In my last post, I briefly mentioned that I’ve been playing Fortnite a lot, which if you know me, you may find a little weird considering I normally don’t play competitive shooters.  One player shooters, yes.  Multiplayer online games, yes.  A combination of the two…not so much.  In that same vein, I wanted to explain why Fortnite is so great and why you may want to consider playing it if you’re not already.

3 Fortnite characters standing in a group

Image courtesy of Epic Games

First, what is Fortnite?  Well, to explain that, here’s a quick history lesson.

Just over a year ago, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was released and received extremely positively.  PUBG certainly wasn’t the first game of its kind, but it undeniably popularized the battle royale style of game.  That is, 100 players on a map, one team wins (or if you’re playing solo mode, then one person wins).  What’s more, PUBG popularized how these types of games work, which was essentially you start off in a vehicle in the sky and parachute down to the map (which is an island in basically all of the battle royale games I’ve seen).  Once you land, you have to quickly pick up a weapon and other loot to survive and take down other players.  There are more mechanics depending on the game, but that’s the gist of it.

When PUBG came out, Epic was busy developing what is currently known as Fortnite: Save the World, which is a player-versus-enemy co-op game where you fight monsters with weapons and the aid of materials you can use to build forts (you can craft individual walls, stairs, ceilings, floors, etc).  Epic saw the attention PUBG was getting and realized they had all of the assets available to essentially clone PUBG, and they did exactly that.  Two months later they released Fortnite Battle Royale, which from this point on, I’ll just refer to as Fortnite since, funny enough, even though Save the World was the original incarnation of the game, Battle Royale is what anyone who mentions Fortnite is actually talking about.

PUBG logo

Image courtesy of Venture Beat

That said, Fortnite is currently one of the most popular games in the world.  Last week on Twitch, I saw 700,000 people streaming Fortnite.  Next most popular was League of Legends at 100,000, then PUBG was in third at somewhere over 70,000.  So if Fortnite is essentially a clone of PUBG, how did it essentially stomp the game it copied into the ground?

First and foremost, Fortnite is free.  Save the World isn’t currently free, but when it exits its early access period, it will be free.  PUBG is not free, and I feel like that alone bears significant weight, especially among younger audiences with less disposable income.  So yeah, that’s reason number one, and it’s a big one.

I’ve only played PUBG once, and it was on mobile, but I still feel weirdly qualified to talk about it because I’ve watched Polygon’s video team stream that game every week for 1-2 hours for just over a year.  The one time I did play it, there was no learning curve since I already knew practically everything about the game.  Since Fortnite is nearly identical to PUBG, I already knew how to play Fortnite except for the crafting stuff, which was easy enough to learn the basics of.  Also, I pay a decent amount of attention to video game news in general, so the world of PUBG news isn’t exactly foreign.

First off, Epic makes a lot of interesting and thoughtful changes to Fortnite.  When they add something to the game that players don’t like (for example, an overpowered gun), they actually monitor this feedback and make adjustments accordingly.  Epic employees regularly post in /r/FortniteBR confirming bugs, providing comments on community feedback, and a host of other things.  I’m not sure how Bluehole (PUBG’s developers) handle that kind of stuff, but based on feedback I’ve heard, I’m guessing not super well.

Fortnite also runs really well on the platforms I’ve played it on (PC and iOS), and it’s available on almost every major platform and console, with Android support coming soon and also being the final missing piece.  Now, I can’t play on my 12″ MacBook or my Surface Pro 3, but it doesn’t take a beefy machine to run Fortnite with playable graphics.  The mobile client is also surprisingly good considering how hard it is to play that type of game on a touchscreen.  PUBG’s iOS client is actually pretty good too, but the details that Epic put into the Fortnite mobile client to make it playable versus being on a computer or a console are really thoughtful.  There’s an auto-shoot option and a visual alert that notifies you when there is shooting, a chest, or footprints nearby – all aids to things that are made more difficult on a phone or tablet.

