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Battle Royale's given Fortnite a pulse, but it still needs a soul

I’ve finally had some brilliant moments in Fortnite. I’ve had some brilliant moments, unexpected and thrilling and hilarious. For weeks, I dipped in and out of a game that I dearly wanted to love, a game made with obvious craft and care and wit, but a game whose once-voguish elements – resource gathering, crafting, loot boxes! – failed to come together in any meaningful way. The art, a sort of goofy atomic-age panorama, as if Mad Magazine had been conscripted into a militia, was hard not to warm to and the PvE campaign zipped along, but I was left unsure as to why I should put any time into building complex structures to defend against zombie hordes when the match would be over in the blink of an eye and all that hard work would vanish forever, and I was suspicious of the numbers that you pumped out of enemies, one bullet at a time. Those numbers looked so great, chunky and bright as they cluttered the air, but they also looked like set-dressing rather than anything with genuine meaning to the player. Fortnite simply wasn’t as much fun as it looked like it was. It often seemed like it was pretending to be a game.

How things change. A few weeks back, Epic announced that it would be taking some tips from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – okay, that’s not exactly how Epic phrased it, I guess – and now Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode is here. You know the idea: 100 players parachuting en masse into a single huge map. Everyone is trying to kill everyone else, and the winner is the last person standing. The appeal of this stuff has already been proven, but it’s worth reiterating anyway: in that huge playground, you can pretty much opt for any strategy that comes your way. The dream, for me at least, is to win an entire game by only pulling the trigger once.

After playing a fair amount of Battlegrounds, Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode makes a rather odd first impression. It’s odd how much the team has taken wholesale, for example. Everyone spawns on a micro-island offset from the main map in which – stop me if you’ve heard this before – you can attack everyone else without inflicting damage, and you can run around picking up weapons and ammo that will disappear once the real game begins. And once the real game begins you’re flying over the island, direction randomised, and parachuting in at the moment of your choice. Sure, it’s a tricked-out school bus rather than a cargo plane, but PUBG spent a lot of effort getting this stuff right and now Fortnite’s sauntering in and reaping the rewards of all that experimentation. It doesn’t feel great.