It’s like Fortnite, but not…

Here’s a feature for GoNintendo I didn’t expect to be writing! The weekend brings about mysterious opportunities! As always, thanks for reading.

Back when Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode first hit the scene, I was instantly intrigued. A game where you’re plopped down into a match against 99 other people, and you’re vying to be the last one standing? I absolutely love that kind of mechanic! We all know that Epic wasn’t the company to invent the idea, but they certainly innovated upon it. Epic took the battle royale idea, streamlined it for mass market appeal, and watched Fortnite set the world on fire.

Fortnite, which released in 2017, is still going strong deep into 2020. Millions of players continue to enjoy the game every day, and records are being shattered thanks to virtual concerts and more. Whether you love the game or hate it, Fortnite is very much alive and well, and has a long lifetime ahead of it. Much like Pokemon GO, Fortnite hit an insane wave of popularity out of the gate, eventually saw some of the player base fade away, but kept things going strong by constantly evolving and wooing in new/lapsed players.

When Fortnite launched, I was all about it. I hopped in on the game via PS4 and gave it a whirl, and became instantly enamored. I couldn’t get enough of the idea of being a one-man army against the whole world. There’s just something so thrilling about going up against that many real-life players and hoping to come out on the other end. So many different types of players, so many ways to win. No two games will play alike, and you’ve got just a good a shot as anyone else when the round first kicks off.

I’m of the mindset that any game is more fun when you have friends along for the ride, so that’s just what I did. I reached out to friends and had them join in for the action. That made the experience better in a million different ways. Sure, it was tougher to get a win when you’re in a group of four rather than running solo, but it was still a blast to try and eek out a victory. When those wins did come in, they were that much sweeter. Celebrating with your buds after a hard-fought battle definitely ranks as one of my favorite moments in gaming.

As time went on, I eventually moved over to playing Fortnite on the Switch. That option allowed for gyroscopic aiming, which made me enjoy things on a completely different level. Now I had a way to play that made me feel even more proficient. I am not a top-tier player by any stretch of the imagination, but I can definitely get more done when I have gyroscopic aiming as an option. This lead to me using Switch as my main platform to play Fortnite from its launch until my last game.

I can’t quite pinpoint the moment when I last played Fortnite, but I did eventually pull away. My friends couldn’t find the time to play as often, and there were other games coming out that I wanted to give a shot. When you go from playing online with friends back to playing solo, things just don’t feel the same anymore. You don’t have the same sort of excitement if you win, and you really don’t have anyone to share it with. Not being able to set up times to play with friends was the end of the road for me with Fortnite. Even though I would continue to cover the game for GoNintendo and hear about all the things happening, my personal experience with the game was over. Or so I thought…

Living life in a pandemic has lead to a lot of different experiences. People are staying at home more often, working from home, and finding themselves with a few more hours to spare when it comes to free time. This has paved the way for connecting with friends online a lot more. I’ve been hanging out with friends a ton virtually through various apps, and we’ve all been playing games together. We’ve spent time with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Friday the 13th, Golf With Your Friends, Uno, and so on. As of last night, Fortnite got added to that list.

I have some friends who say Fortnite sucks and they refuse to play. You know how it is with some people. I have others who have tried the game and never figured things out, but they want to dive back in and give it a go. Some of those friends started up a discussion yesterday, and I said I was down to hop back in. Its easily been over a year since I played Fortnite last, but I’m always willing to give any game a go, even if it’s one I put down years back. I jumped on my Switch, downloaded the game, and dove headfirst into the world of Fortnite once again.

I will say that the overall goal of Fortnite is still there. You’re still gunning to be #1 when all’s said and done. I know some people play Fortnite and focus on how many kills they get, but it’s never been about that for me. I always strive to be the last man standing, and I use a lot of stealth to get that done. I’ll get into multiple shootouts when I play, but I never want to take on more than I have to. I have no problem hanging back and collecting helpful guns/items, and then making my way to the action when I feel like I’m prepared.

While how you ‘win it all’ remains the same, everything else around Fortnite feels quite different. Right off the bat, I was surprised by just how much more fleshed out everything feels. The Fortnite I remember had a huge map with a handful of notable locations, but much of the surrounding areas were sparse. A couple of houses/shacks here, some trees there, and a few mountains in the way. Now the game’s map, while still just as big, is overflowing with things to do and see. The amount of built up locations is pretty staggering, and their size/scope is beyond anything I recall. Fortnite’s map now goes out of its way to make sure no matter where you are or what you’re doing, there’s always something to explore.

To be honest, I’m not sure I like this better. One of the reasons why I love The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so much is because there was a beauty to the vast openness of it all. Something felt so good about traversing the landscape to see what was around the corner. Sometimes it was a town bristling with people, other times it was nothing more than a beautiful vista. That kind of design made me really appreciate the special spots that popped up on the map. That was the same kind of feeling I used to get from Fortnite.

