The one they all wanted – but how does it fare?
Alright, I know the majority of the world knows Fortnite like the back of their hand now – it’s in the media enough – but as a total newcomer to the game, I got a flutter of excitement when Reggie unleashed it at Nintendo’s E3 Direct.
It’s been impossible not to notice how the game has set the world on fire since it came out in 2017. From parents taking their kids to therapy for ‘addictions’ to the game (hey mom, you are allowed to take the controller away, you know…) to footballers like France World Cup star Antoine Griezmann imitating the dances you can unlock for all of the characters, it’s made its mark unbelievably on pop culture. Now, Nintendo fans can join in the enduring craze.
This version of the game does not include the original Fortnite game mode, now known as Save the World (it has players building and defending bases from zombies), and it’s unclear if Switch players are going to get it. Whereas the Xbox One equivalent of the game still has the word Beta plastered on it, that is absent from the Switch version, raising the possibility that this may be as good as it gets. But a notification sent out within the first week of the game’s launch that a new battle royale game mode is on the way is cause for optimism. Besides, the battle royale mode is the one which has really hooked players, so at least the most important box has been ticked.
To be clear: the Nintendo Switch version of the game, though referred to simply as Fortnite, is actually the Battle Royale edition of the game, and is surely the first of its kind on a Nintendo system. The premise is easy to explain, but full of tactics and nuances in execution. Up to a hundred players all jet over to an island aboard the Battle Bus, an airborne public transport vehicle, before leaping down to whatever part of the island they desire, with the aim of scavenging for weapons, healing items and tactical items (including my favourite, a disguise which cloaks you as a bush) and then trying to pick off every other player to be the last left standing. All the while, an incoming storm diminishes the size of the battlefield, adding an extra layer of threat to proceedings and giving the final few players precious little space to work with.
Everyone begins their game with a pickaxe, and you need to use this to mine materials out of almost every object you can see, divided into wood, brick and metal. These can then be constructed into forts to use for defence and well-shielded sniping, which can take on whatever shape your material resources allow (provided it’s made up of flats, verticals, steps and a pointed roof. They can also be used for creating platforms to climb up to the top of buildings or traverse a river valley. The other tactical side of things comes with the weapons, which are all assigned a colour class – in ascending order, grey, green, blue, purple and gold). Having the fortune to come across the latter colours is a big advantage, and the start of every battle is a race to find them. Don’t worry if you miss out at first, though – you can still pick them up by managing to kill those who did find them and then dispossess them of it.
Thus, you have two main types of Fortnite player. You’ll have the ones building the forts and keeping defensive, picking a spot within the safe circumference of the storm and waiting to pick off any unfortunate players who get too close, or you have the ones who land, find a weapon as quickly as possible and set about chasing everyone else in sight with the aim of blowing them away before the storm has a chance to become a factor. Option two is as risky as it sounds. Aiming seems quite difficult on the Switch at first, as long-range scoped weapons are tough to centre on other players moving erratically in the distance, while using anything other than a powerful shotgun when shooting at close-quarters is only ever likely to end in disappointment.
It is one of those games where you find yourself blaming your character for not doing what you hoped they would do. Jumping enemies are a big irritation, while seemingly landing ten direct hits on someone with an assault rifle only for them to one-hit KO you with a shotgun is quite infuriating. Part of the skill is in playing the guessing game of where to land, not only for the proximity of likely hiding spots for good weapons, but also for the chances of other players having the same idea as you. Such is the apparent sluggishness of dropping to the ground from the Battle Bus, it’s entirely possible to float down only to be blown away literally as soon as your feet touch the ground. That’s part of the charm, though, I guess. It really is one against all, and a battle of wits between you and everyone else.
Well, at least it is in Solo mode. You can also find a friend and team up in a duo (or pair with a random for the same mode) or do the same thing in a squad of four. Fortnite follows Rocket League on the Switch in allowing cross-platform online play with PC, Mac, mobile and Xbox One using an Epic Games account. Yes, it is embarrassing that Sony have backed out of the cross-play, but thank the lord it’s not Nintendo who are pulling own goal stunts like that. Shame on you, Sony. The game is also a beauty in allowing voice chat without the use of the criminally underused Nintendo Switch App. Just plug in a headset and you’re away.
Finally, Nintendo fans can see what all the fuss is about, and it’s just so addictive. At free-to-play, Epic are so clever in getting players hooked, and with suits, dances and more hidden behind paywalls, but enough of the main game up front off the bat, you could easily argue they’re clever enough to deserve the big bucks that are being dropped.
The takeaway, though: after LA Noire, Doom, Rocket League and Skyrim, Switch is showing off that it can handle the big multiplat games, and that is a wonderful look for Nintendo.