Since writing about ‘PLAYER UNKNOWN’s BATTLEGROUNDS‘, or PU:BG if you don’t feel comfortable using your weekly quota of caps in one go, I’ve spent a fair amount more hours skulking around that island trying to find that elusive chicken dinner to no avail. In the more recent of those outings, it’s begun to feel as though frustration, spawning from some of my initial misgivings about the title, is overtaking my enthusiasm to hit the play button. I don’t want to detract from the success of this modder-bred behemoth, and I know that it has a loyal fanbase who just want to suck up every last drop of this title, but for me personally the magic is beginning to fizzle out.
First up is the weird paradox that I find myself in with respect to the gameplay; I’m just not getting any better… and in truth I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be getting better at. If the goal is to survive the longest, then the safest approach (Note: also applies to life) is to run from the gunfire, stay hidden, and where possible cower and don’t move. The drawback is that although this can often get you to the top ten it’s difficult to capitalise it into a win, even with a good loadout of equipment, because by that point the best part of thirty minutes has gone by without me firing a shot, and any combat encounter is a fumble of me not remembering how to use a mouse. If the goal is combat then I’m equally as baffled; I drop into the heavily populated regions, sometimes take a kill or two before being either cripplingly injured or just finished off. I then have to wait four to five minutes to get another crack at shooting anyone assuming that I land within scampering distance of a semi-functional weapon. Ordinarily I’d just hold my hands up and say that I’m not getting any better because I’m just not that good at the game, but I can generally pin down many of my deaths down to unfortunate ingame stuttering, the ninja like way other players teleport tiny distances making it almost impossible to track them, or even worse the fatal “everything seem to be fine and then I’m dead as the client catches up with the server“. To top this all off is my open distaste for the modern military shooter; drab browns and greens hour after hour as you wait, SCARL in hand, shivering in a bush just because there was someone on the horizon five minutes ago and you might be able to catch a break and take a kill, just isn’t cutting it anymore for me.
… and then into the arena stepped ‘Fortnite’, by Epic Games, ruffling feathers and tipping over trash cans. Fortnite was… and is… a squad based PvE (player vs. environment) game with building elements. It’s currently early access, due for full release in 2018 and running off an interesting model of “You can pay now to play the PvE mode, or wait until it’s free to play in 2018“. Obviously there will be some micro-transaction trickery upon release, but (as I mentioned with Paladins) as long as the core gameplay isn’t ruined by it then I’m not too upset by the idea. Visually it’s already quite polished taking a bold cartoonish leaf from other titles such as TF2 and Overwatch and I’m pretty interested in the idea of giving that PvE mode a go next year.
Its PvE mode however hasn’t been what’s rocking certain boats; Fortnite has released an entirely free to play as of now, ‘Battle Royale’ mode. If you’re beginning to see where this is going it’s because Fortnite are not being subtle about the similarities with PU:BG. The round begins in a flying ‘battle bus’ on a vector across an open world island scattered with settlements and buildings where weapons and resources can be found. The player can skydive in, use a gliding device to land, collect random airdrops, obtain a selection of weapons, compete in an ever shrinking circular playzone… oh and it’s 100 players in last-one-standing wins.
It would be easy to dismiss FortNite: Battle Royale as a copycat, and I’m sure that there are even those who would call ‘not-cricket’ on this move, but gaming is famous for imitators and, although the massiveness of it has been unique, the idea of last-one-standing certainly isn’t new. I’m also pretty convinced that there will be core PU:BG players who won’t even notice that this is a thing, but for the rest of us who want something slightly more accessible that doesn’t require 500 hours of playtime to break into, Fortnite does seem to be a legitimate option and I’d go as far as say it’s really pretty good.
Let’s also not ignore how much of a smart move from Epic Games this has been; by instigating Battle Royale as an entirely free ‘bonus’ mode, they’re driving players their way in preparation for the PvE launch. Nobody knows how long this Battle Royale phenomenon will last, but given the consistently high server numbers, Epic are doing a great job of capitalising whilst they can. Their pre-existing engine brings bright, vibrant, and polished visuals with smooth gameplay which feel worlds away from the drab PU:BG browns and its dry interface. There is even an accelerated day-night cycle which provides a range of hues and lighting effects to keep the scenery interesting.
It’s also incredibly playable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of arena combat games. The weapon loadout is simple and effective, the classics are all there, and are distinct shapes and colours making gun selection quick and easy. Special weapons glow with different coloured halos to indicate that they are more powerful, and ammo is roughly split into a small number of different categories negating the need for the player to know your 7.62 from your 5.56 (sure, I enjoy this in some games). There is also no complicated weight based inventory, just five slots to carry five different items with non-combat items limited to health buffs and armour potions – not a superfluous angled foregrip in sight. The third person combat feels neat and precise with responsive character movement and aiming. Whilst that might sound like a bland ‘nothing’ statement it means that I am taking the kills where I have the upper hand unlike PU:BG where combat is 50/50 even if I’ve got the tactical advantage.
There’s also a more satisfying play cycle to Fortnite: Battle Royale. The pre-round warmup is cut short if the one hundred have gathered and the map is significantly smaller than PU:BG meaning that much less effort is spent aimlessly running across fields and fewer moments where just crouching and hiding feel like the sane option. There are no vehicles (and no red zone to drive people in to buildings), but the caricaturish ingame terrain allows for natural cover and removes the need for miles of cornfields and meadows. Building has been pulled over from the PvE side of the title and adds a distinctly new aspect to the formula. Players can quickly erect stairs to reach lucrative loftspaces, build cover as they move, and I’ve even seen players rapidly construct mini-forts as the bullets rain down on them.
From my own perspective the intuitive combat, colourful setting, and wrinkle-free delivery of Fortnite: Battle Royale makes it vastly more appealing than its doppelganger and I’m unlikely to turn back without some heavy persuasion. None of this is to say that there isn’t space for both games in the market, and given the healthy player numbers, I think it’s clear that Fortnite is already there. It’s promising to see a company taking a shot at the concept in a different … and more ‘me’ compatible… way, and in that respect I think that some of the community backlash against Fortnite has been unfair. So, aside from the need to install the Epic games utility (sigh) and keeping in mind the possibility that ill-conceived ‘pay-to-win’ type monetisation might ruin the whole thing, I’m hopeful that Fortnite will be with us for some time.
Have you played Fortnite… or both PU:BG and Fortnite like me? Any thoughts?