I always get sucked into these things. Early access.
And I have yet to be disappointed.
The big one – Landmark – the complete failure of a game that is now vaporware (along with the hopes and dreams of Everquest fans). I played the hell out of that game.. was it a game? That… interface. Anyway – it was a blast. Darkest Dungeon, Battletech, 5 Days to Die, Project Zomboid, March of the Living, RimWorld – most of the games I have enjoyed over the past couple of years were/are early access titles. It is definitely a thing now. Of course, many of them are/were pretty complete games just hidden under the guise of ‘early access’ to deflect bugs and gameplay criticisms. I think my new job title is going to be CEO – Early Access so I can do the same with my own performance.
I was searching for a game I could play with my 12 year old. He picked Overwatch, I picked Paladins. Very similar games but we both do not like the other one’s choices. Probably not a shock that 30 years age difference and gaming experience has garnered different tastes. We have done some Minecraft server play but it hasn’t stuck as regular. Now, during gaming time, he goes to the basement on the PS4 and I sit on my laptop in the kitchen. Both gaming in completely different worlds.
I watched some videos about Fortnite with him quite randomly, and we were both intrigued. When it launched we read some reviews and did a bit more reading and by all accounts it fits the type of game we both enjoy. It’s a shooter. It has Minecraft-esque building elements. It has zombies. Co-op. Bonus points for a cutesy and fun world, and a Super Deluxe Edition that includes a friend code. Let’s jump in. And we did last night.
The game is extremely polished. It coIuld be “released” today. The big confusion about this game is that it is paid early access now, but free to play sometime in 2018. I feel like that is a long lead time and by the time it launches this game will probably have already peaked. You can’t have content being pushed out for too long when the game is in such a playable state that it seems very disingenuous to call it early access. Either way, I am playing it.
The biggest surprise to me was the depth of the systems and the many layers that exist. This is a very complex and interconnected game. It starts with your home base, that (by all accounts) remains static. You can build, set traps, bring back resources from missions (etc.). Everything in game (but people) end up wearing down and needing to be replaced and you cannot repair weapons (but can rebuild new ones if you gather the materials). From your home base you extend to side missions, saving people, visiting towns, exploring, finding loot/materials, and completing objectives. I’ll run you through the main menu to better explain just how detailed the systems are.
Entering the game lands you on the ‘Play Now’ screen with your current quests and the rewards you will get from it. The quests I have done so far (very early) have three basic phases. First is search/collect (find this item, find this person). The environments are procedurally generated and are VERY well done. There are empty neighborhoods you can explore. Items to find – it really hits on the explorer aspect. This search/find phase has been unlimited in the early go around although on some streams are saw the future ones have timers. There are some randomly generated quests (ran into a survivor being attacked, have to push back the waves, etc.)
The second phase is build/activate – you have something to protect and you have collected resources now build a mini base. Once the base is done to your liking you activate the next phase and the bad guys come, with a defend timer, and you fight to win. The only issues I have seen with this so far is that on co-op games with strangers some are off on their own just collecting, while others might trigger the build phase too early. The early quests have been pretty easy so it hasn’t been an issue but yet again another good reason to try and play with friends.
(On that note, my playername is FOUNTS if you want to add me!)
The map shows available quests (which are repeatable plus your home base and the size of the ‘protected area’. I already had one quest to expand that zone and suspect much of the game will be expanding territory.
The Heroes tab is the current player you use in game. They come in several levels (purple being epic, blue being rare, grey being common… sound familiar?) and I assume you can unlock squads as you expand on Research and Skill trees (more on that soon). I was lucky enough to get a Lengendary hero in one of my loot Llamas (more on THAT later) and he has been the one I have been sticking with.
This is where things start getting a bit more interesting – you have the ability to unlock, build, and upgrade NPC squads.
Here I slotted my best ‘survivor’ (people that join you that you can’t directly control, unlike the Hero slot) but she did not have a leadership capability. I haven’t been able to deploy a squad yet and assuming that is part of the overall mission progression – so far they have introduced all mechanics of the games via missions. This really peaks my interest!
