Today, the hottest game on earth launched on the most ubiquitous device around. While Fortnite on mobile is only rolling out to a select group on iOS for testing purposes, I got a chance to play around with it some. I’ve walked away surprised at how well Fortnite runs on my phone, though it did have some cumbersome quirks.
Right now, the servers seem slammed, and it took a while just to log in. Once I was in, though, the port seemed like what you’d expect from Fortnite. Everything looks exactly the same, only...smaller, and a tiny bit jaggier. Some text is a tinge hard to read, but it’s not a big deal if you’ve already played the game. Still, the packed real estate became a problem during actual matches.
Like other battle royale games, Fortnite is all about awareness. You need to be able to spot enemies from a distance, lest you get shot from who-knows-where. It’s you against 99 other people, after all. On mobile, this hyper-awareness is more difficult to pull off because everything is compressed to a much smaller screen. It was difficult to scan the landscape, and the more pronounced pop-in on mobile didn’t help that. I felt a little more helpless than usual playing Fortnite on my phone.
To mitigate this, Epic Games developed a new feature that tells you a bit more about your environment. When another player is nearby, a small half-circle will show up on your screen, relative to the direction the player is coming from. Depending on the color, it can tell you if players are hanging out or shooting in a particular direction. It’s a necessary addition given the problems with visibility on this platform, but we don’t yet know how this will affect the balance when crossplay is in effect. Will mobile users have an upper hand? Or do the other limitations of mobile Fortnite even things out?
Another annoyance of playing on mobile is that buttons exist on the screen. This means that to play, you’re actively obscuring your arena, which isn’t great. Mobile Fortnite has a “joystick” on the bottom left, and separate buttons for actions like crouching and jumping on the right side. Shooting can happen if you tap on the center of the screen, or if you press a dedicated button on the left—which makes running and gunning tricky. I found that combining different actions was awkward, though at least some of it may be the lack of muscle memory. At least once, I accidentally shot into the air because my thumb crossed into the “shoot” area in the middle of the screen, when in actuality I just wanted to move the camera. Mostly, though, when a fight broke out, it took a little too long just to move the reticule where I wanted it to go. On my first match, I still managed to kill two folks and place in top 30, but I likely would have done better on a different platform. Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for touch controls, as phones allow you to pair controllers with them. At that point, you might as well play on a console or PC if you can swing it! That said, it’s not all bad: I found swapping between items and weapons to be a breeze thanks to the tap controls, and building also seems like it fits in well.
I’ve spent most of this post critiquing mobile Fortnite, but for all of its faults, it’s a marvel that the game runs so well on my phone at all. Control and size issues aside, this is the Fortnite everyone knows and loves—no hitches, hiccups or lag. I felt terrified as I skulked around the map, looking for other survivors. I felt thrilled to shoot down my opponents, who were also doing their best to scrape by in this dog-eat-dog world. It’s classic Fortnite, but you can take it with you. For some, that will be enough.