I don’t think Fortnite is a very good game, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have some fun with it.
From Epic Games, the makers of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament, Fortnite is a strange product of multiple years of development during a really volatile period in the game industry. Trends come and go, and what’s in vogue this year will be forgotten in six months. Fortnite ladles heavily from two gaming cauldrons, only one of which is still cooking.
A Fortnite match comprises two phases. The first is like Minecraft, the pot that’s still cooking—the (formerly) indie game is still popular, and Microsoft bought it last year for $2 billion. The second phase is a mixture of tower defense gameplay, where you design, maintain and upgrade defenses around an under-siege home base, and shooter gameplay, where you run around with a gun and, uh, shoot stuff.
Here’s the problem: the Minecraft phase, in which you spend half an hour whacking walls, cars and trees with a pickaxe, is not fun at all. It’s really, really tedious, and it just makes no sense at all to bust up entire city blocks with a pickaxe. The defense phase is better, since you get to run around actually shooting stuff as monsters assault the walls you’ve erected around your base. But it takes too long to get there, and the tower defense genre doesn’t appeal now like it did four years ago when Fortnite was first announced. Why it’s taken so long for a celebrated developer like Epic to get this half-cooked stew out of the kitchen is a different story. Suffice to say it probably wasn’t worth the time.
That verdict comes with a couple of caveats, though. For one thing, the game’s not out yet, and who knows what could change between now and whenever it comes out later this year—or how many more delays it might suffer (fingers crossed, it needs the work).
More importantly, though, I think the game will find its audience either way. There’s fun to be had in Fortnite. You just need to stop playing by the game’s rules to find it.
The game wants you to gather enough resources (whack whack whack) to build a fortress that the monsters can’t penetrate. But what happens if you just build a stairway to the heavens, or off the sides of the map into empty space? How far can you get from where Fortnite actually wants you to be?
It turns out not very, as the version of the game I played during a press event last month kills you instantly if you stray too far from the ground. But in our experiments, my team and I also discovered that you can mess with each other pretty good in Fortnite.
I tried to play by the rules, but half my team was off building staircases to nowhere instead of chopping down trees like they were supposed to be doing. When I knocked out their bottom steps with my pickaxe, the whole things came tumbling down, and I thought that was that. But a writer friend of mine wasn’t happy. I’d sabotaged his experiment. So he spent the next half hour sabotaging me back as I tried to actually play.
I built walls, and he knocked them down. I shot zombies, and he built them shortcuts, funneling them into my path like bees through a hedge maze. We burned through all our resources fighting one another as best we could in a game that doesn’t actually let you shoot your teammates. It was the most fun I had all day.
The battle rage subsided and we shook hands over the wreckage we’d created. The match was over five minutes after that, when we decided to actually play it. Then it was back to whacking, and the fun was over.
Based on what I’ve played of Fortnite, I can’t recommend it. But if you’re going to take a crack at it, take it with your friends, and feel free to ignore the actual game for as long as you possibly can.
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games but mostly concerned with maxing his Destiny characters. He lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and two dogs. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.