games / Columns

The Gamer Parent’s Strategy Guide: A Gamer Parent’s Week With Fortnite

December 28, 2020 | Posted by Jed Shaffer
Fortnite Battle Royale

Here we go.

In case you’ve somehow managed to live in a Fallout Vault for the past three years, Fortnite: Battle Royale is the online spin-off of (the forgotten) Fortnite: Save The World, a semi-sorta single player-slash-co-op campaign, which is kinda like that one Resident Evil game everybody wants to forget about. Not the other shitty interactive Michael Bay movie, the one before it, with the partner you had to play with that, if controlled by AI instead of another person, acted like she huffed paint for a living. The battle royale was supposed to be supplementary to the main game. Instead, it became a surprise success and a global phenomenon, eclipsing the base game to the point that most people – probably Epic included – forget it exists.

Fret not, Save The World. You’ve got company.

Battle Royale‘s gimmick is so simple, I am shocked nobody thought of before (not to say they thought of it first, just that they’ve helped popularize it): like it says on the tin, it’s a battle royale. 100 players, last one standing wins. The map gets incrementally smaller due to a storm that can kill you if you stay in it, forcing everyone to the center for the final confrontation. It can be played in teams, there’s a free-play area called “Creative” where you can … I don’t know … practice, I guess? And there are random objectives like “get three shotgun kills” or “find ten new locations” that help you level up. What does leveling up do? If you grew up on RPG’s like Dragon Warrior and Phantasy Star, then be prepared to gnash your teeth into a powder; leveling up does nothing useful whatsoever. Doesn’t improve your aim or increase damage resistance or anything. It just qualifies you for more rewards (i.e., skins for your character). It’s the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided pre-order scheme as a game mechanic. And it gives kids something to brag about to their friends, because this game is HUGE for social status. I’m pretty sure not having the Battle Pass is a bigger social sin than still being a virgin.

As of May 2020, Fortnite has a total of 350 million players worldwide. For a week, I was one of them. This is my experience.

This seems appropriate.

Day Zero: Sunday, Dec. 13

I download the game to my PS4, which feels like I’ve intentionally gone swimming in a nuclear reactor’s cooling pond. I’ve watched my kids play it on numerous occasions, so I’m not going in 100% blind. Can I render myself blind to get out of this? It might be worth it. One of my 14 year old twins – the younger of the two, we’ll call him L – thinks he can win pro tournaments and make money. Bless your heart, you sweet, summer child.

My youngest – he’s 8, we’ll call him H – is in the room as I do this. I’m hoping he doesn’t notice; he’ll think I’m actually interested in it, and I don’t know how to explain to him that I’m playing it strictly for journalistic purposes. I was going to have my first play session today, but I am SO CLOSE to beating Diablo III with my Hardcore character. As of this writing, I’m eight trophies away from the Platinum, and beating the final boss will nab me one of those, so, I got sucked into that. Plus, let’s face it, you don’t see people running towards the guillotine.

Day One: Monday, Dec.14

I power up the PS4 and bring up the game. Dread eats at me like a zombie. L is ecstatic about playing with me. He wants to get me a win in Duos. This is more important to him than getting a PS5. If he was this invested in schoolwork, he’d be able to solve cold fusion by 16. I was intending on playing Solo and getting my ass kicked, so I could start like how I assume everybody else does, but I can’t tell him no.

I turn on the Twitch streaming, and the little pic I can see of my fat ass on the couch is upside-down. After correcting my PS4 camera, I’m ready to dive in–

Oh, first, I gotta set up a party. L coaches me through the menus, and lemme tell you, these menus … they’re something. The UI for Jarvis in the MCU isn’t as cluttered. It’s layers nested in layers, and it’s not intuitive at all. It’s a Russian nesting doll of menus that I’m convinced doesn’t end. Still not as bad as Windows ME, but it’s close. The act of inviting a friend into your party to play Duos has more steps than putting together an Ikea bookshelf.

Step 37: just give up and go to a furniture store. Step 38: avoid direct eye contact with your wife.

