Just a few short months ago, I played Fortnite for the first time. I was charmed by the game's cartoon characters and its fun shooting, and my short session made me excited to play more. Now that I've had my hands on the game for a few weeks, I can dig into what a long term Fortnite player will experience, as well as whether it's worth it to buy past the game's Early Access paywall or wait for the full launch into free to play next year. There is definitely fun to be had with Fortnite now, but you'll have to work through a mobile game progression system in order to eke it out.
A purple storm has overtaken the world, turning the vast majority of the populace into zombified creatures who wear their former skin as a hoodie. You take command of a squad of heroes, team up with your buddies, build up your defenses, and hope to outlast the hordes on your way to the next objective. After each mission, you get a small sampling of the game's numerous types of currency. These can also be gotten from the loot box llamas that are gifted to you in the early levels but cost real money to acquire reliably. New features are being thrown at you at a rate that became tiring after a while. I don't mind being taught through tutorials, but my time with the game so far has been defined by a seemingly neverending ramp to some mythical endgame in the distance.
This will all be intimately familiar to anyone who's downloaded games like Plants vs. Zombies Heroes and Clash of Clans, but everything changes when you're playing a game on your desktop. Repetition can be acceptable when you're playing games on your phone because you're probably also watching something on YouTube or waiting at a bus stop. Games on PC and console are generally something to be focused on, but the repetition of Fornite's current content defies that expectation. There is a place for this type of game, especially if you have a backlog of podcasts to go through, but it was just disappointing how little was worth focusing on after the game's colorful and engaging introduction.
Thankfully, Fortnite's gameplay foundations are solid and can be built upon. This is a good to great third person shooter mixed with some melee combat, tower defense elements, and the fun of building your own cover. Weapons are acquired at a brisk pace, and you'll be able to outfit your character as you see fit in short order. I do wish there was a bit more Orcs Must Die in here, as the traps system feels a little half-hearted and requires a lot of resources to invest in. It's generally easier to just rack up headshots, which is fine, but it just adds to that sense of repetition.
Speaking of, resource gathering is on the same level as shooting here, and you'll be mining cars and buildings for all their worth throughout your Fortnite play sessions. I found it difficult to keep track of where certain resources could be found in the environment, which kept me searching for obscure items to pick away at while my teammates completed objectives without me. Considering that each mission supposedly has a narrative hook, this means that you can choose between maintaining your arsenal of weapons in a timely fashion or following along with the tale of robots and zombies. This is a problem you get a lot with random matchmaking, but plenty of people are going to want to play without friends, and the game isn't really able to handle that in a satisfying manner at this point.
However, even when you are defending your fort on the front lines, Fortnite does its best to remind you that it is primarily a game of resource gathering rather than zombie slaying. Weapons have durability and need maintenance and parts to repair. Ammo is finite and must be crafted in the field. Of course, your random planks of wood and flower petals could also go towards rebuilding your walls if they take damage. You'll also need to resupply your AI defenders with ammo and weapons since they also require regular upkeep and will whine about it constantly until you drop everything and tend to their needs. It's an insane amount of grind to get to the serviceable gameplay that can't really hold your attention.
Speaking of unsatisfying, actually running around on missions is only going to be about half of your adventure in Fortnite. The rest of your time is going to be spent sorting through an arcane set of menus that hide nothing but endless upgrade trees and minor stat boosts. Entire sets of menus are locked behind level requirements and upgrade tree slots, and I wasn't able to see nearly all of it during my extended preview time. You'll be spending the six or seven types of experience you earn on slowly upgrading scientists and soldiers for your base and slightly boosting the damage output of shotguns, and you'll be doing all of this with a sincere lack of understanding on how it all works unless you dedicated yourself to watching hours of community tutorials on YouTube.
Really, that might be the main problem between me and Fortnite right now. This is a game currently targeted at two very specific audiences. One is the gamers who regularly goes through co-op sessions with friends and made Ghost Recon: Wildlands a bestseller. The other is the group of people who devoured Minecraft and are looking for something a bit more mature and complicated. Unless you fall into one of these two camps, you won't really find what you're looking for here, and the game makes no effort to fix that in its current state.
That's ultimately the real shame of where Fortnite is currently at. I can't help but get the feeling that I get with a lot of free to play games. There was a lot of top quality effort put into every aspect of production, and the designers have crafted a complex system that adds a lot to the formula of resource gathering and basebuilding. However, to get to the meat of it, you have to dig through a mountain of menus and microtransactions, and not even the best games are worth all that effort and time just to play.