Epic Games' sandbox survival game has been a long time coming, but it's shaping up to be a deep experience that's worth the wait.
Epic Games' Fortnite has been in development for a hell of a long time, since 2011 in fact, but at E3 this year in Los Angeles we got to see a fully fleshed-out version of the game, which is understandable given that it's coming to early access next month. Two of us sat down to enter the world, get a quick tutorial on how the mechanics work, and jump right into a game, and all in all we came out surprised and impressed by the depth the game offered.
The tutorial for the game took us through the basic premise of what Fortnite entails. Here you take on the role of a survivor as you try to, well, survive through the hordes of zombies. Here you learn how to shoot, fight, scavenge, craft, and co-ordinate - pretty much all the tools you need to keep you and your allies alive. These are only the foundations though, and these get deeper the more you delve into them.
While the tutorial mission was guided, in the sense that you had a certain path to follow with an accompanying narrative, we were then thrown into a game that was more like a co-op sandbox survival experience, and that's more like the core experience for Fortnite. In each game you're dropped into a map that's randomly generated, and have to defend yourself and your fort from zombies for 14 days (hence the name), but there are other objectives aside from that, which executive producer Zak Phelps filled us in on.
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"So you group up with your friends, you drop into a mission, [a] procedurally generated world, and then you explore and you find where the objectives are in the game, and then once you find the core objective, you then build your fort around it, put down some awesome traps," he explained. "You might want to drop one of your outpost defenders to be able to put him in the game to be able to help you defend, make a gun for him, and then you're essentially able to defend, and beat back a horde of monsters that are coming at you."
We hope in the full game, however, that these objectives are explained in a much clearer way. Two Gamereactor players took to the map when we played, and although we stumbled across some of the objectives by chance, we had little idea of how we found them or what we needed to use them for, especially in regards to a mysterious 'launcher' we were told to activate.
In terms of who you'll be killing in Fortnite, the game has "several different varieties of monsters, everything from the basic Husks, which are kind of like the infantry of the game, all the way up to the huge Smashers which will come in and just wreck your fort," Phelps explained. We found that most of the grunts could be dispatched quickly, but once you found the more powerful ones, especially near spawn points, these could end your life within a matter of seconds. It's not just a case of cannon fodder zombies, then, but you actually have to tailor your tactics and not go running in head first, as you only have a limited amount of lives, and teammates will have to revive you if you go down.
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These foes can be dispatched with a number of weapons, and the kind souls at Epic Games kitted us out with relatively high-level weapons when we jumped into the demo. These included an automatic shotgun, as well as an assault rifle and a katana, but there's a whole load to choose from depending on your preference, and all of these can be crafted from parts you find in the world. We can only assume you unlock more as you play as well, or at least more parts with which to build them.
If you fancy taking a more distant approach to murdering bad guys, though, there are traps to do that for you. These range from the basic rudimentary options, like spikes coming through the floor, to more intricate ones, like those which throw the enemy up in the air, only to come crashing down again. These can be used in combination with weapons to devastating effect, and placement is also extremely important too, as you can easily kit out a corridor with traps just to have the zombies go another way around.
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The zombies aren't dumb either. Admittedly, they're not rocket scientists, and they'll still walk into well-laid traps very happily, but Phelps told us that they do actually identify areas of weakness in your forts, and will aim for those accordingly. This means you need to keep all areas strong in your fort, and also plug any holes if they appear. Much like with other zombie games like Call of Duty's Zombies mode, once a crack appears, a drip can turn into a flood, and you'll find yourself in hot water.
From the brief glimpse we got of the crafting, this looks deep enough that you can defend yourself in a number of ways. Although there were only around five options available to use in the quick menu, these being the basic walls, floors, stairs etc., a wider radial menu opened up different categories such as traps which, once you get used to how it works and how to place things, gives you more options. On top of this, walls can be edited when placed to include doors and windows, although we found this process a little fiddly when we tried it. Regardless, the fact that everything can be customised so quickly made the process that bit more appealing, and we can imagine this will be a game where community creations are a big selling point, so much so that we hope to see a feature where you can download or at least witness community created forts.
You construct things in the game using supplies and materials, and you can destroy pretty much everything with your trusty pickaxe to get these resources. From cars to trees, nothing is safe if you fancy building something, and this also gives you a way to shape the landscape. In this way it's not surprising the game has been likened to Minecraft, except now you're imposing artificial structures on the land rather than shaping the land itself.
All in all the time we had with Fortnite felt too short, as there was so much to do, explore, and unpack that we were longing for more time with the game after half an hour. Take this as a good sign, then, as we were eager to learn more about what we could do, but from what we saw the crafting was deep, the weapons varied, and the concept intriguing, and hopefully this hook will be enough to ensure it provides a meaningful experience as it enters early access next month.