During my first few minutes in Fortnite’s Battle Royale spin-off it seems like I really am getting a carbon copy of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It’s difficult to miss just how hard Epic has tried to reuse parts of Fortnite’s main, shelter-building, zombie-bashing game to make its standalone (and free-to-play) Battle Royale spin-off. Everything's been repurposed and reused to fit the whole ‘one life, scramble for gear in a shrinking map’ setup that’s made PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds such a megahit.
Where Epic Games pulls out Fortnite’s trump card, however, is keeping the crafting system from the full-fat version of the game. It could have just stripped everything down to the barest bones of the Battle Royale combat model, leaving in just the procedurally-generated maps, scattered weapons and basic third-person shooter mechanics. Instead, it gives the player a different kind of agency in the world - the ability to change it.
For example, I could race out of a house I'm hiding in, and make my way to the next bunch of buildings, but there’s a good chance someone will pop me with a sniper rifle from afar, or ambush me with a shotty. Being able to build changes all this, and fundamentally alters the dynamics of Fortnite's one on 99 deathmatch action.
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By keeping the building intact (at least, on a slightly smaller scale), Battle Royale retains its similarities to PUBG on a surface level only. Now, with the power of my trusty pickaxe and the magic of some rather handy blueprints, I can do far more than trade bullets. Say I want to reach the top floor of a house, but I know the ground floor has been filled with traps by other players. I’ll just craft a ramp to the top! Need to safely cross a river in a hurry? Build an impromptu bridge, of course! Coming under fire? Drop a wall, quick!
It’s a mechanic that becomes even more important as the storm around the map draws ever closer, forcing all the remaining players into a rapidly shrinking arena. Since practically everything can be broken down for resources, you can turn any shack into a certified fortress. It's a tactic that can see you through to the final 10 players easily, but things are just starting to get interesting at that point.
It's in these final stages where you see two main approaches diverge. Some players enter full PUBG hunter mode, geared up to the max and slowly roaming the map, ready to take out any unsuspecting foe and loot their corpse. Others, however, embrace their inner architect and turn their chosen structure into a Mad Max-esque outpost. Some try to blend both, like constructing some impromptu cover at the brow of a hill, and using it to draw out roving, gun-toting predators.
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It all adds an extra layer of challenge, with an almost Rainbow Six Siege feel when you have to work out how to break into someone’s rush-built building. All while dealing with the bloodthirsty PVP Fortniters prowling around outside.
So, while at a first glance, Fortnite Battle Royale doesn't seem the most original of games, it at least manages to make the most of its borrowed concepts and own ideas to create an engaging and rewarding whole. Battle Royale works not because of its similarities to PUBG, but because it embraces the mechanics that make Fortnite itself such fun. Then, aside from PUGB's central conceit, the central base construction system smacks of Fallout 4’s own shelter creation, while the cartoonish art style is a less than subtle doff of the cap to the likes of Team Fortress 2.
Just as a final sweetener, the main PVE co-op mode adds another layer for when all the one-on-one slaughter gets a bit much. With a squad of three friends Fortnite really finds a stride as you mine resources, craft on the go and reinforce a shelter against an ecosystem of zombies that would put Left 4 Dead to shame. In this mode Fortnite should descend into chaos – and it sometimes does, in brilliantly mad ways – but there’s nothing quite like a group of people having an impromptu committee to decide where the spike traps should go, or what the floors should be made out of, while zombies with beehives for heads are attacking.
It doesn’t hide its influences in the slightest, but Fortnite, and Battle Royale especially, gets away with it. Whether I’m building lavish shelters while fending off hordes of the undead, or battling far scarier monsters in human form, Fortnite is far too enjoyable for its own good.