Fortnite: A Rant

index - Fortnite: A Rant

About 9 months ago, I penned a write-up on the lack of feedback inherent to Fortnite's gameplay and supporting systems at the time. Since I've come back to the game and clocked another several dozen hours grappling with these systems once more, I've been inspired to write again. I love Fortnite, but it's the kind of "love" where I recognize that, at least on some level, I'm in a somewhat abusive relationship. I'm not going out to my friends and telling them what a great game Fortnite "Save The World" is because I know in my heart of hearts it's really not. Acknowledging this is the only means to the end that is seeing this game become everything it can be, and it is my hope that you, the reader, will come to understand what I mean.

If it's not apparent, both within this post and in some of the things prevalent in my post history, I've got some feelings about Fortnite that have been percolating for a while now and I'm done mulling it over piecemeal. I'm going to just let it flow. I would normally structure something like this more rigidly, but unfortunately no matter how many times I go about trying it just winds up being a stream-of-consciousness rant, so I'm going to just let it.

As a final postscript to the intro, I'd like to quantify all this by saying that it was written over the course of days/weeks. I've clocked a few hundred hours in this game now.

Fortnite is schizophrenic. It doesn't seem to keep in touch with itself. None of the interlocking systems within the game seem to be fully informed by or in consideration of each other. Were I more of a visual artist instead of a self-deprecating critic, I'd draw up a relational diagram for you but lets just take one example: F.O.R.T.

How do you make your commander stronger in the most all-encompassing sense in Fortnite? By raising FORT. How do you increase FORT? Let's see…

  • Survivors Squads – Require Lead & Regular Survivors, acquired from:
    • Llamas
      • V-Bucks – Acquired from Missions, Daily Quests, Challenges, Story Quests, SSD, or with cash
      • Daily Log-ins (occassionally)
      • Event Tickets
      • Missions
    • Transformation
      • "People" – From Missions or Expeditions
      • Input Fodder – From llamas and missions
    • Event Store
      • Event Currency – From Missions, Quests, or Mini Llamas
  • Research Trees
    • Research Points – Acquired over time
  • Skill Trees
    • Skill Points
      • Level-up
      • SSD
      • Quests
      • Collection Book

And making your Survivors better takes Survivor XP, Training Manuals, Drops of Rain, etc. which you acquire from:

  • Missions
  • Recycling
  • Collection Book
  • Transform Chaining
  • Event Store
  • (etc. You get the idea I think)

In summary, you can increase your FORT entirely indirectly by spending V-Bucks, Event Tickets, Seasonal Gold, Transformation Keys, Research Points, Skill Points, Survivor XP, Evolution Materials, and so on.

Like, just the system for improving your stats, something that most modern games handle passively or via passive itemization, involves at least 3 different top-tier systems and 5 different currencies. Let me reiterate that: This is a system that, in most other games, is regarded as so unfulfilling and tedious that it is generally relegated to background noise. In Final Fantasy 14, for instance, you just get stats on your gear and better gear is better. Should it be this way for every game? No. But if you're going to involve a deluxe parfait of systems into something as mundane as increasing your HP by fractional-percents-at-a-time there should be an extremely compelling reason to do so.

Except, there isn't. All of the depth it tries to present by almost intentionally confusing the player is for nothing because all roads lead to one very specific layout: Mythic leaders and Legendary Survivors, with personality matches being almost entirely optional except for min-maxing. I'm rolling my eyes.

Were this the only determiner of player potency/power, it could almost be excused, but it's not. It works in tandem with your itemization, which is the other big way to increase your effectiveness in any given mission. You can level up your Heroes and Weapons and even if you were to potentially level them up all the way, if you aren't paying equal amounts of attention (for lack of a better term for "just not ignoring them entirely") to your Survivor Squad layout, you're not going to do well at all. The inverse is true as well, you can spend inordinate amounts of time, money, whatever, in pursuit of all the Mythic leads and Legendary survivors, max out their levels and still wind up being an impotent mess without the right tools for the job. This would be highly unlikely, of course, because so much of Fortnite happens in a matter of course fashion (which I'll get to later (probably)), but it still bears mentioning that the system is at once boring and unforgiving.