Now here is the meat and potatoes of much of the game and some of these parts will be expanding upon the Survivor and Hero menus I brought up earlier. First: Schematics!
Schematics are found / looted and they provide the recipes of weapons you can build in game – if you have the necessary components. Each Hero can wield 4 weapons (one of which is a resource gathering pickaxe) and each has ammo and durability. When the durability is zero the weapons is broken and you have to craft a new one. There is a ‘recycle’ feature on weapons so you can save some of the materials once the item is almost fully used but that is something you have to keep a close eye on. Even ammo has to be crafted and if you run out of ammo, and don’t have the resources to create that specific ammo for that weapon, you have no weapon! It is something you have to manage. The game keeps it interesting because sometimes you find a weapon in game but you do NOT have the schematic- meaning when the durability of that weapon hits zero you cannot recreate it. Its good to keep a varied amount of different schematics. As you can see, there are duplicates and you can ‘recycle’ a schematic to get weapon XP – which you can then use to upgrade the schematic. (See right side of picture above).
Here is a closeup of the legendary rocket launcher I have but I have not been able to create it in game yet – I haven’t found coal, of which is half the item. I am now always on the lookout for coal.
Defenders are another type of person you can add to missions with you if you want to play solo but need help. The downside is you have to equip the with weapons and they are not very ammo conservative. Someone suggested sticking to melee defenders only, but I haven’t explored using any yet. The early missions are very easy to get by.
Still on the Armory tab is the Survivors – of which, you can make squads out of. Which I haven’t been able to do yet.
Heroes, Survivors, and Defenders can all be leveled up. These give additional benefits and bonuses including new skills and abilities. I currently have around 30 Heroes, Survivors and Defenders – that is a LOT of upgrading potential. Of course, I tend to just pick my favourite ones and keep them rolling up in levels but the completionist in some people will struggle!
The last tab in the armory is the resources tab which holds various XP boosts for yourself, friends, teams, etc. I have been hoarding these for some reason. I really need to start using them. Overwhelmed yet? These are just the menu options! I haven’t even delved into gameplay yet. The next tab on the menu, Skills, really starts getting complex and deep.
There are different Tiers of both research and skills, and the next picture is a snapshot of *some* of the Tier 1 skill tree:
I couldn’t zoom out far enough to get the whole thing and have barely scratched the surface. The fact that there are four tiers to obtain is really blowing my mind.
The research tab seems a bit more manageable. The first tier, anyway.
Loot is fun in the sense that it is another loot box game, but they literally made them Pinatas. Not sure why Llamas. You get different currencies in game (and some with cash, more on that soon).
At least you actually get to swing and hit it too, although it takes no skill. It is a clever way to do a loot box. If you swing and it changes color that means the chance to get something better out of it improves. I have had a silver Llama (which is where I got my Legendary hero from) and they do switch what you are hitting with frequently. I’ve had a guitar, a pickaxe, and this hammer so far. Their eyes dart about before you hit them, which is kind of creepy – but it is a Llama so its ok, right?
Loot bounces up off the ground to see what you received and in this instance I finally got a Survivor Lead – so hoping putting her in the EMT squad will give me an option to do something with the squad.
Zooming in on her here to show they have different traits (curious, explorer) which is yet another thing to factor in.
The second last menu item, which has the most clarity of it all, is the store.
Epic games let you upgrade your founders pack (if you should want to) and also have a lot of early access ways to give them early access to your wallet. I haven’t felt the need to do this yet, having just plunked down $90 for two copies and I hope that the loot boxes are a luxury rather than a necessity. Time will tell.
The last tab is similar to the first page but shows all the quests you have available. I have had at most two so far but I am also doing quests that introduce the core concepts of the game and how to manage various resources.
Future posts will share gameplay experiences but I did want to demonstrate how much is already in this game – before you even play. There are so many systems and how they all balance and work together will be very interesting (and challenging for Epic Games, no doubt).
At the very minimum looking at this as a long term project – there is so much to do, to understand, and the game early on captures many different play styles that if monetized fairly, may be a hit. I am an early fan.