A dozen ideas for a better Fortnite
Edit (2020): This was written before Fortnite became the battle royale game it is today. When I wrote this, "Fortnite classic" was the whole game. Epic went a totally different direction than I was thinking about.
I've been playing a bunch of fortnite over the last week. Below is a bunch of things I've been thinking about while playing. This is basically a letter to the dev team that got too long for a reddit comment. This won't make any sense if you haven't played the game.
I've pumped about 30 hours into fortnite over the last week or so. The devs have done an absolutely amazing job at the engine but the game design itself feels like its trying to do a million things and each one needs some more design polish.
I want to pull apart some of how the game works because I enjoy it so much, and I can't stop thinking about this stuff while I play.
For me, fortnite has 4 sources of fun:
- Shooting zombies
- Building bases and trap mazes
- Scavenging for materials ("I need more nuts and bolts! Oh no my gun is breaking - need more silver!")
- Levelling up & getting more powerful
But before I get into that, a more general point: the game should start much harder. I didn't fail my first mission until plankerton. Right now lots of fun mechanics can be completely ignored in the early game because you're too strong. (like mazing and teamwork). This makes stonewood boring - you are missing some of the best parts of the game. And it makes the later levels feel jarring and unfair. In comparison, in Zelda: breath of the wild most players (myself included) die from the first few mobs you see in the world - 5 minutes after the game starts. That moment frames the whole game in this sense of - "Oh! I need to actually think about how I fight" and that makes every subsequent fight more interesting.
With that aside lets go through the mechanics.
Shooting zombies is great fun and feels good. I love the guns, the headshot mechanics and the elemental damage. The variety of enemies is great, and I love how they push you to play in different ways and move around and defend your base dynamically instead of just camping. Very well done, 5 stars.
Building bases is fine, though Stormshield is really let down by how disconnected it is from the rest of the game. It feels like a minigame instead of your home base. Its awkward to get building materials into your base, and seems common to run out of nuts and bolts (and thus ammo) while doing base defence missions. Its weird that you can only defend your base 10 times, and that because of how resources work you can't do them in a row. Its also weird that you get punted out after beating the last wave. It feels like stormshield is trying to be your home base (crafting there is persistent). But its also trying to be a mission that you complete. I think the home base concept is great, and you should make it feel more like that:
- After you beat some enemies, you shouldn't get punted out immediately.
- You should be able to push the button again and do the next few waves
- There should be a better way to get ammo and crafting mats while you're in your base (more on that later).
- Maybe you should be sent to your stormshield automatically after every mission.
- Maybe add an endless mode after you've done the 10 missions.
That would be a start.
Building trap mazes is really fun, but its hard to discover that fun because of how difficult it is to learn how the zombies path. Its obvious this is a problem by looking at how people in stonewood defend objectives - most people have no idea how to make effective traps, and just end up shooting the zombies instead. This is confounded by the fact that the game is way too easy at the start - so players don't need to learn or engage with one of its most fun elements.
One out-of-game solution to this would be a set of mazing challenge levels (like starcraft 2) where you're dropped in with a limited pile of traps and construction resources and a very weak gun and you need to defend a fixed point against a fixed attacking force.
Another approach would be to draw lines in the world showing the path the zombies will take to attack your base (like Sanctum) so players can experiment with wall placement and learn how different wall configurations affect how the zombies will path. These lines could be taken away later once players have learned how to maze. (Either let players turn the lines off for extra rewards or just take them away in plankerton missions onwards.)
Imagine if stonewood had about 3x as many zombies in the objective waves but you could see exactly where they'll walk before you start the encounter. Building mazes would so much more fun and interesting - and you'd learn and enjoy the game's mechanics much more.
Next lets talk about loot. Inventory management with crafting supplies simply isn't fun. As a player I have to make uninformed choices ("will I need these 3 stacks of ore later?") and I'm punished for deciding wrong. I think I can guess what the game designers are trying to do - to both push you into hunting down particular items ("I need more silver!") and to building different things ("I don't have enough mats to keep making guns - better use more traps instead"). Instead it feels like 90% of the materials in the game are just useless junk that clog up my inventory. I enjoy hunting down particular crafting mats, but because the XP system encourages you to invest deep in particular items there isn't much variety in what I need. And the experience is a mess ("Ugh my inventory is full again... oh god 4 stacks of planks? Ugh")
The first change I'd make is to remove crafting mats from the backpack. Instead make all items work like wood, stone and metal. Make them stack up to a limited number and thats it. Thats how crashlands works, and its great. The backpack can still be used for weapons and traps - but (obviously) it could be much smaller.
