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An interesting concept that hinges wildly on who you can play with – and how much you can spend.

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The gaming industry has changed in the last decade or so, that’s for sure. The unified gamer front that once fought against Jack Thompson and his anti-game crusades has fallen to squabbling and petty infighting, for instance. Minigames you play on your phone have become big business. Perhaps most significantly, it’s rare that you get a complete experience for the money you spend on a game anymore. DLC and microtransactions run rampant, and Epic Games’ new builder-shooter Fortnite is a great example of this fact.

The zombie apocalypse has come again! This time it’s not the dead rising from their graves or anything like that, though. Fortnite’s zombies are a little more creative: there’s a terrifying purple Storm that has grown to cover much of the world, randomly zapping zombies called Husks into existence and pouring mutagenic rain upon the land. Humanity’s in a tight spot, but with your help mankind is going to rebuild and fight back with more than just umbrellas.

Have you played Minecraft? Good! So has Epic Games, and they’ve decided it needed a little spicing up. Fortnite is basically what happens when Minecraft and the horde mode from Gears of War get together, and it works surprisingly well for what it is. The game is separated into missions, most of which revolve around the defense of a given point or structure. Upon entering a mission you’ll find your objective (perhaps completing some side-missions in the process), build defenses around it and defend it to the best of your ability for a given period. During the defense phase of the mission you’re tasked with both repairing your fort and unloading on the Husks with whatever weapons you’ve brought with you.

Building is central to Fortnite, of course, and the deceptively system used here is surprisingly effective. You’re able to place walls, floors, staircases and angular pieces by laying out a blueprint, then adding and subtracting segments from that blueprint to achieve different results. For instance, a wall is normally a 3×3 grid, but by removing the center and center bottom segments of the grid, you’ll get a wall with door; meanwhile, removing the top two rows will yield a half-wall that players can see and shoot over.  The interface for this is quick and easy if you’re using a mouse, allowing you to create impressive-looking structures with relative ease. Once you’ve got something built, you’ll want to craft traps and slap them all over the place to give the zombos something to think about.

As for combat, you’ve got a wide selection of characters and weapons to choose from…well, “choose from,” as we’ll discuss in a moment. Gunplay feels nice and snappy, with just the right kind of feedback that you’d expect from experienced shooter developers like Epic. Weapon options include pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, and a selection of melee weapons; I didn’t find the latter to be quite as appealing as the guns, but they’re there for people who want them. As for your characters, you’ve got four basic classes – the Soldier, Outlander, Constructor and Ninja – with each specializing in a particular aspect of gameplay.

Character development ties into the game’s most divisive aspects, so we might as well discuss the two together. See, characters, weapons, traps and more can all be upgraded and improved. This requires XP, which is obtained in small amounts from completing missions, but what’s more, not all characters and gear are created equal. Everything’s got an associated rarity and color, ranging from common white items to legendary orange items, and I think you can start to see where I’m going with this…

…yes, it’s lootboxes. Loot Llamas in this case, pinatas that you smash open for goodies. Fortnite offers you some of these as you play, but it would very much like you to buy more. If you do, you’re going to have a great time! You’ll have tons of weapons and characters to choose from, as well as plenty of duplicate items to convert into XP (in much greater amounts than you get from finishing missions) to level up your favorites. If you don’t, well…Fortnite’s going to be a little grindy. That’s a bit of an understatement, actually – Fortnite’s content feels a little lacking at the moment in no small part because the game expects you to grind like Sisyphus to get anywhere.

That’s going to be a make-or-break thing for a lot of people and it keeps Fortnite from being an easy recommendation. Your experience with the game is absolutely going to be shaped by how much dinero you’ve got to throw at it. Some people don’t have a problem with this kind of setup, especially given that the game is going to be free to play in 2018, and others are going to be immediately turned off by this aspect of the game. I don’t know if I can call it “pay-to-win” since there’s no competitive aspect to the game, but it’s certainly “pay-to-perform” if that makes sense. Gear you get from Llamas can be many times better than anything else you’ve got, after all. Also worth noting is that while the first ten hours or so of the game are brain-dead easy, you’re going to wish you had that nice gear once you start getting further in and the Husks start trying a little bit harder.

Let’s not dwell on sad financial truths, though. Fortnite’s a cute game! The characters have cute quips! The husks have appealing designs! You can make some pretty neat-looking buildings with that construction interface! The Loot Llamas talk to you! They want you to buy more of them! You haven’t bought enough yet, haven’t you seen how your guns aren’t cutting it in missions anymore? You’re letting your team down, you know. Just another ten dollars and maybe you’ll get that legendary assault rifle you’re after. Come on, get that credit card out…

…yeah. Fortnite is still a fun game but one certainly with caveats. If you can get a few friends to play with so you can share building responsibilities and craft gear for each other along with a few bucks to drop on Loot Llamas, it’s a good choice. If you’re going to play solo or avoid microtransactions, though, the inevitable crushing grind is going to get you one way or the other. Consider your position on these points before you buy in because they’re going to color the entire experience you have with this game, and consider also that this is technically still in Early Access so some changes to the whole paradigm might show up at some point.

About the Author: Cory Galliher