Finally, we’re ready. I tag along, acting as a look-out while learning the controls, which, to my surprise, are like every shooter out there. Aim with L2, shoot with R2, cycle through your load-out with the L1/R1 triggers. Picking up items is weird, as some you can run over, and some you have to press a button to pick up. The only play mechanic that eludes me is building, which requires pressing a button (circle on PS4) to bring up the build option, then using a trigger to build one of the four shapes. It’s the physical manifestation of the over-complicated menus, and whoever designed it deserves to be locked in a room with a non-native-language version of Nobunaga’s Ambition as their only entertainment. We trudge to the center of the map, and I get two kills on the way, which L treats as monumental. I have aimed a gun in a game, son, this isn’t completely alien. When L gets the final killshot, his reaction is akin to winning the Super Bowl. He’s got plenty of wins, but I guess dragging his dad’s useless, rookie ass across the finish line mattered to him. For my efforts, I’m awarded with two new gliders; one is an umbrella, and the other is a steampunk umbrella that opens and closes like a camera shutter. Okay.

L has to log off, so our older twin, R, logs in. We repeat what happened with L: cautious play, careful engagement, I get two kills, we win. R does not treat this like the moon landing, which is kind of relieving. This time, I get a headshot (dumb luck) and I got the final kill (luck so dumb, it ceased having brain function). I’m now at level 4, and I won 100 V-bucks. A quick check of the item shop reveals that most items are in the thousands. Not that I was relishing my victory, but I feel a little bit cheated now.

This is just as valuable, and slightly more amusing.

After one day, I already kind of have an idea of what kids see in this. But my experiment is far, far, FAR from over. My youngest came downstairs and saw me playing. He wants to play. Tomorrow. It’s been an hour, and Diablo III is calling.

Day Two: Tuesday, Dec.15

Real life made it impossible to sign in until very late in the evening. When I turned on the PS4, Fortnite had an update to download. It is no exaggeration to say this thing updates more often than a teenager refreshing their Snapchat to see if their crush wrote them back. And it isn’t a small update, either. These things are like Battlefield V‘s day one patch. What am I downloading, Skynet’s neural framework?!?

Day Three: Wednesday, Dec.16

Had the house to myself. With no kids begging to play with me with them, I decided to play try out solo and Creative.

HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, the loading times on this are abysmal. The Jaguar CD points and laughs at the load times. From the moment I click on the app to the start-up screen, I could microwave a Hot Pocket and let it cool off enough to eat.

This isn’t a jpeg, it’s a live shot from my Twitch.

First solo game, I get waxed by a trio who look like Seal Team 6. L told me the other day that sometimes, the game has bots. I’d expect that in Battleborn or Evolve, where the player base has dwindled, not the most popular multiplayer game on the planet. I got one kill before getting jobbed, placing 77th. I start up a second solo run. I honestly lost track of how many kills, and I’m not trying to sound too cool for the room; I forgot to keep count. I think four? Five? Around there. Anyway, I made it 7th place this time. A 90% improvement! I WILL CONQUER THIS GAME BY WEEK’S END, I TELL YOU.

Then I tried Creative.

Creative is a jumbled mess. You can either go into player-created arenas, or create one of your own. With no time limit and no competition, it’s a decent place to practice the building mechanic. I cannot express how counter-intuitive the building controls are in words. Experience is the only way, but I normally don’t recommend people I like to cast themselves into a lake of fire.

Got my first Twitch spam messages! I’m officially a Twitcher! That’s a word, right?

Creative led me to some weird hub world that was Christmas-themed, but also a nightmare. There’s a billboard that mentions some puzzles, but I’m just exploring. I go into a little warp zone or something and wind up in my own island. After trying in vain to get good at the building, I decide to explore the island. I engage flight – you can do that here – and fly out of the boundaries of the island. Apparently, this not only put my character into a nether-realm, it put the entire game there as well, as it froze on the loading/connecting screen. For five minutes. I was at an hour anyway. Stupid unstable game. Did CD Projekt Red suddenly come in and haunt the game?

The fauna you see floating in mid-air is known as the Bethesda Bush.

