From Epic Games, Fortnite is a survival game all about base building. Smash trees, rocks, and other objects and craft walls, ceilings, traps, weapons, and all manner of crazy gizmos to defend various multiplayer objectives from waves of whimsical cartoon undead. Imagine Gears of War's Horde mode crossed with Plants vs. Zombies and a tower defense game.

However, the game's unique launch has raised more than its fair share of confusion. Fortnite is, right now, in "closed beta," with paid access. In early 2018, the game will go fully free to play, however, which means those who purchase early are effectively paying for early access.

As a free to play game, Fortnite is gratuitous on random loot crates and grindy mechanics, leading many to ask the question, is it really worth it? Here are some of my thoughts so far.

What is Fortnite?

In Fortnite, a mysterious meteorological apocalypse has engulfed the world, with storms creating hordes of zombie-like creatures known as husks. The remnants of humanity scramble into various little communities, bolstered by forts and scraps of futuristic technology to keep the storms at bay.

Fortnite is a full multiplayer game, with each map taking place in surprisingly diverse procedurally generated areas. You can join matches with random players or pals from your friends list, teaming up to build forts and battle the various mutants hell bent on destroying you.

Layers upon layers of progression mechanics go a long way to making the game addictive. You can set up NPC squads using collectible survivor cards which boost your stats in various ways. You can increase your commander level to unlock new skills and abilities, such as the air strike gadget. You can collect various tiers of guns, melee weapons, and traps (and level them up too), and unlock a huge variety of playable hero characters all with their own separate skills and progression mechanics.

The sheer volume of things to collect and unlock is utterly dizzying, and will serve to keep players hooked on Fortnite's Llama Piñata loot crates — which, of course, can be purchased with real money or earned through in-game means. The llamas provide random rewards in the form of EXP credits, usable items, and other resources. Fortnite also has daily rewards for returning players, and various "quests" based around random objectives to keep you coming back for more.

As someone who generally loathes free to play games, Fortnite should be my worst nightmare. I'm not sure I've experienced a game which provided so many mechanics that could be modified by dropping cash on not-so-micropayments. Those with cash to burn could accelerate through the game very fast and eventually find themselves with little to do. But I dread to think how much that might cost.

When you ignore the free to play mechanics, though, just how much fun is it? Turns out that it's a lot of fun.

Is Fortnite fun?

Fortnite's gameplay hinges on collaborative fort building, typically around various objectives in procedural objective defence gameplay maps. You come equipped with a pick axe, which can be used to chop down trees, smash apart cars, and even level buildings all in the name of hunting resources.

Fortnite's base building mechanics are incredibly robust and intuitive, once you get the hang of the controls. You can craft walls, chest-high or with windows and doors. You can build stair wells, ramps, and towers, using the game's modular building system. As you ascend into the skill tree, you can upgrade a shoddy brick house to a stone fortress, complete with spike traps, electrified hall ways, sniper nests, and NPC guards. Watching a herd of husks walk into an electrified spike trap is a glorious sight to behold.

Most of the fortresses you build will be left behind after a match, but your homebase persists, and can be expanded upon and customized at will to defend your "Storm Shield Generator," which serves as the game's central mechanism for expanding the map, and thus, the amount of mission types available to you.

Like with any co-operative game, playing with friends elevates the experience, particularly when the building mechanics lend themselves fairly well to griefers who jump into games just to troll and smash up your stuff, although that hasn't happened to me very often.

Depending on your participation and performance in each match, you're awarded with medals which determines the quality of the loot you receive. Additionally, any resources or crafting materials you harvest in each match will persist when the game ends, which is particularly important for building up your home fortress.

As your hero levels up, you'll gain access to more difficult areas where the husks are more powerful and varied, including ones that circumvent and destroy fort traps and walls. Thankfully, you'll also unlock all sorts of weapons to deal with these threats in robust, third-person shooter combat style, wielding shotguns, rifles, and various types of melee weapon.

In addition, each hero comes with unique stats and abilities to aid them in combat. Some can spawn turrets or enhance base defences. Others get bonuses to regular combat stats with improved mobility, and others are particularly adept at construction or resource harvesting.

There's an insane amount of stuff to unlock and upgrade, making every match feel rewarding. Fortnite is even quite generous with the pace at which the all-important loot Llama crates are awarded — never once have I felt the need to drop some cash for faster progress. The sense of constant progression, whether its your heroes, your home base, your collection of crafting schematics, or even just moving the main story quest forward makes Fortnite a grinder's paradise.

Those who purchase and participate in Fortnite's closed beta also receive Founder Llama crates, which reward unique weapons that won't be available when the game goes free to play in early 2018. It's a nice bonus for those who decided to jump in and support the game early, especially when the Llama crates themselves randomly level up, dropping boatloads of cards all over the floor in a hailstorm of glorious loot. Great — I think I'm addicted.

Fortuitous potential

Even at this relatively early stage, Fortnite is a unique and well executed take on the survival genre. It's funny, it has gorgeous, vibrant artwork, and the combat mechanics and fortress building gameplay are robust.

The progression mechanics are a little convoluted, as well as the sheer volume of randomly generated loot, but it somehow coalesces in a way that feels more rewarding, than it does grindy. There are some performance issues on Xbox One, with random periods of crushing lag, but these instances are highly infrequent in my experience.

Ultimately, you have a choice between dropping $39.99, jumping in early, getting some exclusive rewards, and helping to shape the future of the game. Or, you can wait it out for the game's full free to play launch in early 2018, and start from scratch.

If you and up to three friends are looking for something with true longevity to really get your teeth into, Fortnite is truly well worth the purchase. If you're looking to dabble a little more casually, as a solo player or with randoms over Xbox Live, I'd say perhaps watch some streams on Mixer.com before taking the leap.

It's going to be interesting seeing how Fortnite evolves in the coming months, and we'll be here to keep you up to date with its development.

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