Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Kate delves into a new addition to a f2p indie minnow called ‘Fortnite’ that turns out to be one of 2023’s best surprises…
I’ve been playing Fortnite for the past few months with a couple of pals, and having a pretty great time. Despite everything that the internet would have you believe, the game is not just for children amped up on too many blue Smarties, or whatever sugar-rush confection they’re eating nowadays, nor is it a non-stop conveyor belt of overpriced skins representing the latest Marvel movies. I mean, it is both those things. But it’s not just those things!
However, convincing non-Fortnite people to give the game a go is hard, thanks to its cultural image. So it’s even harder to convince people to play its new mode, the game-within-a-game that is LEGO Fortnite. It’s like telling people that they have to eat all their least-favourite Quality Street chocolates before they get to the good ones.
But you trust me, right? I’m going to have to assume you do. I have many good opinions, I promise — and this is one of them. Lego Fortnite slaps.
You might have heard some rumblings about it on social media, or your favourite games media platforms. “It’s like Minecraft“, they’ll say, or Stardew Valley, or Valheim, or even Animal Crossing. They’re kind of right — the survival elements and the crafting elements are reminiscent of all the above — but Lego Fortnite is, thankfully, enough of its own product to not just feel like Epic and co. are ripping off something successful. I mean, they’ve done it before.
My first time hopping into Lego Fortnite, I had no idea what to expect. A short and quite vague trailer plays before you get let into the world, which shows your Fortnite characters getting shrunk and plasticised, and entering into a world with… sheep? Skeletons? Caves? Explosions??? Terribly exciting, to be sure, but when I zapped into my brand-spanking-new survival world, there was… nothing. Nothing, except a single NPC, who instructed me to build a village. Where’s the LEGO? Where’s the Fortnite???
It was only when me and my friends jumped into the world later that I got it. Unlike Minecraft and Valheim, Lego Fortnite has a levelling-up mechanic that’s tied to your village, i.e. your homebase. Your progress has nothing to do with your own personal exploration, or how powerful your character is; instead, if you want to unlock better recipes and tools, you’ll have to plug resources into your village totem. This also allows you to attract more villagers (in the form of Fortnite NPCs) who will help tend to the village’s crops and resources while you’re away. Each village level requires harder-to-find materials, so you’ll need to explore caves and new biomes to satiate its ever-growing hunger.
Because that’s the thing, really. Giving resources to a village totem to level up feels a lot like burning sacrifices to appease a greedy god, perhaps because of its literal totemic presence in the centre of your town. You could use those 15 wolf claws to build a new weapon, but if you throw them into the gaping maw of your cute Lego beaver-shaped totem, you can unlock even better weapons. Oh, great beaver. Grant us your favour and bestow upon us some cute sofas for our Lego houses.
As with all survival games, Lego Fortnite is A) better with friends, and B) all about the gameloop of collect-spend-improve-repeat. There’s not a great deal of depth in the game yet, but it’s enough to sustain tens of hours of fun, planting gardens, building houses, and spelunking in dark caves, figuring out what you need and how you can get it.
Survival online multiplayer games are a huge and difficult type of game to make, and with both Lego and Fortnite stamped on it, this one could have phoned it in. But it didn’t
Right now, there’s a certain charming jankiness to the whole game, which is to be expected for such a huge launch. The inventory system is a mess, with no sort button and a non-functional merge feature, and the unlocks for recipes are hard to predict. We somehow unlocked a toilet paper stand before we unlocked lighting, like overly hygienic cavemen discovering soap before fire. Similarly, the progression system is obtuse and chaotic, and we keep stumbling into nearby biomes only to discover that we are vastly underlevelled and were clearly supposed to go somewhere else. Also, sleeping does nothing. You can’t skip the night, like in most other survival games.
But all of this, I think, will be fixed. As it stands, playing Lego Fortnite feels like getting in on the ground floor of something that’s going to be a Very Big Deal Indeed. It’s janky, it’s a bit broken, and launch day was definitely not ready for 2.5 million players to crash through its doors, but you know what? So was Minecraft. So was Valheim. Survival online multiplayer games are a huge and difficult type of game to make, and with both Lego and Fortnite stamped on it, this one could have phoned it in. But it didn’t, and what we’re left with is a surprising, delightful future rival to the giants.
The Fortnite theming is extremely light, and basically only appears as NPC and character skins, and the occasional reference to “Slurp” and “Slap” for its health-regenerating juices. There aren’t even any guns! In fact, my theory is that Lego had been making this survival game for a while, and Epic came along, gave them a ton of money, and slapped a Fortnite label onto it. If that’s the case, it’s a genius move. But the Lego theming, so far, is also a bit light — humans, monsters, and animals are all made of Lego, as are the buildings, which slot together in a modular fashion, but that’s about it. The Lego parts are really just aesthetic — don’t go in expecting something like Lego Jurassic Park.
So if it’s not really Fortnite and it’s not really Lego, what is it? That’s just the thing. I don’t know. This game genuinely came out of nowhere, even for Fortnite players and people entrenched in games media like me, so this is only the beginning. We’re not even a week into this launch and we’ve been promised more skins, more features, and more content. It feels like a promise of something great that we can’t even envision yet. It won’t replace Minecraft for me just yet, and that’s hardly surprising, given Minecraft’s 15-year lead — but the fact that I’m excited to play this survival game newcomer all the same is a testament to its nascent power. I’m fully on board for this ride, and I think you should join me.