The skyrocketing popularity of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds assured that it was only a matter of time before the clones started to surface. And, not to throw shade, but given the timing and similarities, I think we can all safely agree that Fortnite‘s Battle Royale mode was the first high-profile release to fall into that category.
While the overlap between Fortnite: Battle Royale and PUBG is obvious to anyone, there’s one area where Epic Games’ iteration of the idea set itself apart. By keeping the base game’s tower-defense building system intact, Fortnite attempted to add something new to the battle royale formula in hopes of keeping the mode from being just another clone. And, by all appearances, it worked. The building system has been wildly popular among fans, and many now consider Fortnite: Battle Royale to be superior to Battlegrounds.
That conclusion may be true, but I think the reasoning is flawed. In fact, I’d say Fortnite: Battle Royale‘s building is a detriment to the experience in many ways, and it could be better without it.
Before getting into why Fortnite could benefit from a lack of building, I want to break down the things it does add to the game. The map of Fortnite: Battle Royale is—while not quite the size of Battlegrounds—undeniably massive. Apart from its overall square mileage, the map is extensively vertical, with many steep gradients leading up tall cliffs and down deep ravines, where crevices can often hold valuable gear that will help players on the hunt. Once material is mined with a pick-ax or picked up as loot, it can be constructed into four basic structures. Two of these—the ramp and the platform—are essential in navigating the uneven terrain of Battle Royale. Even the map’s plethora of small- to medium-sized structures would take much longer to explore if it wasn’t for the ease of simply building ramps up to their roofs and tunneling down in.
When it comes to combat, building is an even more popular gameplay tool. The game’s four building options, including the additional wall and pyramid, allow players to create towering structures to hide in and prepare for enemy assaults. As the game’s storm closes in on the map, more tactically-aware players will attempt to seek out a spot that will remain outside the storm for the greatest amount of time. This gives those players a massive advantage, as stragglers are filtered toward the base of their tower, from which the builders can rain fire while safely behind their walls and barriers. More advanced players will delve into the game’s editing feature, which opens up a selection of helpful changes to the base structures, such as putting windows in walls or handrail covers on flat platforms. Players that achieve true mastery of the building mechanics have a profound edge in both navigation and combat, and these are skills that can only be honed through practice.
Where it goes wrong
At this point, building sounds both skillful and integral to the game’s operations, so what’s the problem? This question has a two-fold answer that first demands I qualify the type of gamer I am. Fortnite: Battle Royale is an extremely competitive game, but the gaming it demands is more about the dexterous management of its systems over precise and reactive gunplay. Don’t get me wrong: Precise and reactive gunplay is absolutely a factor, but this is a game where your opponent could randomly have a weapon that’s four ranks higher, or where you may find yourself caught in an open field below four enemies holed up in a five-story fortress. It’s just as important to learn how to not land in those situations as it is to line up your gun sights. Both dexterous control management and reactive precision require different types of skill, but I have always personally gravitated toward the latter over the former. I am a reasonably skillful gamer—climbing up to Masters rank in Overwatch, dropping more than my fair share of nukes in Call of Duty—but my “purist” mentality about game competition has also made me foolishly stubborn. If there is a particular strategy or tool in a game I personally deem undignified or unfair, I will avoid using it myself, even if it proves necessary to my ability to succeed, and there are two ubiquitous Battle Royale strategies I believe meet this criteria.
First up is a maneuver I call wall spamming. Anyone that has fired at an unsuspecting Fortnite player knows exactly what comes next. Upon taking damage, nearly every Battle Royale player is mentally programmed to begin throwing up as many walls as they can, putting as much defense between them and their attacker as possible. This no doubt sounds like a reasonable strategy, but the scenario that almost invariably transpires is the defender will continue to throw walls down rather than fight back, creating a frustratingly boring stalemate for all involved. I have even see people run out of materials and still refuse to definitively fight back, choosing to instead cower behind their structures for as long as physically possible. Being the overly competitive and admittedly less-than-reasonable gamer that I am, I will always choose fighting over hiding, even if it is a blatantly inadvisable thing to do. If I die fighting, I can a least sleep at night, but the feeling of smug satisfaction I get from killing someone attempting to spam innumerable walls in my face would not be something I could bear if said smugness were being directed at me.
The next strategy is more admirable, but it can still give an undeserved advantage. The aforementioned tower construction is by far the game’s most popular late-match strategy, as nearly every squad attempts to predict where the safe zone will finally land. This means that those who roll the die and end up picking the optimal spot for their base will have an extreme advantage over those less fortunate. Structures can, of course, be knocked down, but depending on their material composition and the weapons at hand, an attempt to do so often makes you more vulnerable than it’s worth. This is not to say there isn’t a lot of skill involved in building structures quickly and effectively, particularly among some PC players, but again, the gear you’ve randomly acquired and position you’ve found yourself in often play just as big of a role in your survival as your trigger finger.
A solution we can all agree on
I don’t expect people to necessarily understand my stubbornness and consequent refusal to employ these tactics, nor do I expect Fortnite to cater to my strange sensibilities. Let it be made clear, here and now, I am not calling for Fortnite to remove building mechanics wholesale. I am aware that vastly more players like them than dislike them, and I am also aware that the removal of this unique system would strip a large part of the game’s identity that separates it from its competitor, Battlegrounds. I do, however, know there’s a small sector of the community who, like me, occasionally get very frustrated with the way building mechanics shift the balance of engagements. To that end, I propose the introduction of a no-building mode into Fortnite: Battle Royale as one of the game’s temporary playlists. I am not guaranteeing the mode would be fun or even feasible, given the map’s standard layout, but it’s something worth exploring. Why not give it a shot? There’s no downside, and it’d be easy for Epic to implement. Even if the mode is ultimately dysfunctional, it could still provide players with the opportunity to mess around while training up their combat skills and stealth tactics for use in the main game. If it shocks everyone with how fun it is, there is nothing stopping Epic from making a more permanent option.
If the complete omission of building is simply too much to ask, there is one more mode alternative I have to suggest. A key feature of building in Battle Royale is that structures are instantaneously solid the moment they are placed, despite the visual animation of the structure getting fitted piece by piece. But what if the structures didn’t become solid until after the animation is complete, with that window of vulnerability getting progressively longer the more durable the materials. While structures could still be connected and built upon, enemy fire would be able to pass right through. This would make building more about planning and anticipation, as building should be, rather than simply reactionary. Players would be forced to fight assailants, as opposed to instantly hiding behind walls, and dismantling an enemy’s tower would be more rewarding knowing the defenders can’t repair the damage in a matter of seconds.
These requests may sound unreasonable, but while I can’t deny these additions are self-serving, they ultimately serve the purpose of expanding players’ options. Developer Epic Games has done an effective job of creating a means by which new and abnormal ideas can be tried out in Battle Royale, even if only temporarily, and there seems to be no reason building can’t take a backseat just once.
I now await the inevitable flood of people telling me why wall spamming is a profoundly skillful maneuver.