overnight. Maybe in the next patch, snipers will replace shotguns as the go-to weapon class and the simple staircases and bridges of today will give way to the grandiose sniping fortresses of tomorrow as building tactics change to match the new weapon balance. That’s how Fortnite Battle Royale has overcome one of the biggest challenges for any battle royale game: Keeping up with the demand from its community for new and exciting gameplay and cosmetic additions.

The pace of new content has also been impressive. Since Fortnite Battle Royale’s earliest release in July of 2017 Epic has made countless additions, from new towns and cities on the map to brand-new game modes, like the massive 50-vs-50 team mode from earlier this year or a recent patch’s Blitz mode, which has already become a fan favorite thanks to its speeder resource gathering and higher frequency of loot spawns.

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The biggest microtransaction available is the $10 Battle Pass.

Even Fortnite Battle Royale’s free-to-play structure feels a step ahead of the competition. Every item offered in the in-game store is strictly cosmetic, like character skins and new pickax designs. There’s a daily shop, where the selection of wares refreshes every 24 hours, and a legendary shop that updates every week or so with items that are likely to never return, like the particularly gaudy pink bear costume for Valentine’s Day or the extremely detailed Wukong skin that was released as a part of Fortnite’s Chinese New Year celebration. But the biggest microtransaction available in Fortnite Battle Royale is the Battle Pass, a one-time, $10 purchase that gives you access to 100 tiers of rewards that unlock as you play and complete unique challenges. It’s a neat structure that keeps you constantly working toward the next big milestone.

The influx of huge and constant gameplay changes may seem haphazard or dangerous when so many people already love it, running the risk of fixing what ain’t broke. But so far, Epic’s been smart enough about it to make people work to adjust their tactics while also avoiding the loss of the things that make Fortnite Battle Royale fun.

The only downside to all of these interlocking mechanics is the initial learning curve. Though each mechanic is simple on its own, making sense of them all together is a bit of a challenge – especially when there isn’t much of a tutorial to speak of. In fact, outside of a few pieces of text, Fortnite Battle Royale mostly leaves you with simple trial-and-error and watching YouTube videos until you’re able to figure out what makes it tick. For most of us, that means the first dozen or so trips out of the Battle Bus are likely to be pretty painful (and often very short) experiences. But, if you stick with it, all the systems start to click.

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That’s Fortnite Battle Royale’s ultimate reward for the process of learning: An immense freedom that allows for a hundred solutions to tackle any problem, and none of them are just right or just wrong. This is the rare game where each loss fills me with more determination to improve than  disappointment, and each death comes with a quick realization of what went wrong and where. I’m constantly left eager to queue up for another match and try to correct previous mistakes — it doesn’t hurt that the time between dying and dropping out of the Battle Bus again never takes more than 60 seconds, thanks to Fortnite’s speedy matchmaking and enormous pool of players.

Fortnite Battle Royale runs fantastically on every platform I played it on.

The first couple of matches are all about the pursuit of tasting the first victory, or Victory Royale, as Fortnite calls it. Achieving it and seeing the tepid fanfare that accompanies it, however, ends up feeling like a bit of a letdown. But the feat of beating 99 other players is the true victory, and personal satisfaction is more than enough to make up for the bland winner screen. Suddenly, every game I dropped into felt winnable, and my drive to keep improving grew even more intense. Whether it was my first win, my fifth, or my twenty-fifth, the sense of excitement from a well-played game never leaves. This was twice as true in duo or squad games, when the lackluster victory screen becomes merely a backdrop to the shouts of my friends as they boast about their incredible shots and recount their closest calls.

It’s also important to mention that Fortnite Battle Royale runs fantastically on every platform I played it on (iOS, PS4, Xbox One, and PC), never stuttering or dropping frames even in middle of tense fights. That’s crucial for the speed of building that it demands, and a distinctive advantage over its chief rival in the battle royale genre, PUBG, which has more than its fair share of performance problems.

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That list of platforms includes mobile, which is highly impressive in that it’s exactly the same game as its console counterparts – to the point where cross-play between PC, Xbox One, and mobile is possible. Even on a device that fits in your pocket, Fortnite Battle Royale still looks fantastic, even if it’s running at a slightly lower resolution than it would on most other platforms. The only real difference is the controls, which, for a mobile game, aren’t terrible. In fact, I could pull off almost all of the same movements I could on PC as on my phone – at about a quarter of the speed. Playing with other mobile users, and thereby operating with exactly the same speed disadvantage, really does feel like playing a slightly slower version of Fortnite Battle Royale. So, while aiming and building skills don’t exactly translate on mobile devices, the iOS version is a great alternative for anyone who doesn’t have access to the console or PC versions – or if you just want to play on the go.

The Verdict

Mastering Fortnite Battle Royale’s many systems is worth every second of investment. Whether you go it alone or queue up with a squad, even if you’re the first to die or you actually manage to earn the Victory Royale, Fortnite’s zany style and unique blend of shooting and building almost never offers anything less than an outstanding time. It may not be the first battle royale game, and it certainly won’t be the last, but Fortnite sets itself apart from the crowd by giving you the freedom and tools to express your own personal playstyle.

Amazing
Thanks to the freedom of its outstanding building mechanic, Fortnite Battle Royale isn’t just a great battle royale game – it’s one of the best multiplayer games in recent history.
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