More than 45 million people are now playing a cartoon-style video game online where 100 characters battle against each other until only one is left standing. This is Fortnite.
A few months ago, my son sent me a promotional clip for a video game to ask if we could get it for our Xbox. I thought it looked good, and I figured it was time for him to move on from Minecraft and Fifa ’17, so we got the game: Fortnite Battle Royale.
Now I cannot stop playing it myself…
Evidently, I’m not the only one; earlier this year Fortnite Battle Royale was being played by 3.4 million people concurrently – setting a new record for simultaneous plays. The game has also broken the record for the most people watching a personal Twitch stream, with over 600,000 people streaming a session in which musician Drake teamed up with professional-gamer Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins. Golf-pro Tiger Woods is in on the action too, describing Fortnite as “a player’s heaven” in a recent interview. Professional soccer players have also been mimicking gestures from the game in their goal celebrations.
With this kind of attention – and the fact that Fortnite is free to download and play on PC, Playstation and Xbox – it’s easy to see why the game’s player numbers are snowballing up from the 45 million reported earlier this year. A free-to-play mobile version has just been released too.
Fortnite is a hit thanks to a combination of three things: a fresh take on a simple and familiar narrative, beautiful animated artwork, and frequent feature updates. It’s a game that’s fast, fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
A new-look battle royale
As the name indicates, Fortnite Battle Royale is loosely based on the ‘last-man-standing’ fighting concept first introduced in the Japanese film “Battle Royale”. There are several battle-royale style video games available, but the award-winning Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is the one that made the genre massively popular. Until the recent surge in Fortnite’s player numbers, PUBG was the world’s most-played battle-royale style game.
Fortnite’s spin on the battle-royale narrative goes something like this: around 100 players skydive together in real time out of a flying bus (“The Battle Bus”), landing at different places on an island to search for weapons they then use to eliminate one another in a game that lasts just over 20 minutes. Games are kept fast and active through a deadly storm that moves upon the island every few minutes, forcing remaining players to run towards an ever-shrinking play zone or risk being eliminated.
That’s about where Fortnite’s similarities with other battle-royale style games end. Whereas many games aim to look and feel as close to real as possible, Fortnite has embraced an animated hyper-reality that breathes fresh life into the genre.
Vivid action in cartoon comfort
The island itself is a seek-and-shoot paradise. Abandoned houses, factories, gas stations and towns are spread out across the map into more than 15 ‘biomes’ separated by fields, forests and hills. Players must explore and traverse these environments – Tilted Towers, Fatal Fields, Salty Springs, Retail Row… the list goes on – while encountering one another on the way to a showdown.
The vivid colours of the animation are used to great effect together with convincing audio, creating urban and rural environments that players can explore in the comfort of a cartoon. Caches of weapons (which include assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, pistols and RPGs) are found in glowing golden treasure chests. Players can quickly patch themselves up with bottled potions, and can build elaborate fortifications from wood, steel and brick – actions that draw parallels with Minecraft.
While there is no getting around the fact that Fortnite is a shooting game, the softer nature of the animation style has made it more accessible to younger players than other battle-royale games, as well as more palatable to parents. There is no blood ‘n guts in Fortnite; players expire and dissipate rather than die. These are eliminations – not kills.
You can also team up with your friends to play in groups of two of four, running around the island together while chatting through headphone mics from the comfort of your own homes. This social side is a big part of Fortnite too.
Fun to play, difficult to master
Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, is offering the game free so as to widen the audience for the business-side of the equation: in-game purchases of emotes, light-hearted hand gestures, and silly dance moves, as well as animated ‘skins’ that change the look of a player or their standard-issue equipment. While these features offer no in-game advantage – expect perhaps to intimidate other players – they are intrinsic to the somewhat goofy nature of Fortnite, with characters able to look like astronauts, knights and super-hero type figures. On the Easter weekend, Epic Games even released a “Rabbit Raider” skin; a white or pink rabbit suit complete with an animated egg as a backpack. An egg-shooting rocket became available at the same time.
While it’s hard to take a game with a pink bunny rabbit too seriously, Fortnite does require concentration and practised skills. Shooting accurately isn’t easy, and building structures takes quick thinking. There’s also a strong strategic element, as players try to figure out the best way to approach the hand they’ve been dealt upon landing on the island. Each game is a completely fresh chance for everyone though; there are no saved weapons or special abilities in Fortnite – it’s an even playing field every time you skydive out of the Battle Bus.
Fortnite’s player numbers are likely to have skyrocketed over the 2018 Easter weekend. And there will be more growth yet. With game updates being released all the time to keep things fun and fresh, we can expect the Fortnite storm to be around us for some time to come.