Through all of this work that goes into maintaining the right power level, the player is neither challenged nor rewarded. There's no thought behind slotting survivors and leveling them up, you're just expending time spend to get them in order to make your number bigger. It's an obfuscation of the most rudimentary leveling systems ever contrived, a really basic "stats go up" system that's wearing the costume of something more complicated and time consuming. Simple would be fine if it wasn't playing at complexity to waste the player's time, or if it at least had a measurable payoff, but the stat squishing in this game is militant and you will never ever be allowed to feel powerful relative to the mission you're in, only effective or ineffective (which exacerbates problems with taxied players but I'm focused on the game here, not the people playing it).

Itemization suffers from the exact same pitfalls, by the way, which is somehow even worse. Stat squishing only works to make powerful players weaker, it never brings lower level items up to par without significant investment. I have an entire stable of legendary shit that I haven't even once touched because it's stuck back in the Stonewood age, and to bring it up to par – even just to see if it's worth using – would take investments away from making my other already-functional weapons stronger. The game is simultaneously whispering to the player to optimize, specialize, and make your numbers bigger, while mocking you with a labyrinth of nonsense needed to do so. Your reward at the end of the maze is simply being able to meet the baseline requirements to play, rather than any sort of power moment or triumph.

So you have systems working entirely in parallel, in their own rooms on opposite sides of the house, both of which exist outside of even playing the actual fu*king game. Right? We haven't even spoken about the actual gameplay loop yet, we're still stuck in menus, fiddling around with our Squads, Trees, Weapons, and Heroes.

And do you know what? The solution thus far has been to add more of this. There was a deficit in itemization where it was entirely RNG based, right? So a much anticipated system, Recombobulation, was added to the game to let players take their guns and build them with-purpose. Except all that does it add to the bloated mess of systems and items already in play. How many individual progress-oriented items do we need to even keep track of now, even disregarding the abundance of things to be found in maps?

  • Trap Schematics
  • Weapon Schematics
  • Training Manuals
  • People
  • Drops of Rain
  • Lightning In a Bottle
  • Storm's Eye
  • Re-Perk
  • Common/Rare/Epic/Legendary Perk-Up
  • Nature/Fire/Water-Up

So the initial argument against this being presented as bloat is that you get a lot of this stuff in a matter-of-course fashion, but let me posit this to you: If you aren't specifically tasked or concerned with getting these items as an impetus to continue playing, why the hell are they present? What is their value-add? Why do they keep bubbling up to annoy the player when they'd be better off ignored entirely or refined, reduced, simplified, and brought into the forefront? The Perk-oriented items are slightly better than their non-perk counterparts in so far as they are newer, more clearly gradated, and more scarce vs. their current demand (probably too much so), but that's not sustainable and we shouldn't want it to be anyway.

And before someone points out that my point regarding scarcity doesn't stand up to my prior complaint regarding having too many items and not enough resources to make them all usable: there's a difference. I only actually need so many weapons to play the game, and once you have a stable of tools that get the job done there is nearly zero reason to expand beyond that. Recombobulation lets me take those things and refine them further still, so it's worth doing, but in a very "two steps forwards, one back" sort of way. The game should be pushing me to use other guns, but it doesn't – it discourages it quite actively. Other games with this much item depth use that depth to engage the player with new experiences. All Fortnite does is dare you to bother.

Think of how a game like Borderlands handles its guns (which has its own issues, but bear with me, I'm pointing out what works). The guns are there as an element of spice, progression, and variety within the gameplay. There are so many choices available in that game that the absolute immediate variety of choice there lets the player shake things up in a natural way as they level up. In Fortnite, once you have your perfectly perked Siegebreaker (or 3, to cover arbitrary elemental requirements), you don't actually need to switch to something objectively less useful ever. You never outgrow your best gun, rather you entirely outgrow everything except for your best gun.

