Wait, when was this? That was my first thought that ran through my mind when I heard I would have the chance to play an alpha build of Fortnite by Epic Games at pre-E3 week in Santa Monica. I scoured through my notes and my memories and remembered that, yes, I had written a preview for Fortnite before… on September 1, 2012. That preview was based on a panel I attended at PAX, way back when Cliff Bleszinski was still at Epic Games. Wow, how time has flown.
But even three years later, I'm still surprised that Fortnite is from Epic Games, a developer more well-known for their gritty, hyper-masculine Gears of War series. Just on looks alone, Fortnite seems to be like a happy marriage between Plants vs. Zombies and Team Fortress (and a little Minecraft on the side) with a cel-shaded style that's approachable for everyone. But make no mistake, Fortnite may look like it doesn't take itself seriously, but this is one free-to-play cooperative fort-builder with an integrated zombie wave-based horde mode that's far more than meets the eye.
WIthin that development time, the concept behind Fortnite has surprisingly remained the same for the most part, challenging a team of players to gather resources and build a fort around any Atlas gates in the area. Then once the fort is ready, they can activate the Atlas gates and survive multiple waves of zombies for a certain amount of time to claim victory. If the team fails, they can try again but they'll likely miss out on rewards for winning early and of course lose all the resources that went into building the walls and other fortifications.
Luckily, everything in the environment is destructible. Apart from perhaps the solid floors and walls, and even then some of them can be pulverized into materials, you can gather all manner of wood, metal, brick, electric components, and healing items (albeit rare) by clobbering anything to smithereens. Crafting a pickaxe of any kind and hitting objects at their weakpoint makes the gathering process much faster, so that will likely be your first order of business once you land in the area; that is, apart from finding the randomly-placed Atlas gates in the field. Depending on which area you choose, from all the hexagonal tiles on the world map, some environments will have more wood or more metal, but you should be able to find what you need so long as you explore every nook and cranny from the deepest of caves and the tallest of urban buildings.
In my session with two fellow journalists, I immediately scrounged for metal resources. Though rarer than wood and brick, it provides the highest hit points for walls, ramps, and upgrades that can be constructed around the Atlas gates. This means that any nearby turrets and traps have more time to kill the undead horde, which is useful if you and your party are busy covering other lanes and different spawn points. It feels like an accomplishment when you and your party have covered the Atlas gates with the best design with the best materials, and watch as the zombie horde hardly makes a scratch.
What role you will have within your party will generally depend on your chosen class and on how you choose to build your home base. Each building is tied to a specific class: the Military HQ houses the Commando, the Dojo has the Ninja, the Tech Lab supports the Constructor, the Survival Bunker protects the Outlander, and the Command Center gives general bonuses to everyone. Mission completion earns you data points in various categories (agricultural, industrial, architectural, etc.) that can be spent to construct or upgrade these buildings (and thus their respective classes) in your home base. On top of that, each class has an in-depth skill tree; the ninja, for instance, has the ability to leap quite high to access hard-to-reach areas and can throw high-damaging shurikens for DPS damage.
How this progression system works is still up in the air, but the general idea is to develop your home base and earn schematics throughout the game that will give you recipes for items. You can't carry much into another match, but any unlocked schematics will be available from the start, allowing you to craft stronger weapons and tools in the hopes of completing areas with a higher danger zone. It may not sound like much, but this is already shaping up to set the new standard for free-to-play games today.
Fortnite has gone through a closed alpha and has no release window apart from 2015. It's currently slated for PC and no plans for console versions have been planned yet.