Gating weapon evolution by the materials you need to craft them is interesting - but the game should never punish you for spending XP. You should still be able to craft weaker versions of a schematic you own using the weaker materials.
I'm not sure what to do about the million mats thing. It feels like its just too much right now. Maybe it would be fine if there were about half as many different materials. Or maybe its just a UI thing - and if you could hold 1 stack of each material you could have a much more consistent inventory UI and it wouldn't feel like a "how do I hold all these lemons" shaped mess. I'm imagining a 1 star tab for the stonewood mats, and a 2 star tab for the plankerton mats and so on - using the same layout for each (ores, plants, etc).
I'd also consider removing the stormshield storage completely. Or maybe let the player hold 10 of each crafting mat in missions and autodeposit it all in stacks of 100 (or 500 for nuts and bolts) when you finish the mission. When you craft it uses what you're holding, or pulls from stormshield if you don't have enough.
Or not! A more wild suggestion would be to let stormshield actually be home base. Make the player plan ahead (crafting guns and traps there), before the mission starts. When the mission starts, the player's crafting materials inventory is empty. It might still make sense to let players craft weapons more in the world - but only using what you find.
Speaking of inventory limits, maybe the weapons and traps should have separate inventory limits. Right now the game seems like the game is trying to make me choose whether to invest in guns or traps (they use the same schematic XP and compete for inventory space). I see what you're doing there, but I disagree. I think you should push all players to do a bit of both. I would separate out the XP into weapon / schematic XP and separate out bag space into weapon space and trap space. Once crafting mats are taken out of the backpack you can imagine starting the game with space for 10 weapons & traps. Maybe better still would be to start with space for 5 weapons and 5 traps.
Speaking of XP, right now I feel like there's a big imbalance in how progression works in the game. If you imagine the ratio of progression from quests vs progression from running around in missions, it feels like its slanted in the way of quests. I think the game would be more fun if getting XP for heroes and items was tied closer to actually using those items in game.
A simple fix would be to just weaken the quest rewards and raise the mission rewards. A more classic progression system here might work better.
But I'd consider something more wild like this: Maybe guns and traps should level up by type. Whenever a spike trap does damage, you get spike trap XP. The XP is applied automatically to all spike trap patterns now and any you find later. Want a good push trap? Easy - once enough enemies have been pushed with your push traps your trap will level up. Want a good healing trap? Make & use the low level traps to unlock the better ones. That would explicitly reward you for using those traps that seem useless ("well at least I'll level it up!) and reward players more for being involved in base defence - and not just shooting stuff. It would make team dynamics harder though - it might be annoying if you built lots of traps only to have someone shoot them zombies before they reach them. But again, if there were 3x as many zombies from the start of the game I think it'd be ok.
Right now the game has a problem where it punishes you for experimenting with different guns. Found a cool sniper rifle pattern? Shame it does no damage unless you invest a zillion points into it. The same system here might help - it would at least reward players for using low level weapons because you would level up those weapons. You'd probably also want to make low level weapons level up faster in later content - but maybe that would happen automatically if it was based on the damage done by the weapon (because of FORT stats). That would also incentivise the player to use weapons they found in the world - if you do a bunch of damage with that random axe you found in a chest, your axe schematics will all get stronger, and if you want to use an axe later you'll be able to craft a level 3 axe instead of a level 1 axe.
But this doesn't fix the bigger problem of punishing the player for experimenting with different guns. The more I think about it the more impressed I am with D3's progression system - and how easy it is to swap out skills. I'm not sure what the answer for fortnite is though. I think fortnite would lose some texture if all your weapons levelled up together.
A middle option might be that instead of points going into your particular assault rifle schematic XP you could put your points into assault rifles in general. Then you could happily swap out all the different rifles you own (and try new ones) without cost.
Anyway, I hope thats some food for thought. The engine is fantastic and the devs should be really proud of it. I hope by launch the rest of the game can reach that fantastic level of quality.