Fresh from its E3 announcement, the hottest game in the world finally arrives on Switch in a move that should surprise absolutely nobody, and not just because E3 2018 was leakier than dear Liza’s bucket. The question is: how does the Switch version stack up?
For the cave dwelling, island castaways among you, Fortnite is a free-to-play, third-person, last-man-standing shooter; or rather, it is now. Epic Games hastily assembled the 100-player Battle Royale scenario after eyeing the incredible popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. BR mode, plus an attractive free-to-play business model, didn’t revitalise the struggling game so much as inject rocket fuel into its eyeballs, and Fortnite has been eating PUBG’s lunch ever since.
So, one hundred players parachute onto a large island and scramble to find weapons and resources. An approaching storm funnels them together over time, forcing survivors to duke it out until there’s only one left. Various modes are currently available, and others have previously appeared for a limited time. Solo, Duo, Squad, 50v50 and Sniper Solo/Duo all do exactly what you’d expect.
The building mechanic from the original game does offer something distinctly different from the competition. Players collect materials and use them to assemble structures on-the-fly from predetermined wall, floor and ramp elements. These are used to scale vertical terrain, build sniper towers and construct makeshift cover when under fire. Seasoned players are able to build these glowing structures with intimidating alacrity, knocking together an impressive fort in a mere matter of seconds.
New players may find their initial matches overwhelming. You spawn onto an atoll off the main island as you wait for the player count to reach 100-ish. It’s a safe, no-risk space to experiment with controls and weapons, but thanks to the packed servers you’ll rarely spend more than 20 seconds here and our first matches consisted of frantically deciphering the UI and controls while being shot at. You’ll pick up the standard third-person controls quickly, but the building mechanic adds a layer of UI detail which takes a little time to suss out. Notably absent from this version is the original Save the World mode. Regardless of relative popularity, the original mode provided an introduction to the controls and mechanics which got complete noobs into the swing of things. The Battle Royale variant drops you into the thick of it in a very literal sense, so it's a shame the mode which started it all hasn't made the cut.
Emotes, a chat wheel and an inventory menu are assigned to the D-buttons. ‘L’ and ‘R’ cycle through the gear in your five-slot inventory, including weapons, medkits and armour tonics. ‘A’ switches from inventory to build mode. Prefab pieces are projected in front of you, snapping to an invisible grid and materialising with a pull of the ‘ZR’ trigger. Provided you’ve got the necessary materials, ramps and bridges can be thrown together as fast as you can sprint across them. However, they advertise your presence on the map, so you’ll need to be as confident in your combat abilities as you are in your construction talents.
While we here at Nintendo Life are certainly not novices to shooters, we quickly realised just how much we’ve grown accustomed to motion-assisted aiming in the likes of Splatoon, DOOM and Breath of the Wild. That extra precision has become second nature and its absence here feels like a massive handicap. Of course, we lived without it for years – and some people still prefer to leave it deactivated – but our first few rounds highlighted just how thoroughly we’ve assimilated the advancement. Please patch, Epic Games.
Teaming up with friends on the main menu is relatively painless; simply select them, wait for them to finish the match they’re in and join your party, then jump into whatever mode you fancy. Cross-platform voice chat has been added via a patch and it shuns Switch’s app and cable nightmare. At the time of review, we were unable to test it, but reports suggest it works as expected and if we hear (no pun intended) any different we'll be sure to update this review. It’s pleasing to see Epic rubbish the idea that this wasn’t technically possible and challenge Nintendo’s laughably convoluted take on an industry-standard feature; hopefully, other games will follow.
Even without voice chat, headphones are a good idea as sound plays an important gameplay role. Movement creates a lot of noise, so you’ll be relying on audio clues as other players traverse the silent map. The island itself offers plenty of variety and the day-night cycle makes it refreshingly colourful. A single map has enabled Epic to focus on refinement since release, but further locations would be welcome as the game evolves. At the time of writing, Fortnite on Switch is a slim 2GB download, so there's certainly wiggle room there.
There’s a good chance you’ve sampled the game on another platform in the year since its release (and if you’ve ever touched the PS4 version, you’ll have to contend with Sony-imposed restrictions on transferring your progress to Switch). We’ll leave the pixel counting and LOD comparisons to our friends over at Digital Foundry, but the takeaway is that Fortnite on Switch is a pleasant gameplay experience. Loading screens are brief, framerate appears to stick to a pretty solid 30 and everything looks fine.
Yes, you’ll need to look elsewhere if anything less than 60fps brings you out in hives, but performance is perfectly acceptable, given the well-defined limitations of the platform. In motion, character models seem to lose detail – doing the dance emote on the main menu provides a decent example – but in-game it’s less noticeable. Lower resolution means pixel shimmer is more obvious through scopes, so elite snipers may have a harder time on Switch. Handheld mode delivers a slightly softer presentation on the smaller screen, but the cartoon style helps paper over resolution deficiencies. It’s attractive in a chunky way and the Dreamworks-meets-Looney Tunes aesthetic feels relatively coherent, despite the hodgepodge of design influences.
A delayed launch means Switch owners benefit from the multitude of gameplay and UI tweaks rolled out since the game’s release – and they also experience the full force of the slick microtransaction machine Epic has engineered. A plethora of cosmetic options are available, from daily deals to special packs including XP bonuses, icons, emotes and more. XP accumulates through ordinary play and your tier levels-up, periodically unlocking free treats. Completing specific Daily Challenges also nets you points. Alongside the drip-feed of free unlockables, you’re also shown what you would have unlocked if you’d bought a Battle Pass – purchasing said season pass immediately unlocks those accumulated goodies. A pass costs 950 V-Bucks (1000 V-Bucks cost around £8/€10/$10) and it’s possible to pay more to skip tiers and gain instant access to rewards ordinarily unlocked via XP from matches. Again, it’s all cosmetic (as the game takes pains to remind you) but if you’re a sucker for accessorising, you’re going to be nickel-and-dimed for the sweetest swag.
Let’s face it – this is probably sitting on your Switch dashboard already, and there it should stay. Epic has delivered the full fat Fortnite: Battle Royale experience on the ‘homeheld’. The omission of Save the World is disappointing, and you’re sure to notice the framerate difference if you’re coming from other consoles, but performance-wise, it’s steady and perfectly playable. There’s room for improvement – motion-assisted aiming should be top of the patch list – but ultimately, that just-one-more feeling survives the transition intact. Before you know it, you’ll be eyeing the clock at 3:56 am thinking ‘hmm, that’s not a round number’. The heart-pounding suspense of making it to the final two may not be healthy, but it sure is addictive.