Moreover the Recombobulation system is vapid in and of itself, and seems a bit uninformed by games that have been at this same style of itemization for years. Warframe comes to mind first and has exactly the same problems (albeit with more variety available). When you give players the means to calculate an optimal solution to "how to do the most damage" they invariably will and your plethora of adorable choices becomes instantly invalidated. Warframe has a set of "mods" that must show up on every weapon, like +damage or +status, because the snake always eats its own tail and the ability to optimize just normalizes itemization at a higher level, forsaking variety and flavor almost entirely unless it's forced. Fortnite suffers this even more with the limited per-slot choices, and the elemental system that is as boring as it is antiquated.

Speaking of elementals, is there an innate challenge or value-add from having to counter them? It's the gameplay equivalent of the Netflix screen asking you "Are You Still Watching?" after your 12th episode of The Office in a row. There's nothing triumphant about seeing the alert say "THIS STORM WILL HAVE FIRE ENEMIES", opening your inventory and switching to your Super Soaker(tm). All it is in the end is a rock-paper-scissors inventory check, which is why games have been doing away with it for years. It works for Pokemon as an element of forethought and a way to force team variety, except even there it has so many failings that competitive players make up a bunch of rules and tiers. In an action game, all it winds up being is tedium, and a thinly veiled attempt at increasing the amount of time the player has to spend "gearing up". I'll get to "time engaged" metrics too in a moment.

If your argument for elementals is focused on enemy variety, then you're still off the mark. The Fire/Water/Nature enemies don't do anything different than their non-elemental counterparts. Oh sure, they slap you with a nondescript damage over time effect if they manage to hit you, but that's hardly something to plan around. I'm not going to design the game for Epic by positing solutions, but typically speaking engaging enemies do interesting things.

Right, shifting gears, let's talk about feedback voids – my favorite subject.

When you finis- no, when you're even selecting a mission in Fortnite, it lists a whole bunch of goodies you're going to get for completing it, but as is so often the case you're doing the story/event quests anyway so you're not actually choosing to do anything for the rewards. They're just some shit you get for doing the mission. The game presents them as a way to direct you towards doing a bunch of different mission types, but the alerts and story quests already exist to do that so it winds up being redundant. This is what I consider to be "matter of course" gameplay. Of course you have massive piles of Trap Schematics or Drops of Rain – you've been grinding down items into experience/completing missions and getting them by accident for dozens of hours now. Or maybe you have a ton of something else, but the point still stands. The only inherent scarcity these items have is in the fact that there's no way to "test drive" a gun except to spend your passively earned currencies on them and hope they don't suck.


Of course, the game has so many different items it requires you to have to level up your armory of weapons that something winds up bottle-necking you – be it raw XP or some other material – and since these things all need to be spent in tandem is comes off a bit tasteless. That is to say, I can't spend Drops of Rain without also having Schematics and Exp to evolve my gun, so it begs the question as to why I need to have three things acting as gatekeeper when they can't even be decoupled or spent any other way. It's bloat, and it's just meant to make everything as awkward as possible because a fluid gaming experience doesn't keep you running in the hamster wheel long enough to spend money.

So if you're getting items in a matter of course fashion, which you are – virtually nothing you do correlates to specific item output, it's all incidental – then there's no feedback inherent to that. The game is saying "Good job, you completed the mission" and tips over a wheelbarrow full of things onto you after every mission that you weren't even there to get. Does that feel like a reward? No. It just feels like clutter, and it's almost a punishment, because it's definitely patronizing.

So many of the systems mirror this style of input:output correlation, too. The mission-end badges you get that fill up the loot bar? What is this screen supposed to be communicating to the player? You fill up the combat medal by accident in virtually every mission type, and the construction/utility medals will follow most of the time. The mission criteria don't vary enough to add the spice their going for either, the build limit hardly provides a challenge and even if it did, it doesn't reward enough to bother pursuing anyway. The medals seem like someone in the next room is whispering platitudes about your gameplay while they're preoccupied with doing their taxes.

