For the first 10 hours of Fortnite, I didn’t have to build a fort to succeed. We shot down every zombie husk within seconds of them spawning, eliminating the need for any of the traps that Fortnite lets you craft and place on its maps. Instead, everyone would wander the map on their lonesome, completing quests that few—if any—shared in an effort to expedite the time until our next reward and crawl through the story missions towards something resembling a challenge.
When a hulking bruiser enemy busted through our walls for the first time, I felt relieved. Finally, I needed to build a decent fort, and finally, I would have to work with my team to plan and overcome a genuine threat. But we quickly killed the monster, repaired the walls, set out new traps, and coasted through the rest of the match. It would be another five hours of coasting and building useless monuments to the sky before I felt threatened again. And when it does start to get difficult, success is gated through a constant squeeze on your persistent resources required to build forts and traps, a frustrating byproduct of the messy, time-wasting progression systems.
Fortnite uses a cute, albeit shallow narrative backdrop as its excuse for building big towers of wood and stone and steel. Some recurring characters including a jokester robot and a longhaired rocksmith (whose van you weather-balloon into the sky every other mission) mark your progress with commentary on the state of humanity against the big purple clouds in the sky. They can be genuinely funny, but, like all the best parts of Fortnite, the dialogue feels like a low priority, often playing over the menu’s distracting visual noise and the post-match ritual of watching chests spill out, pinatas explode, and XP meters fill themselves several times over to accompanying carnival ambience.