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5 best and 5 worst things about Fortnite

Fortnite came out of nowhere. While developer Epic Games had been famous for years as the makers of Unreal Tournament, Gears of War, and the Unreal Engine, the studio hadn't had a major success in a while. Their first new game in years, Fortnite: Save the World, was not well-received. Their star designer, Cliff Bleszinski, had left to go his own way. Where could Epic possibly go from here?

Simple: they went and made the biggest game on Earth.

Noting the phenomenal success of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Epic chose to take their own stab at the battle royale genre, releasing a variation of Fortnite simply subtitled Battle Royale. And it did well. Very, very well. Fortnite is now one of the most popular games in the world, easily topping the charts at Twitch on a regular basis. Love it or hate it, this is a game that's going to have an impact on the entire industry, and sooner rather than later.

But that leaves a question: should you be a lover or a hater? There are plenty of reasons to be either. Here are five of the worst, and five of the best, aspects of this new sensation.

BEST: It's easy to get started

It doesn't take much to get into Battle Royale. Since it's free, you can just download it. And what's more, you can download it on just about anything. Thanks to Unreal Engine 4's incredibly flexible platform, you could get Fortnite on your high-end PC, your grandma's old clunker, your PlayStation 4, or even your phone. It's just everywhere, on everything. For free. There's a chance you downloaded it on some device just by reading this paragraph, without even meaning to.

Once installed, the game is dirt simple: Join a match. Run around. Collect items. Stay out of the storm. Don't die.

That's it. Knowing nothing else, you could play Fortnite and be decent enough at it. There are no classes to customize, no items to equip, no heroes with complex movesets to learn. Every single player, from a thousand-hour veteran to a complete noob, just glides down onto the island with nothing but a pickaxe and gets to work. The very definition of a low skill floor.

BEST: The experience is very polished and smooth

Epic knows a thing or two about the Unreal Engine. They make it, after all; Tim Sweeney himself has been working on it for over 20 years. That means they know how to make it sing, whether on console, PC, or even mobile. For Fortnite, this means that the game runs crisply no matter what device you're on, bringing its cartoonish art to life with nary a jitter or a skip. By contrast, its chief rival, PUBG, is known for its jankiness.

Polish matters. Just ask Blizzard Entertainment, who fill even their card game with slick animations, visual flair, and lots of secrets to click on. While other developers see it as a waste of time, polish can make a game inviting, friendly, and fun, even if it is mechanically similar to the competition. On the whole, Fortnite shares a whole lot in common with PUBG. One of the major elements that distinguishes it is the sheer technical, visual, and artistic virtuosity of the experience.

BEST: It's entirely cross-platform

Though the process is a bit convoluted, Fortnite has delivered on one of the oldest holy grails in gaming: truly cross-platform play. If you're sitting on a bus in America, you could be playing Fortnite with your buddy in Japan on his PS4, and your girlfriend on her laptop at home. That PS4, though, is the most finicky of the bunch: Sony refuses to open up their console to their rivals at Nintendo and Microsoft. So Switch and Xbox One players won't be able to build forts with their PS4 pals, though they can do so with each other, and anyone else besides.

For a variety of reasons, most games can't do the same. For competitive games like Battlefield, not only are they frequently not on mobile in the first place (because high-end graphics can't translate very well), but PC players with their mouses would have a distinct advantage. It's difficult to manage on the technical backend as well. Even turn-based games, like XCOM, usually don't support cross-platform play.

Fortnite, then, allows the most popular game on the planet to be played as easily as possible with as many friends as possible. Now that is an addictive concoction.

BEST: It has awesome timed events

Look ... up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's: a comet, actually. For a few weeks in early 2018, Fortnite players noticed a strange streak of light up in the game's skybox. At first, no one paid it much mind. But then it grew. Eventually, it became clear that this was a meteor, barreling down on the map. What could it mean?

As it turned out, it was an amazing timed event. There was no prior announcement about this, no social media blitz: Epic simply let the event play out for players around the world. The result? A completely changed map, which added not only new locations but also new gameplay elements. For such a huge game, a change of this scale could have resulted in a fan backlash. Instead, people loved it.

The meteors aren't alone: not long after they struck, none other than Marvel ubervillain Thanos arrived to add a new mode to the proceedings for a limited time. While other games have cool timed events, nothing has hit the gaming community with quite the same impact as Fortnite's. They are simply bigger and more interesting than anything else out there.

BEST: It brings together everyone from young girls to pro athletes

You know who plays Fortnite? Former pro e-athletes like Ninja. You know who also plays? Celebrities like rapper Drake. But the game is also pulling in a much broader demographic, such as young girls, who aren't typically associated with shooter games. This is, then, the game that truly appeals to all comers, whose blend of simple play style, fast action, and cartoony art makes it welcoming to everyone.

