Epic Games' latest title, Fortnite, is a shooter in which players wait until nightfall for their fortress to be attacked, or venture outside of the safety of its walls to take the battle to hordes of colorfully creepy creatures.
Fortnite is a defense game, in which players carefully bolster their home base against the oncoming horde, planning during the day, and enjoying the fruits of their toil after dark.
Fortnite is a building game, in which players wander about their randomly generated world, gathering materials that can be used to craft anything their hearts' desire.
"Fortnite is a game we're making for the gamers," said Epic's Cliff Bleszinski as the game made its grand debut at the San Diego Comic-Con earlier today. Familiar sentiment, but this is the first time "for the gamers" has meant all of the gamers, all at once.
Game producer Tanya Jessen calls Fortnite a co-op sandbox survival game, a rather simple label for the most ambitious to come out of Epic Games in ages. It's a game where players team up within a randomly generated world beset by beastly creatures that, as Cliff put it during the panel, "crave life". It's up to a rag-tag band of survivors to scour the countryside for materials, craft elaborate fortresses, and pray they're enough to hold the monsters at bay when night falls.
For the younger generation of fans, it's completely different from anything they've played from the company they know for the dark and gritty Gears of War and highly competitive Unreal series.
The seeds of shooters past are present in Fortnight, to an extent. During the panel Epic showed off a series of videos showcasing the evolution of the crossbow, one of many weapons available in the game. Using found materials the player will be able to upgrade the simple one-bolt weapon into one that shoots three at a time, or shoots electrified bolts that stun creatures. Or, most impressively, shoot a tight rope line that other players can use to reach higher ground.
So there is something here for shooter fans. When the night falls or during excursions into the wilds for supplies, they'll be invaluable for keeping the enemy at bay. They'll certainly come in handy against creatures like the troll, a tiny gruesome critter that Cliff jokingly called "A manifestation of everything on the Internet I hate".
These tiny creatures can walk on any surface, opening portals for more powerful enemies wherever they go. Building vertical won't say you; they can walk there, and where they can walk, they can port. In large groups they can even extend their portals into a larger one. As Cliff suggested during the panel, it's sort of like goatse.
These trolls will also attempt to steal anything that's nailed down, including the hard-earned loot other players have gathered. When they are gathering huge objects, however, they can't open portals, so it's up to the players to decide how important that equipment actually was to their master plan.
The shooters can protect the buildings, the most precious creations of players more apt to create than destroy. We were shown a video of a female e character taking to the streets, cutting down tress to harvest wood. Once she had enough she opened a blueprint in front of her face and began materializing structures in mid-air. Walls, floors, doors and windows appear. First we see ramshackle fortifications that monsters tear through readily. Then we're shown more sturdy and complicated structures; stairs, half-length parts, arches, etc.. The creatures knock that down as well. Finally she goes into the city, harvests some stone from the side of a building, and creates a massive fortress of stone, towering into the sky.
"She just got King's Landing up on their ass" jokes Bleszinski.
This all takes place in a colorful cartoonish world that Jessen describes in a post-panel interview as a mix of Tim Burton and Dreamworks, an art style that has Epic artists jumping at the chance to participate.
"When we first started working on the game we were going for something like The Road or The Walking Dead" said Cliff to the assembled fans at the Fortnite panel. "It started depressing us. You don't want to put a gun in your mouth after playing a game like that."
Instead they went whimsical, and once that was established the company's artists flocked to the project.
They aren't simply creating art, either. Thanks to an Unreal Engine 4 feature called Blueprint, the elements of game and level design are put together in easy-to use building blocks. During the interview Cliff told me that his artists are creating new mini-games every day. One even managed to make the clock in the town square building, one of many used in the randomly generated landscapes, tell the correct time.
If an artist can create that easily, imagine the modding scene. Gives you tingles, doesn't it?
Fortnite is a game that's created strictly for the PC (though other platforms aren't out of the question in the future). "Next-gen is here" Cliff tells the crowd. "It's a high end PC."
High-end won't be necessary to play Fortnite, however; the Unreal Engine 4 is the most scalable engine from Epic yet, allowing developers to tailor their experiences for a wide variety of hardware in no time flat. If you own a PC that plays games there's a good chance you'll be able to play Fortnite.
Which begs the question, when? When will this evolution of children building tree forts in the woods be available to the public?
This isn't a big-time holiday game, Cliff tells the crowd at the panel. They're going to start with a friends and family beat and slowly go wider and wider until the game releases. And after that? More content. The game is built so they developers can play with it just as easily. They'll be able to drop in new content easily, meaning things like special holiday events aren't out of the question.
Fortnite is unquestionably the most exciting thing I've seen from Epic since Jazz Jackrabbit. It's original. It's beautiful. It's ingenious.
It's a game for all gamers.