Last week, a new record was set on Twitch, the live streaming video platform—and it had nothing to do with Counter-Strike, League of Legends, or Overwatch. The popular streamer “Ninja” teamed up with Canadian pop star Drake to play the video game Fortnite Battle Royal, and their stream topped out at over 635,000 concurrent viewers, a record for non-tournament streams. It never hurts to have a celebrity to boost your numbers, but even without Drake, Fortnite Battle Royal—a video game that has already surpassed forty million downloads—is enjoying something akin to global domination.
Fortnite Battle Royale has mass saturation across most major video game platforms, has huge download numbers and concurrent numbers (it once reported having 2 million concurrent players), and has spawned a fan community so active that Twitch and YouTube accounts devoted to Fortnite Battle Royale streams are growing at unprecedented levels. What’s going on?
Fortnite Battle Royale is an online multiplayer survival shooter developed by Epic Games, in which 100 players fight to be the last person standing in games lasting less than thirty minutes. It is a free game utilizing some mechanics from the original Fortnite, a survival sandbox game, and many aspects from the “battle royale” genre of games.
“Battle royale” video games are essentially structured like The Hunger Games. A set number of players are forced to fight one another within a predetermined map and try to survive until only one remains. These players must often employ a combination of skills to survive, include scavenging for weapons, medical equipment, armor, and other resources; shooting or engaging in melee combat; building traps or forts; and traveling long distances across the map to stay within a shrinking or alternating “play area.” By nature of their high stakes and their chaotic structure, battle royale games are often nerve wracking affairs—even for the most-skilled players—and they reward careful, creative strategies as well as rote muscle memory training.
No. In fact, many believe Fortnite Battle Royale to be heavily influenced by another battle royale video game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which has also seen unprecedented success in the past year.
In March 2017, the battle royale video game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (or PUBG) went into early access and promptly blew everyone’s minds. Based on a mod for the realistic military shooter ARMA 2, PUBG’s early access downloads exceeded expectations and it quickly became a video game sensation. By the end of 2017 it had become widely acclaimed and it helped popularize the battle royale genre across a massive global audience.
Each PUBG game involves 100 online players dropping onto a large island, scavenging for weapons and armor, running or driving vehicles to stay within the playable “circle” of the map, and fighting each other to be the last person standing. What made PUBG unique from other battle royale games was the scale of its map (eight kilometers by eight kilometers), the realism of its weapons and its combat (shooting across distances involves significant bullet drop, for instance), the unique, war-torn aesthetic of its setting, and the brutally efficient pace of its gameplay. When Fortnite Battle Royale launched in September 2017, it featured numerous gameplay details familiar to players of PUBG.
On first glance, not much. The two games rely on extremely similar mechanics: both drop players onto an island and force them to outlast 99 enemies. Both require players to scavenge for “loot” (weapons and health items) to use to fight other players and survive their attacks. Both rely on an ingenious, ever-constricting circle to shepherd players across the map into smaller and smaller battle zones, thus ensuring consistent engagement and brief, replayable game times. Both games allow players to play by themselves, or in duos or squads against other teams.
However, a closer look into both games reveals some significant differences. The first difference you’ll notice about the two games is visual: Fortnite Battle Royale is considerably more cartoonish, bright, and smooth-looking than PUBG, which relies on a more-muted, realistic color scheme. Fortnite Battle Royale’s visuals are reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, another massively popular online multiplayer shooter, while PUBG is reminiscent of its original inspiration, ARMA 2.
Fortnite Battle Royale is an easier game for beginners to learn, since its weapons are less realistic and work similarly to weapons found in other non-military shooters. Its map is smaller and easier to cross, its controls are more intuitive, and its menu and inventory screens are less confusing than PUBG’s. All weapons in Fortnite Battle Royale are assigned a color, and each color corresponds to its quality and the damage it can do. The color rankings in Fortnite Battle Royale, from worst to best, are: gray, green, blue, purple, and golden. PUBG weapons system is a more difficult affair to learn, but can appeal to detail-oriented players who enjoy customization.
However, as gamers improve at Fortnite Battle Royale and begin to survive as one of the final five-to-ten players of each game, they will find that Fortnite Battle Royale’s endgames can be just as complicated, if not more so, than PUBG’s, for one very specific reason: building.
The main mechanic that Fortnite Battle Royale borrowed from its sister game, Fortnite, and the thing that sets Fortnite Battle Royale apart from PUBG is the ability for players to build structures. Fortnite Battle Royale players collect wood, brick, and metal as they scavenge for weapons, shields, and health items, and use those raw materials to construct walls and stairs. Skilled Fortnite Battle Royale players are almost always good builders, and they use this building mechanic to construct sniper towers out of thin air, to traverse mountains using stairs instead of natural paths, and to place barriers between themselves and attacking enemies.
Building is intrinsic to Fortnite Battle Royale, and though it is the hardest skill for new players to pick up, it is ultimately one of the most important ways to get to the final rounds of the game, or to achieve victories.
It’s fun. Fortnite Battle Royale appeals to players across a lot of genres—strategy, survival, shooter, online multiplayer, battle royale—at an initial difficulty level lower than PUBG, and is structured so that games are relatively short, making it easy to replay and to practice. Players can do well in Fortnite through a bunch of different strategies (being sneaky, being aggressive, being creative) which helps keep it from being boring. And it’s still new, which means that Epic Games is constantly adding new items, weapons, locations, and features to improve gameplay and keep it dynamic.
Fortnite Battle Royale is currently available for download on the PS4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. So pretty much everywhere but the Switch at this point.
Keep in mind that while it’s available on all these platforms, cross-platform play is possible in some combinations but still limited. There’s hope that it could expand in the near future, but at this moment your friend on the PS4 can’t play with your friend on the Xbox One.
Right now, it’s free! So you have no reason not to try it out.