Fortnite launched as a fledgling Battle Royale game into a ‘genre’ which was too niche to even be labelled as such. For years following the title’s success, Epic Games consistently and continually added new content to an ever-evolving game. They needed to do this because, to be frank, Fortnite fundamentally did not feel good to play. Adding cars, planes, new weapons, skins and more was all well and good, but unfortunately each new piece of content had its potential suppressed due to these fundamental flaws. Fortunately, between its launch in 2017 and now, Epic Games have fixed all of these flaws, making for a game that is not only content rich, but actually good.
In being an online-focused free-for-all Battle Royale game set in a large open world, Fortnite’s concept is one that relies on a certain number of core mechanics: movement, controls and immersion. Games need to feel good to play, and one of the biggest puzzle pieces in achieving this is through the game’s controls.
At launch, Fortnite’s controls were serviceable, but for a multiplayer game featuring 1v1 combat situations, the game felt stiff. This stiffness was itself a function of multiple points of failure, namely animations, frame rate and control customisability.
I was a console player when Fortnite first launched, and so I witnessed – and was a part of – the game’s journey on console. Fortnite today is one of the most customisation-friendly and accessible games when it comes to controls. No matter your system, be it PlayStation, Switch or even Android, you will now have access to and can adjust your controller’s analogue stick response curve; button hold times adjustable to the millisecond, adjustable sensitivity for every different direction, fully customisable gyro aiming for controllers with such hardware support…you get the picture. There are near infinite levels of customisation, letting you take complete control of your game’s responsiveness. A responsive feeling game also needs to perform well on a technical level however.
While I have played many 30fps games which feel superb to control, Fortnite’s original frame rate on consoles alongside the subpar customisation (at the time) made for a deadly combination – literally. As Epic Games improved their own engine, the team managed to squeeze more and more juice out of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. They started first by allowing players to unlock the frame rate if they desired – though results were less than stable. Eventually however they managed to achieve a smooth and stable 60fps, making it the new default on most consoles.
As hardware has gotten better, Epic Games have continued to improve the game’s stability across all devices (even managing to keep finding new ways to optimise the Switch version. The shift over to Unreal Engine 5 has only done the game good – offering a AAA-looking game utilising modern and forward-facing technologies all the while running at smooth and optimised frame rates. The final element in this trifecta of control is the huge leap in animation quality seen throughout all aspects of character control.
Fortnite’s initial presentation of character animation was passable, offering decently smooth motion with enough of a cartoony bounce to match the game’s art style. The popularity of Fortnite's emotes undoubtedly helped Epic Games in the animation department, ultimately leading towards much more pleasing visual motion. As each new in-game mechanic was introduced, a new animation needed to be made.
Over time, the newer animations were visibly more polished than the game’s launch set, so Epic Games went back and revamped many of the core game animations, from chugging a potion to deploying a parachute, making sure that every element of interaction feels natural. Each new animation is imbued with so much more personality, but also variety, and in combination with new gameplay mechanics, the game is as dynamic to look at as it is to play.
Speaking of new gameplay mechanics, one of the biggest shifts observed in the way Epic Games has evolved Fortnite’s fundamentals is through movement and momentum. Battle Royale games are known for their large battlefields; it’s necessary to facilitate the 100+ players that most BR titles support. The issue with creating a big world is that it needs to be fun to traverse. Currently, despite all the changes made to the map over time, it still very much feels like Fortnite’s BR island. The way this map is interacted with however is entirely different to the game’s state at launch. Even in its early days, Epic Games added new movement options for ways in which to navigate the island map. Cars, planes, ziplines, cannons and golf carts were all added, but Epic later intelligently decided to rework the core movement of the playable character itself.
As with most games, your player character could always walk, run, jump, crouch and shoot. The Fortnite of today meanwhile includes the ability to tactically sprint, slide, jump extra high and far, swim, and last but not least mantle all objects within reach. All of these new mechanics are focused on speeding up the player character – or at least improving the sense of momentum. This is once again aided by improved animations, each of which is filled with more personality as well as being technologically more impressive thanks to smoother motion blending and an increase in animation quality across the board. These additions make all elements of interaction with Fortnite's map both more engaging and more tactical – but also more immersive in its realism within the cartoony world of Fortnite.
The final improvement to discuss is that of immersion. Fortnite is a rather casual game all-in-all, but the game’s primary BR mode sees you thrown into a world with nothing except your wits. The concept is simple and its execution at launch matched this. Fortnite’s island was populated with basic weapons, a few vehicles and healing items. Over time, more and more content was added, reflecting the diversity of our own world. This does have some tactical implications (“do I use a healing spray or a bandage” etc…) but the most affecting outcome of these additions is through the increase in immersion.
One of the most exciting elements when playing a VR game is that almost all of the objects are interactive. In a VR world, this is a must-have. Regular non-VR titles meanwhile are always littered with hundreds of non-interactive assets. This works for many games, but Epic has turned Fortnite into an interactive playground – with an emphasis on interaction.
Though not as dense as a VR title, players are now able to interact with most objects: From more containers serving as ammo boxes to an increase in the variety of chests to new vending machines, more drivable vehicles, new physics interactions such as fire burning trees and a whole new hiding mechanic – to list just a few of the changes. And as with every other new element, all of these interactions are animated smoothly and with great deals of personality.
Of course, the change that spawned this re-evaluation was the removal of the game’s building mode. It has since been returned, but for a short while, all players were forced to engage in the Fortnite map in an entirely different way, using the new mechanics such as the long jump and mantle to climb areas which previously required the building of a ramp.
Fortnite’s main mode has returned, however there is now a permanent no build option – and that is what I have spent all my time playing. Being able to build an infinite ramp into the sky entirely removed the option for tactical or subversive methods of engagement. Each fight would ultimately turn into a competition to see who can build a tower the fastest. It was neither fun nor varied, and so the removal of building has been nothing but a boon for the game. I came back to Fortnite due to the addition of the no-build mode, but it was the changes made by Epic to the core and fundamental gameplay which has made me stay.
I put 100 hours into Fortnite when it first released. The moment-to-moment gameplay did not satisfy, but the flow of new content was enough to keep me playing. Years on and the collabs and crossovers are no longer exciting. What is exciting now however is the gameplay itself, and gameplay is king – especially for a multiplayer title like Fortnite. As such, I am happy to conclude that in my opinion Epic Games has fixed Fortnite’s fundamental flaws.
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KitGuru says: Have you played Fortnite recently? What do you think of the changes? What’s your favourite new gameplay addition? Let us know down below.