In the middle of the night.
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Before playing Fortnite a few weeks ago, I was convinced that I wouldn't like it because I've never been into games about crafting or tower defense. Yet, Fortnite managed to win me over because it takes those elements and tweaks them to make them more accessible and engaging, even to a skeptic such as myself. I was pleasantly surprised to find a game that felt unique, and not at all derivative. I explored an amazing looking world, created impossibly wacky forts with a group of friends, and went to war with creatures of the night, and I loved every bit of it.
A round in Fortnite begins when you're dropped into a procedurally generated environment. This may be a forest, a city, or a small town. An unexplained storm managed to wipe out most of humanity, leaving a desolate world in its wake. As a survivor, the only way for you to fight back is to close gates, which are a bit of a mystery, but it's clear that there's a connection between them and the doom-bringing storm. While you're running around the world in search for a gate, you need to gather resources by hitting and deconstructing objects in your environment. Gather as much as you can, because in addition to crafting weapons, you also have to construct a fort capable of protecting the device you use to close gates--the atlas device. The atlas device takes time to do its thing--it's essentially a combat timer--and activating it draws enemies to your location, so you'll need all the resources you can find to fortify the perimeter and arm yourself for battle.
Exploring and gathering resources takes you into buildings, into mines, across forests, and atop mountains. It's similar to Minecraft in this regard, but Fortnite's world is far better looking thanks to a clean cartoon-like style that bears a strong resemblance to Team Fortress 2, but with a character all its own thanks to the wide variety of environments to explore.
You have control over when to stop gathering, and when to trigger the atlas device, but before you do, you'd better erect a fort. Unlike Minecraft, where you create objects using literal building blocks, Fortnite gives you basic structures to work with, greatly speeding up the build process. Walls go up in a flash, and if you want to add a window or a door, they're just a click away. In a matter of minutes, you can create what would take hours in Minecraft, thus it's easy to iterate on an idea quickly or repair a damaged fort at a moment's notice. With numerous structures, traps, and concepts to employ, you'll rarely make two forts alike.
You want to experiment, because you're contending with lots of creatures who're both relentless and intelligent. Just when you think that you've made fort that can withstand anything the storm sends your way, there's a great chance you overlooked a critical detail, and the AI will exploit it. In one game, my team and I built a massive fort. Bigger is better, right? The problem was that it was too big to monitor from every angle, and while we were focusing on protecting the atlas device from one onslaught of enemies, another managed to break into our fort from the rear, causing a panic, and ultimately our downfall. It's common to feel confident in the beginning, when the initial waves of enemies fall like dominos, but once a new enemy starts throwing smaller enemies into your fort like footballs, you'll wish you had a backup plan.
A strong fort is a necessity if you hope to protect the atlas device, but you also need capable warriors to defend it. There are a few different classes to choose from, including Ninja, Commando, and Constructor. Ninjas are great at hacking and slashing enemies at close range, moving into and out of battle with great speed. People who prefer to shoot their enemies will probably enjoy the commando, the master of arms. Epic's done a good job of making both ranged and melee fighting fun and effective, but the commando has an edge thanks to Epic's shooter design prowess. Besides, after gathering resources for a while, it's a nice change of pace from whacking things with an axe.
Constructors are unusual, but a welcome class in a game about building forts. They can still fight, specializing in blunt weapons, but they're truly valuable because they can build faster and cheaper than any other class, and if they fulfill the proper conditions, they will grant the same advantages to nearby teammates. They're also good at repairing structures that have been damaged by the horde, and when a wall or a trap can make or break the difference between winning or losing, you want the best person for the job. A constructor is handy early on, too, because they get more done with less resources, which is helpful if you feel a little lost your first time gathering and budgeting resources.
Epic seems to have done the impossible: it's managed to make a game about gathering and crafting appealing to me, someone who typically avoids games built on similar foundations. Giving players agency over their environment and fortifications makes the tower defense side of the game immensely intriguing, and I actually enjoy looking for resources because the world is both good looking and varied. There's a mysterious quality to Fortnite's abandoned locations, and I like the idea of repurposing humanity's leftovers to build giant forts and craft weapons for battle. Were Fortnite just about building or combat, it wouldn't be anything special. As it turns out, it's more exciting than I ever imagined it would be.