Fortnite comes in two flavours: The PVE campaign mode against Zombies (in paid Closed Beta at the time of publishing) and the PVP Battle Royale mode, which is available to all for free. This is a review of the Battle Royale portion of Fortnite. It's free to play and updates to graphics and gameplay are still coming thick and fast (at time of publishing) with substantial changes to gameplay, but don't let that put you off - it's worth putting some time into. It's a third-person shooter with 100 players, fighting it out to be the last one standing, be it solo, or in teams of two or four. The lobbies appear to wait until the full 100 are available before starting and there's sometimes a queue to get a game at busy times.
After a very short spell in a lobby, everyone passes over an island in a party bus carried by a balloon, with bass music thumping. There's a cartoony feel to the graphics, with loads of character designs, assigned at random. Imagine a more detailed version of Zelda Wind Waker, but with guns.
The island map lets you place marker pins so that even with no chat, there's a chance of teams playing towards a common aim. After jumping out near where you are aiming for, there's a short wing suit flight and a parachute glide in to land. Next up is a frantic sweep of buildings and structures for weapons, medical supplies and ammo. Some of this might be hidden in areas that need to be hacked at with an axe, like a loft or hidden room. Dropping on to a roof and hacking downwards is often a good tactic. Spawn locations are slightly randomised but fairly consistent.
Almost everything can be mined with a pickaxe for wood, stone and metal which can be used to build structures yourself, from a quick defence wall, to a fully blown base. However, people can hear you doing this from quite far away and building stuff lights you up as a glowing target visible from miles away.
At the start no one wants to go near each other, so there's a trade off between choosing a well built up, but popular drop-point with guaranteed supplies, or a more remote location where it might take longer to acquire an arsenal. This also means that the 100 people generally spread themselves out well across the map, so you never see a situation where all 100 drop in the same place, although I'd like to see that!
After a short while, a large circle appears on the map, along with a countdown to the arrival of a storm. Once the storm arrives, it gradually narrows to the circle at roughly the speed people can run. Anyone caught in the storm loses health until they die or get inside of the storm. While the safe eye of the storm is large, that loss of health is quite slow, but when it's small at the finale, it's pretty dangerous to be outside it. Once the storm arrives at the circle, a new smaller inner-circle appears at random, and the processes is repeated. This might sound familiar from other games and films. It makes for a super-tense experience, forcing people closer and closer together. I've seen a video of three people who refused to shoot each other and instead waited until the storm shrunk to a zero-point, at which point they all lost health and died - pretty funny. Normally the final minutes involve strategic structure building, realising it's not even in the circle and strafing across an open plain hoping to get within to build the next set of walls if there's any material left in your inventory. There's a lot of fun to be had along the way, but it's possible to last a long time through a round just by stealth to be in the final ten, although if you don't have the kit you need, it will have been pointless. Nice risk and reward thing going on there.
Playing in a team, you can revive downed teammates - they need to be shot while crawling around on the ground to finish them off, so it's possible to shield them by building a wall and spending seven precious seconds bringing them back to life.
Eliminated players drop all their loot. You can either pick this stuff up or leave it lying on the ground as bait for other players while you hide in a bush and pick them off. Always assume the worst! By the end, anyone dying has all best and rarest stuff so the finale is a weapon-fest of rocket launchers, snipers, and grenades. All the weapons are as useful (or not) in various scenarios as you'd expect, so a shotgun works best inside buildings or moving nearby targets, whereas assault rifles are a go to choice while running around in the open from one location to another. The weapons come in coloured code varieties, with slightly better damage or tighter spread and maybe a scope powerup. You can't level weapons up - you have to find them, giving an incentive to keep scavenging throughout.
Running is quicker, but creates a highly visible dust trail. Crouched walking is pretty much silent but obviously very slow. High ground is great, but falling isn't. If you build a giant ramp to snipe from, someone could use a pistol on the bottom piece to fell the lot, killing you. Sometimes you'll find traps that can be placed, e.g. spikes in the floor or ceiling zappers and balloons drop supply packs every now and then - again, leaving these and hanging around to pick people off is an option, so keep your eyes peeled. Everything about the game seems so simple to start with, but the possibilities for tactics are extensive. Soundscapes are revealing and effects are solid and detailed.
Friendly fire hurts and you'll get the odd tool shooting their own team for kicks. You can report them. Ultimately, having to look after, and not shoot, your team members is a pretty important part of the game. You can drop bits of your inventory to even things out across the squad until everyone has scavenged enough to fill up their slots. If people are using voice-comms there's a useful compass so you can shout degrees to any approaching enemies.
Fortnite Battle Royale would be worth playing regardless of whether or not it was free. You can buy coins for skins for players and objects, but none of it impacts gameplay in any way. The pace is great, so you never get bored. Netcode is decent, there's little lag and I've never been dropped from a game. It runs very smoothly most of the time and the engine is sorted. Download and play it now while the servers are jam-packed.