It's the same with Experience points. Can anyone explain to me why you're given a numerical value for a non-numerical graphic element? The game tells you you got 2,203,465 experience which correlates to the bar filling up an amount that you have to just trust equals that much. It's like watching a conversation between two people where one is speaking plain English and the other is responding entirely with Interpretive Dance. If you put a goalpost on the experience bar, like "you need this much more to level" it would improve the output clarity some, but still wouldn't solve the problem inherent to the process. What even gives me experience? As far as I can tell, opening a mission near my power level and sitting on my keyboard for 20 minutes would probably do me just as well as anything else.

There are a lot of other small things I can touch on before we get to the grand finale:

The Collection Book – Why is this in the game? It's a trap. It's a sink for items that terminates in a garbage disposal. Is this for your whales? Is this to get people to waste a bunch of shit for virtually no reward? Explain it to me. It's awful, and just another layer in this deluxe parfait of bullshit that doesn't need to be here.

Transformation – You mean to tell me that the actual best way to spend your items is clicking them in a convoluted Ouroboros chain of transformations because inexplicably that yields items and experience? The game never explains this, and if it did I'd have slapped it upside the head. Fu*k this, it's garbage. We don't even need another way to obtain RNG bullshit, let alone one that mimics the terrible crafting system from Team Fortress 2 circa 2009.

Incomplete Story Mode – Really? Its been like this for almost a year now. And I'm not even one who was really even ever engaged by it – it had moments but really the pacing kills any change it had of being good to begin with. It should still be completed because it's straight up the most glaring "INCOMPLETE" on Save The World's report card.

RNG Quests – Yeah, I know back in 2006 in World of Warcraft they had tons of quests where you needed to collect 10 bear asses and you found out really quickly that not every bear even has an ass. A lot of games cribbed this, and now 12 years later most of them have stopped. Please do not pick up on this in 2018. Please? Cut it the fu*k out.

Segmented Quests – Another unapologetic waste of your time is the fact that quests are "locked in" at the start of a mission and the game can't issue you the next stage on the fly. Did you enter that mission with Fire Husks in it when you were at 298/300 Fire Husks in your repeatable quest? Sucks to be you, the 200 you kill in that mission will count as 2, because the game wants to waste your time as much as possible. Is there probably some convoluted technical reason this is the case? Sure. Does that excuse it? No.

Boring Quests – Yes, sure. I will do 3 category-3 Atlas missions in a row to get a rare ranged weapon schematic and unlock the esteemed privilege of doing some other mission type "too many times in a row" next. Bonus points: RNG dictates that the mission type you need isn't even on the map at the appropriate power level, blocking you out of meaningless progress. At the very best this encourages the absolute most boring kind of gameplay: repetition. At worst I can't even complete the shit. Wow.

Venn Diagram Mission Selection – Why do I have to spend 5 minutes looking at the map trying to find which mission checks all of the boxes I need? I have a daily that needs me to smash Propane tanks, a story quest that wants me to do 3 Retrieve the Data missions over a certain power level, I'm short on Pure Drops of rain so I'd like to pick something with those in the reward pool. Now I have to mouse around the gigantic selection of missions on the map trying to find something that hits all of that so I can most efficiently use my time. It's aggravating.

Skill/Research Trees – They don't need to be trees because they aren't actually providing the player with a choice. Trees are meant to offer branched decision making, where these both function like buckets that the player will eventually fill. It's an "illusion" of choice, but illusion is in air quotes because no one is fooled. Why not just bake these into a linear progression system if you aren't going to fu*king do anything with them? And don't tell me they let you prioritize what to do first because the response to that is "Barely." with a flippant eyeroll. Each tree makes you fill out the first half before even letting you touch a branch, and you'll have it filled out entirely (or close to) before you're allowed to move the next one.

Pickaxe Upgrades – I take these special skills in the Skill Trees to make my pickaxe do more damage, and what is the net result? A car still takes 4-5 hits to break with a Pathfinder. I've gained nothing, except for the ability to properly gather in the next zone. Christ that's a misleading skill node.