Another thing Fortnite does really well is monetization.  Yes, you can play it 100% free and experience absolutely no disadvantage in gameplay compared to someone that’s spent $1,000 on cosmetic items.  Fortnite allows you to purchase V Bucks, and V Bucks are used to buy cosmetic items, emotes (usually various dances), and of course, the Battle Pass.

Image of Fornite's season 5 battle pass showing tiers and items gained

Season 5 battle pass, image courtesy of Forbes

Epic really knocked it out of the park with the Battle Pass, because unlike PUBG’s monetization system (loot boxes, which are essentially gambling), you always know exactly what you get with the Battle Pass, and you get it by playing the game and completing quests.  Nothing is random, period.  If you’re a better player, you get more experience, which means you level up faster, which means you reach higher tiers of the Battle Pass and receive the items associated with it.

Purchasing a Battle Pass costs 950 V Bucks per season, which is equivalent to $10 with 50 V Bucks leftover, as you can buy 1,000 V Bucks for $10.  Each Battle Pass lasts for one season, and one season lasts for 10 weeks.  But wait, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pay $10 every 10 weeks.  If you just play the game, some tiers in the Battle Pass reward 100 V Bucks, so essentially, if you earn and save 950 V Bucks worth of your rewards every season, you only need to spend $10 one time, then play the game, and you’ve got a perpetual Battle Pass for as long as you keep earning enough rewards.  And yes, it is totally doable to do just that, but you might be enticed to buy emotes or costumes.

Oh, and the most important thing about the Battle Pass?  It actually makes the game, which is already fun to play for free, more fun by providing additional Battle Pass-only quests and secrets (I only just learned about secret Battle Stars yesterday!).

Unlike PUBG, Fortnite only has one map, but it gets updated and changed every season.  My last blog post was called “RIP Moisty Mire” because Epic removed the swamp that took up the entire southeast portion of the map and replaced it with a desert for season 5.  In season 4, a meteorite struck the location in the center of the map (Dusty Depot) and turned it into Dusty Divot.  And it’s not just simple stuff like that; the seasons are themed and bring along interesting changes.  At the end of season 3, players knew something on the map was going to get wiped out because you could see the meteorite in the sky, so there was a lot of speculation on what would happen.  When the meteorite did hit in season 4, there was a new consumable item called “hop rocks” (essentially meteorite fragments) that allowed players to jump higher.  At the end of season 4, a rocket that had been on the map for a while took off and smashed into the sky, cracking it like glass and introducing “drifts.”  Random stuff started appearing and disappearing on the map, and like I said, an entire section of the map disappeared and got replaced.  It’s just a really cool method of storytelling for a game mode that really doesn’t even need a story (but I’m absolutely glad that it sort of has one).

If I had to point out a weak point of Fortnite, it’s that there are a lot of people that play, and the game is immensely popular among audiences ranging from teens to adults.  That means you’ll probably have teenagers on your team, and if you have voice chat on, you will hate your life.  I keep it turned off, and I’m thankful Epic gives me the option to do so.  It also sucks when you’re playing squad mode (teams of 4), and some random jackass refuses to land with the rest of the team.  It puts everyone, including the solo person, at a disadvantage compared to a team that sticks together and lands in the same area.  You can play solo or duo mode (or only play with friends you trust to not be jerks) to avoid this, but it’s a part of squad mode life if you’re playing with randos.

Finally, I just want to say that Fortnite gameplay is really fun, even if it’s fundamentally frustrating.  You’ll probably die most of the time wherever you land, you’ll probably win very infrequently (only one person/team can win out of 100 people, after all), and you’ll probably get sniped out of nowhere right after you pick up the best close-range gun in the game.  That’s a part of competitive shooters, and yet, that challenge is what makes it fun.  I personally consider it a win if I at least take someone else out before dying.  Of course, if you don’t like shooters, you probably won’t like Fortnite, but I’d also point out that I typically don’t like competitive shooters or third person shooters, yet here I am, telling you that the competitive, third person shooter called Fortnite is a blast.