The map in Fortnite now feels like it’s stuffed to the gills. There’s just so much going on…so much to do and see that it feels like an overcrowded amusement park. When every single area of the map is made to feel special and exciting, it starts to make everything feel bland in a way. It sounds strange, but when everything tries to stand out, it feels like nothing stands out. The player is given too much to do and see, and it all becomes a bunch of noise. For the type of player I am, Fortnite having a few standout locations mixed with more open areas gave me a feeling of excitement and a desire to explore that I don’t quite get from the new map.

On the flip-side of things, I will say that I like the weapon variety that I’ve come across. Again, I know that Fortnite is always changing, but what’s in the game now feels like a great mix of classic weapons and new stuff. My favorite guns are still alive and kicking, with some getting a few tweaks that I appreciate. There’s new guns as well that help keep the action fresh, and give you more choices depending on the kind of firefight you’re in. Then there’s silly stuff like the harpoon gun or flare gun that are made to cause chaos and really switch things up, and I truly appreciate those as well.

I also enjoy the variety in new ways to heal and grab some shield. When I was in the thick of it with Fortnite, you had small shield potions, large jars, med kits, and chug jugs. That was pretty much it when it came to your choices. Now there’s a whole bunch of different ways to heal and protect yourself. I don’t know the names of things yet, but I love the idea of the shield pack that you can throw on the ground, which then explodes with a burst of ‘shield juice’ that’s dispersed among everyone in the vicinity. There are items on the map that you can break open and get an explosion of shield as well, or even some water you tread through that’ll give you shield protection. The mix of new items and organic options to heal/shield up is definitely a welcome change.

While all those differences are certainly sizable, there’s two elements that have changed in a major way since I last played. One of those is tied to how matchmaking is handled. Back when I was playing regularly, Switch players were going up against Switch/PS4/XB1 players all the time. That’s not how Fortnite on Switch works nowadays. Epic changed things around awhile back, and now Switch players face off against other Switch players, and mobile players. That’s all you’re going to get from matchmaking, unless you’re joining a friend who’s on another platform.

The second change is the addition of bots, which remains a hotly-contested topic. Epic wanted newcomers to feel like they had a chance in Fortnite, so they decided to throw in some computer-controlled players alongside the real-life ones. Give new players a chance to get into some firefights without certain death, let them build up their skill and confidence, and then hopefully they’ll stick around a bit longer. I really do get the logic behind the decision, but there’s no doubt that those bots fundamentally change the experience.

My favorite part about playing Fortnite, outside of joining up with friends, was taking on other real-life players. When you’re going up against that many real people, it makes the action feel so much more intense. Every fight you get into could end up being your last. When you square off against a bot, I see very little chance for them to cause you any trouble. Having gone head-to-head with multiple bots since I played last night, I can say that they offer very little outside of a minor annoyance. They’re no doubt invaluable to newcomers looking to learn, but for those who are used to these type of games, they end up making any victories you have feel a bit hollow. Coming out on top after taking out 10 real-life players feels amazing. Getting a first place finish after beating 5 bots and 5 real players doesn’t feel the same.

Now I’m not sure how sophisticated the matchmaking process is in Fortnite, but I would imagine that Epic has poured a ton of time into making sure players get the best experience possible for their skill level. Last night, I was playing with someone who had never played Fortnite before. It was their first experience ever, and they didn’t even know much about Fortnite to begin with. Now having them in my party no doubt impacted matchmaking, and the games we were being thrown into were more geared towards them. As we played, I could see the natural progression of things. Games started out extremely easy and we got quite a bit of wins. As the night went on, you could see that we were getting thrown into the mix with more skilled players and less bots. Nothing overwhelming, but certainly more engaging and challenging.

I’m interested to see where things go from here on out when I play. Perhaps I need to get in on some solo games to see what the bot experience is like, as well as the real competition I’m put up against. What I can say for sure is that the bot situation lead to me not having as much fun, but seeing my teammate learn the ropes and really enjoy the game was extremely rewarding. I got to see both sides of the coin while playing, and it definitely lead me to a deeper understanding of why Epic made the bot decision. Now how that scales along with the overall matchmaking for other skilled players will be the real make-or-break point for me going forward.

Fortnite in 2020 is very different from what it was back when I played regularly. The game is much more polished, without a a doubt. It’s also bigger, louder, and exploding with content. It’s a more bombastic experience that aims to give you a bazillion things to do on top of trying to survive to the top spot. I certainly miss the simpler days of Fortnite, and I’m not sure how the bot situation will adjust going forward, but I still had fun. If I throw in some more friends and we put in more time, I’m guessing the experience will grow and change into something that I appreciate even more.

I don’t know that ‘Fortnite feeling’ will ever get back to where they were for me, as Epic’s goals for the game are different now from what they were years ago. I may miss what things were, but I can still appreciate the expanded reach. As long as the game learns what type of player I am and the challenge I’m looking for, I can respect the changes. It’ll certainly be interesting to see where things go from here.