Misleading Llamas – The Triple/Lucky 7 Llamas are functionally worse than buying standalone upgrade llamas, and present themselves inappropriately. Even if they "go gold" they only yield the results of one gold llama out of three/seven respectively. It's a sham.

Melee – Hey you know what's great? Putting yourself in harms way to do less damage than virtually any gun. Especially when a full half of the difficulty modifiers only hurt you if you're near the husks. Exploding husks, slow pools, hell even elemental status effects are something that only touch you if you bother to use melee weapons.

I'm sure there's some stuff I'm missing.

Alright, fu*k it, lets talk about the root of all evil: money. It's supposed to be a Free to Play game at some point, but lets tidy things up for a moment and acknowledge in plain English: it currently isn't. So what we have right now is a pay-to-play game that functions as some bizarre micro-transaction skinner box, except the micro-transactions are hidden away in a corner and solve functionally zero of the frustrations the player might be having anyway. It's utterly miserable. Every single complaint I just levied against the game can be linked back to one root cause: TIME ENGAGED.

Believe it or not in every Free to Play game you've ever played, some significant consideration has been put into how long the design elements keep you in the game. It's pretty easy to test out and quantify – everything the developers put into the game has a time budget or "how long should this take the player" that they suss out via established expectations and sometimes via playtesting. Free to Play games track this because they make all of their bread on frustrating the player, essentially. Engaged hours correlate directly to profits, similar to how advertising works based upon audience impressions. The time when you're most likely to spend money is when you're playing the game, and the way to keep you playing the game is to dangle a carrot on a very long stick as an impetus to keep you playing.

The issue with this type of design is that it's biased against fun in favor of fettering your progress, or at best it's designed without fun as a consideration beyond the minimum required to not chase players off. When these things are added to the game, it's not to make the game better, but to keep you stuck playing it. There's an intrinsic flaw in that motivation, and any developer worth their salt will deny it up and down while it's happening, but it's the truth. It's the reason we keep getting events and other small bones instead of, well, fixes for any of the things I complained about above. Their goal is to keep you engaged, because your engagement is money. Fixing problems doesn't make money unless those problems are negatively affecting engagement time.

Which is all well and good – they have to make their money somehow right? Except none of these frustrations can even be lessened right now by paying for them, which is almost more disheartening – the game is being dismantled and mired in bullshit for ultimately no reason.

And all of this is external to the game being played. You know, the thing we're here for. The actual gameplay loop of Fortnite is the only thing in Save The World that looks like it's had about 6 years of development, because that's ultimately the case. Gathering materials, building a fort, and fighting off the horde in various ways is usually satisfying, fun, and challenging. There are some very minor issues with that gameplay flow, but strikingly many of them have been addressed in Early Access.

Map traversal has gotten much better with hoverboards, and the change to sprint's stamina usage. Gathering/Building was improved vastly by the increased material pools and larger stacks. It speaks to how refined the actual fu*king gameplay of Fortnite actually is that minor tweaks and changes elevate it so much. It's the life raft carrying all of this other tripe that's being tied to it in the name of future monetization and player attention/retention.

Look, I've been playing this game since the closed test, way back over a year ago now. It used to look like and play like a video game designed by people who wanted to make a good one. Something happened to it when Early Access started coming around, and there was a stark tonal shift in all of the supporting systems towards… wasting the player's time? I don't like it, and frankly after writing this I kind of feel like I need to take a very long break from the whole thing.

If you read this, either in full or in part, thank you. If you disagree with it, either in full or in part, that's fine. I've written this piecemeal over the last few weeks, and it's not scientific in the least. I'm not going to defend any of it to the death, since really it was just a bunch of therapeutic venting, catharsis to ease some of the frustrations I've had with this game.

If it resonates with you – I'm sorry. If anyone from Epic happens across this – get your shit together guys.

TL;DR: Game's not perfect, never will be. Seems to have stagnated, listless, in a sea of bad decisions.

edit: fixed some formatting issues that new reddit caused.

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