Fortnite is out soon, but what is it? [Preview]

Six years! SIX! YEARS! Fortnite has been coming for six years now!

And technically it’s only entering an early access period come July 25, with a full release some time in 2018. Epic first revealed Fortnite at the Spike Video Game Awards in 2011. Six years ago!

Anyway, Fortnite combines the childish joys of fort building with the childish fear of the dark. Except these forts are built of wood, metal and stone, not pillows and blankets. And there really are monsters lurking in the dark.

Set in a world wracked by a phenomena known only as “The Storm” players must construct defenses – forts – with materials scavenged from the ruined world around them. Unlike other apocalyptic survival titles the world of Fortnite is bright and colourful, at least until The Storm rolls in. Houses are built in colours other than grey or brown and the wildly colourful Durrr Burger restaurants look wonderful.

While there’s a great deal of depth to customising your Commander’s attributes and the soldiers supporting him between missions, what you’ll spend most of your time doing is venturing into randomly generated segments of the world to combat specific threats, rescue survivors and gather resources for the fights ahead.

A fairly standard mission may set players the task of finding a specific location on the map and defending it until an extraction team can arrive. Gather up some resources to erect walls and traps around whatever you’re defending so the approaching enemies are killed outright, stopped or funneled into a kill-box to face your guns.

There’s a variety of forms this basic mission can take, with some being straight up defensive missions and others requiring you power up a structure during different phases. The former you could simply wall in, trusting to the strength and quantity of walls between the horde and its goal. The latter you might need to leave exposed in some way, so players can get to it, or build some doorways into the walls.

Which is where Fortnite’s building system shows its true ingenuity. In other games building a simple room with one door and one window would require three separate kinds of wall, one plain wall, one with a door shaped hole (or a door!) in it and another with a window. In Fortnite, it’s just a plain wall *unless you edit it*.

Each wall (and floor/ceiling/ramp/etc) has a blueprint with a 3×3 grid of 9 discrete “tiles”, any of which you can toggle on or off to get different shaped walls as needed. Put one hole in the centre and you have a wall with a window you could shoot from. Add an extra hole to the bottom-centre and you have a wall with a door in it. Take out the upper six tiles and the wall becomes a low wall, useful for a parapet. And those are just some basic examples, you can get other shapes of varying usefulness to emerge depending on which tiles are active.

Each of these walls can be useful on their own in blocking off routes, but generally they are best combined with assorted traps that are easily attached to walls, floors and ceilings of your forts. Traps and obstacles range from simple spikes attached to planks or shooting up from the floor to exotic acid sprayers, lightning zappers and monster flinging platforms.

Pro-tip: Combine a vertical monster flinger with a sloped “roof” section at the top of a ramp to get some real distance on your throws!

Oh yeah, you can be a lady Constructor. Hashtag feminism.

Most traps have a “reload timer” before they can fire again, so during sustained attack some enemies will inevitably get through and start beating on your fort. If the supporting structure for a trap is destroyed, the trap goes with it, so it’s wise to pay attention and repair when possible. Repairing is cheap, replacing is expensive and dangerous!

Many early missions in particular can be completed simply with some well placed walls and traps, but later missions will likely require the use of weaponry. Fortnite’s arsenal includes the expected array of conventional guns and rocket launchers, but adds some unusual armaments like lasers and fireworks launchers. There’s a stack of melee weaponry as well but unless you’re playing the Ninja class you probably won’t be using them much, although that is subject to change, of course.

Aside from these missions, and the various sidequests offered on the same maps, you also have a home base to upgrade over time. Use what you’ve learned in the regular missions and some of the resources you’ve collected to defend the core of your base during upgrade cycles. Upgrading that home base will open up more mission areas, which will be harder to beat but more rewarding when you do. Unlike the normal missions your fort back home is persistent between sessions, so it’s very much worth upgrading your walls to their strongest possible quality and placing all your best traps and defenders.

Your home fort is also the best option if you want to make something that is both functional and cool.

What are all these walls and traps for, anyway? Well, from out of The Storm come a vast horde of monsters looking to break your defenses and steal your stuff! The easiest are the husks, shambling zombie-like opponents that waddle towards their goal and thump their fists on anything that gets in their way. Later there’s shambling muscly beefcake zombies, that can take a lot more damage and hit things a heck of a lot harder.

Once you think you’ve finally got a good strategy for building up your defenses? Then The Storm sends in lobbers, throwing balls of energy over your beautiful walls from well outside the range of your traps. Time to start building higher walls? Or work on your sniping? Or get your ninja friend to zip out and chop off their heads!

Kill ’em. Kill ’em all!

In between the various missions is where you deal with a lot of the fiddly minutiae that goes into determining your overall effectiveness. It’s here you select which class you’ll be playing as for your next mission, along with what supporting characters will provide additional boosts. You might pick a Constructor to play, great for building up strong walls and defenses, but have a few solid Soldiers in your deck, propping up your shooting skills if things get hairy.

The five playable classes are supplemented by a wealth of specially skilled survivors, offering boosts to your medical expertise, overall health, engineering skills and more.

And everything in the game has varying quality levels and possible bonus stats, can be improved by spending in-game currencies or resources, sold off or recycled. Even the schematics, from which you can build new weapons or traps with your own resources, can be of greater or lesser quality, then improved to varying degrees. You and your friend could start with the same basic submachine gun but get wildly different real world results, depending on which class you’re playing, how high quality your supporting troops are and if you’ve researched the right technology.

There’s a research tree, too! The research tree can be invested in to open up new abilities, improve existing statistics and probably a dozen other things besides. If you want to be particularly effective at a certain class you’ll want to spend heavily on the related skills here. While it is apparently possible to eventually unlock everything in the research section, the amount of time involved is a bit extreme.

So how do you get all these resources, experience points and currency-like things? Aside from harvesting and scavenging them during missions, the rewards from completing the missions themselves and recycling useless items, your primary source for basically everything in the game is the Loot Llama Pinatas.

The loot pinatas are essentially the same as crates in many other recent games, with an assortment of goodies inside. Purchased either with the in-game Vbucks or real money, smashing open a loot pinata can give you new characters to play, new survivors to slot into support roles, weapons and traps or the schematics to create them. Booster items like limited time XP bonuses can also pop out.

Pinatas come in various grades, with the better ones giving more and/or higher quality items, and occasionally whacking them will result in an upgraded version being opened, as a nice bonus. Gambling is fun, kids!

Is Fortnite worth paying for, though? When the game exits early access next year it will be free to play, with the optional in-game purchases being the intended business plan. Picking up a preorder/early-access bundle gets you into the game before then and includes a number of loot pinatas, banner icons, XP boosts, weapons, characters and storage space, depending on the tier you buy in to. The most expensive package also comes with two keys for the standard edition of the game.

And it is a lot of fun. Building forts and tinkering with loot and pushing back The Storm makes for a grand old time.

… but if you’ve been waiting six years for this, can you wait one more to play it for free? Because I can’t.

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