While this can allow for some insane pairings, such as Ninja and Drake playing together, it also means that the game is a global playground — and a level one at that. A ten-year-old has a chance of meeting, and then taking down, a major celebrity. Here in Fortnite, everybody jumps in with nothing but a pickaxe. Then it's all just fun and games. If you've ever dreamed of the world coming together, well, Fortnite is a friendly way of watching that happen in real time. Maybe it won't lead to world peace. But then again, if it keeps growing the way it has been, maybe it can.

As long as only one person survives, anyway.

WORST: That original PvE mode is still paid

One reason for Battle Royale's astonishing success is its price: namely, nothing. Anyone can download Fortnite without paying a cent; the monetization comes in the form of microtransactions (and the Battle Pass system that unlocks more goodies). So as word of mouth on the title has spread, the barrier to entry is, effectively, nothing.

Unless, of course, you want to play Fortnite.

No, not Battle Royale. We're talking about playing Save the World, the original build-and-defend game that Epic worked on for years. To do that, you still have to shell out $30, even though the game is in Early Access. Epic has stated that they intend for Save the World to be free-to-play eventually, which begs the question: why is it paid at all? Who would spend $30 on something that will be free? And what possible justification does Epic have for charging for it in the first place, particularly now that Battle Royale is a cash cow?

WORST: It does nothing to help you after starting, though

So the game's easy to get into! Great!

Now what?

While it's easy to get decent at Fortnite, it's difficult to get truly good, and maybe impossible to master. So how do you climb that ladder from cannon fodder to victory royale? Well, don't expect the game to tell you — it won't. Lacking even a tutorial, it's possible that new players won't even understand that building structures is a fundamental element of the game. Why would they? Nothing informs them of that. What are those strange, shrinking circles on the map? Until a player is caught in the storm, there's no way to know.

And those are just the basics. Figuring out the higher-level complexities of Fortnite either requires a huge time commitment on the player's part or a jaunt through the endless YouTube videos and Twitch streams around the game. Meanwhile, new players will be competing against hardened veterans who know all this already. That can make a very easy game very frustrating.

WORST: It's buckling under the weight of its success

The problem with being the most popular game in the world is that it's the most popular game in the world. In other words, everybody is trying to play it: concurrent player counts for the game are stratospheric. That's a lot of traffic being directed and a comparatively small number of servers.

Since its success started rolling in, Epic has wrestled with intermittent outages that prevent people from playing. If players can even log in to the game in the first place, they find their wait times in the queue are, well, infinite. For a game that is otherwise so slick and polished, these networking snafus are a slap in the face.

Epic is hiring networking experts like crazy, so they're certainly aware of the problem. And you'd expect the studio to spend a little bit of that massive wave of Fortnite revenue on more servers. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved in time. Unless of course, the game's insane growth curve continues unabated.

WORST: Its Battle Pass system is confusing

Yes, Epic's game is free-to-play, which means microtransactions. And sure, there's an in-game store where you can jump in and buy lots of different items. But the best stuff, and the coolest-looking gear, can only be accessed by purchasing a Battle Pass. What's a Battle Pass, you ask? Well, it's ... complicated. First of all, you can only purchase a Battle Pass for one "Season" at a time, which usually lasts for a few weeks. Buying a Battle Pass enables you to earn the sweetest loot, but note the terminology: it "allows you to earn." It doesn't "give you" these items, it just gives you the capacity to get these items by accomplishing missions within the game

Even then, which items you get depends on which experience tier you reach, which you can only do by gaining XP, which is a different system, and ... well, the money you spent just to get the Battle Pass is only the start of your journey. It's all a way to get you to want to spend even more time playing the game.

WORST: It kind of screwed the PUBG guys over … who use Epic's own engine

Can you think of any game that looks a little similar to Fortnite? Of course you can: it's PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, the game which kicked off the modern battle royale boom. And hey, guess what? PUBG runs on Unreal Engine 4, which is not only the same engine as Fortnite, but is actually developed by Epic itself.

In other words, Epic was well aware of PUBG: they had watched the game, using their engine, take off into the sales stratosphere. They knew all the technical issues the PUBG team had to wrestle with; they knew what all the solutions turned out to be. So when Epic turned around and made their own battle royale game, it was something of a slap to the face to PUBG developer Bluehole.

Now, Fortnite has overtaken PUBG as the biggest game on the planet. PUBG, meanwhile, has seen their player count decline, though only a little (and it's still bigger than almost anything that's not Fortnite). Bluehole must be feeling like their idea was stolen by the guys who made the tools they use. That makes Epic opportunistic at best, and thieves at worst. Bluehole even sued Epic over the game, though eventually withdrew the suit for undisclosed reasons.