Since the launch of the PS4, there have been numerous free-to-play titles available. Much like their brethren on mobile, these games offer the base game for free and then charge for in-game purchases that you can usually earn through patience and time. Or, in some cases, these purchases are needed to truly progress.
It's a fine line, and now we have another contender in the form of Fortnite. What makes this one stand out, though, is the fact that you need to pay to play it. Currently, Fortnite is in early access and will stay that way until 2018. When it's finished, it will be a free-to-play title. For now, you need to pay if you want to get in early.
Is it worth throwing down your hard-earned cash for a game that will eventually be free anyway? Let's find out!
A Unique Take on the Zombie Story
Fortnite is an online cooperative shooter, but it does have a framing narrative that surrounds everything. Through the first several tutorial missions, you'll learn about a mysterious storm that is currently sweeping across the world, turning people into creatures called Husks.
You play as the "Commander" and you are in control of a base that is designed to push back the storm. With the help of fighters, survivors, and your trusty robot companions, it's your job to try and save as many people as you can, while building up your base and pushing back the storm.
It's a pretty cool setup, and one thing Fortnite does really well is its humor. The game wears its goofy presentation and whacky characters on its sleeve, and it's all the better for it.
Once the framing narrative is set up, the game settles into a standard progression of missions and mission types, but that ever-present threat of the storm keeps the feeling of urgency in the air.
As an online cooperative shooter, I didn't expect as much story as I got, so the opening missions and setup were a pleasant surprise, and gave me a reason to care about the world.
Once the story settles down, the gameplay takes over. How does Fortnite fare in these early stages? That's where things get complicated.
The Three Sides of Fortnite: An Identity Crisis
Fortnite is a game that tries to do a lot within one experience. Before we dive into the free-to-play model, let's talk about everything going on here:
Side 1: The Shooter/Builder Combo
During your missions, Fortnite plays like a cooperative shooter. This is the first side of the game. You have various characters you can unlock and upgrade, a wide variety of guns and melee weapons, and differing special attacks/abilities.
The actual gunplay in Fortnite feels great. It's smooth to play, the controls are tight, and the varying weapons offer a lot of ways to approach the combat.
The enemies, known as Husks, come in a few different varieties, with more added as you progress. The vast majority will come at you and your base with unrelenting resolve, but others have ranged attacks or special abilities like a charge attack.
Beyond your guns and melee weapons, you'll have plenty more at your disposal. depending on the mission type, Fortnite will allow you to explore procedurally generated maps to gather crafting materials and break down various things in the environment.
With a simple button press, you can pull out a pick axe and harvest resources from just about everything. Cars, trees, buildings, lamp posts, everything can be broken down.
Another couple of button presses brings you into crafting menus. Your character holsters their gun in favor of a blueprint as you see holographic representations of various schematics in the environment around you.
Assuming you have the resources, you can build walls, stairs, and most importantly, traps. For certain missions, you'll be taken to your home base, which is a persistent base you can build on as time goes on, but otherwise, you're building from scratch each time.
With a good team of people, you can muster a complex fortress pretty quickly. Clever placement of traps and openings for you to shoot and engage the enemy are crucial. The early missions aren't too bad, but once you get into the meat of the game's grind, you'll need to work together to survive.
Setting everything up for the attack is intuitive and satisfying, but sometimes you'll have those people who just want to watch the world burn. Without any restriction as to when you can start the attack, your team members can be the difference between success and defeat.
This unique combination of building, planning, and fighting for survival is when Fortnite truly shines. It's a really fun mixture of genres, and all of it is simple enough to quickly understand.
With the right time and dedication, you can build huge pools of resources across multiple missions and really create an epic home base for you to defend when the hordes come to take it.
Of course, this is just one aspect of Fortnite.
Side 2: The Micromanagement
Between missions, Fortnite thrusts you into a chaotic melding of menus that will make even the most veteran players scratch their heads. There's a lot going on between missions in this game, and it's honestly too much.
Everything in the game is card-based. Your weapons, your playable characters, and your survivors. Cards come as mission rewards and as loot from pinatas, which we'll discuss later in the review.
Case and point: you get a lot of loot. Now, normally that wouldn't be a bad thing, but it's overwhelming. With varying levels of strength, rarity, and usefulness, understanding all of it is a daunting task.
Beyond your weapons, characters, and survivors, you'll also need to manage your squads and skill trees. Assuming you find some weapons you like, you'll need to sacrifice older ones to earn XP that you can use to upgrade the current ones you're using.
The same goes for your heroes. You'll need to balance the strengths and weakness of who you play as with the other members of your team. Not everyone is a fighter, some characters are better at building, for example.
While you're figuring all of this out, you'll also need to assign survivors to squads that boost your stats. Meanwhile, you'll need to maintain your skill tree and your research tree.
The skill tree is a universal upgrade system, but the research tree generates points in real time. At a certain point, it stops generating points until you spend them, so you'll need to check back often.
The problem here isn't the amount of content, but the way it's all organized. Not all of the systems feel absolutely needed, and the game does very little to explain any of them to you.
Do we really need a skill tree and a research tree? No, probably not. We also don't need hundreds of weapon and trap schematics of varying levels and rarity.
The game just needs to dial back the deluge of content between missions and make it all more manageable for players who just want to optimize their setup and get back to the action.
Right now, there's just too much time spent in clunky menus, and it's taking away from the game's best quality: the gameplay. As time goes on, it's my hope that the developers tighten up the micromanagement and offer more streamlined ways for gamers to get back to the game.
For those who enjoy micromanagement, there can be options to dive into the details, but right now it's all too messy. Part of that comes from the third side of Fortnite.
Side 3 - The Free-to-Play Model
The final piece of the puzzle is the game's structure as a platform. The developers are offering a paid early access program that ranges from $40 to $150 to get into the game with varying bonuses.
On top of this, Fortnite is setup to be a free-to-play game in the future when it's finished. At that point, anyone can play without spending a dime. This model is a little dicey, but the game is playable enough in its current state to justify the early access. If you want to wait to play for free, you can, but if you want in early, you need to shell out some cash.
Do I agree with it? On the one hand, paying to play a free-to-play game just feels weird, but I do understand the concept of paying a premium for early access, so I could see either opinion.
Once you get into the game, the free-to-play model becomes apparent. The fastest way to earn loot quickly is to break open pinatas that drop randomized loot.
You'll get free bonuses each day you play, and you'll also slowly earn currency to get more, but if you want more, you'll need to pay real money. There's a couple problems with this. For one, it undermines the style of free-to-play that focuses on cosmetics and temporary boosts.
Since the pinatas are random drops, there's no guarantee you'll get anything you need. Having more of them will ensure that you have better chances of getting rare items, but that's only if you pay.
Right there, that ensures that people who play inherently have the chance to get better loot faster. That goes far beyond simple cosmetic upgrades or boosts. Since Fortnite isn't competitive (at least not currently), this system just ensures that people can progress faster if they pay.
it's still on the wrong side of the free-to-play model. Since everything from characters to survivors, to weapons and traps can drop from pinatas, it's dangerous toting the "pay-to-win" side of things.
Even the people who do pay aren't guaranteed success, though. The drops from the pinatas are so random that people who pay may end up with worse drops than people who got it for free.
It's just messy, and that's the best way to describe it right now. If you don't want to grind through the missions for better loot and play daily for the most bonuses, you'll need to pay. Right now, that means paying to get in and paying again to progress quicker.
When the game is free-to-play, part of this will be remedied, but there need to be some serious balance changes when it comes to the drops that you get from pinatas. Perhaps specific pinatas for weapons, survivors, and characters could help ensure people get the drops they earned/paid for, but time will tell.
As you can see, Fortnite is trying to be a lot of things at once. In the gameplay department, it succeeds by being a clever combination of builder and shooter.
When it comes to the micromanagement and RPG elements, it starts to falter. When you hit the free-to-play model things really get messy. It's in early access, so this is to be expected, but that doesn't change the fact that you need to pay to get in currently. Given that, there's a lot of caveats that come with a recommendation for this title.
Colorful and Quirky Presentation
Some of the people I've shown Fortnite to didn't like the cartoony art style, but I actually like it a lot myself. The game has a nice clean and colorful look to it. The husks themselves are intimidating without being too much.
The characters come in a variety of shapes and sizes, representing a diverse cast of characters. The environments themselves are procedurally generated, but they have a nice theme to them, especially the suburban maps with plenty of hidden areas and secrets to find.
The voice acting is great, and the writing is sharp for the story moments that the game offers. It does falter in the menus, but the clunky UI can be remedied through the right tweaks as we move closer to release.
In the end, Fortnite is a an enigma. In its current state it's a really fun shooter with interesting crafting, building, and survival elements. It's bogged down by overly complicated micromanagement and a questionable free-to-play model, but that didn't stop me from having a lot of fun with it.
I recommend entering these waters with caution, and preferably with friends. An upcoming event promises a new mode, niew characters, and plenty more, so the developers are rolling out new content consistently.
Stay tuned to this page for more updates as time goes on. It will certainly be interesting to see how Fortnite progress. For now, I only recommend diving in if you have time and friends to commit to it. You won't be able to solo this forever, and you'll need a good team behind your back when you reach the later missions.
If you're ready to brave the storm, at the very least, you'll love the gameplay in Fortnite. Just be prepared to suffer through some of the bumps in the road as it progresses through early access.
An early access copy of Fortnite was provided to PS4 Experts for Review Purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/25/17