Day Four: Thursday, Dec.17

Tried Creative again. I wanted to solve those Christmas puzzles. Nothing I did worked. Every building was locked, and there were no clues anywhere. This is stupid. I try some of the maps this hub world is linked to, and they suck even more. I try five; two say 1-4 players, but when I end up alone, there’s nothing to do and no way to advance play. One of them is an awful Resident Evil-style game. I don’t like RE in the first place. This feels like a Wii shovelware imitation of it.

Two more of the worlds are custom multiplayer maps, and I was the only person on the map, so, that was time spent. Strike two. Or four, if we’re counting by the map.

The last map is an obstacle course, or what the kids call a “death run”, and this has a bunch of people in it. And by “people”, I mean “children”. And party chat is turned on. My TV speakers come alive with a cacophony of voices, all pre-pubescent. Some are speaking English, one or two are not.

Those English speaking kids have mouths so foul, there isn’t an clever analogy or metaphor I can make. Honestly, I don’t know that I want to make a joke out of it. It’s disgusting. If the parents of these hooligans heard this, I’m confident you’d see the end results on the news, with one or more parents pictured via mugshot. I drop out. The obstacle course is unfairly designed, and I have zero interest in the string of unnecessary profanity (that starts to veer into racism’s lane just before I drop off) coming from these kids whose aggregate age MIGHT match my own.

I cap off this play sesh with another solo run. Mathew Sforcina, former Ask 411 Wrestling czar, pops on my Twitch to watch. He’s never played it either. As I’m playing and we’re shooting the breeze, I notice I’ve made it to the last 20 players with my strategy of “run towards the center, let everybody else thin the herd”. I’m told by R the next day that this strategy is frowned upon. Well, this is my third solo game. Sforcina makes a comment about making it to the end; I say there’s no way. I’m a rookie. That 7th place finish yesterday was a fluke.

Consider it practice for later in life, son.

And then I look at the player count. There’s only 12 left. I get a kill, and somebody else gets iced. Now it’s 10.

I get another kill. And another, and now it’s down to five. I’m not building at all; I’m just charging and using precision aiming to take down opponents. I’M THE JUGGERNAUT, BITCH! I’m running low on life. My two kills have a few bandages and shield potions, so I use them, but I’m still only up to half.

Shots zoom past me. It’s the last player. They’re charging at me with a shotgun. I unleash with my automatic, duck behind a wall someone built and left behind. They fire a few times, and then have to stop to reload or switch weapons or something. That’s my window. With less than 20 health and even less shield, I poke my head out and go for broke and I GET THE FUCKING KILL People chase a solo win for weeks, MONTHS even, mastering the controls and strategies, trying to ascertain the best landing spot to maximize resources and minimize encounters.

And it took me three games.

Nuts. What am I gonna do now for the next few days? I was so sure I’d be grinding away the entire week, and instead, I scaled the mountain in two days. This game isn’t exactly Fallout as far as depth of gameplay goes.


The rest of the week

That win was the peak of my experience with Fortnite. Getting the game’s (supposedly) most elusive achievement in three games leaves little left to do. I was sure I’d have to grind and grind and I’d never get close. So, I spend the rest of my time just playing a few games here and there, peeping in on Creative maps, which is never worth my time. Those things are designed by lunatics. Or children. Kinda the same thing, really.

Plus, the game really doesn’t have depth. It’s designed for repetitious competition, constantly leveling up doing the same thing over and over again with no variance in method, just button mashing and changing loot and OH MY GOD I’M DESCRIBING DIABLO III.

The dances will be almost as frightening as the microtransactions.

Final verdict

I went into Fortnite hating it because my children orbited this thing without cease for years; the twins don’t live for it 24/7 like they used to, but they still play it, and it is the still center upon which the wheel of H’s turns. I went into it hating it because it has reputation for the toxic culture of bullying that has arisen because someone doesn’t have the right skin or the Battle Pass. And I hated the stingy progression system that forces kids to turn their parents into ATM’s so they can get V-bucks to buy these skins, because you can’t reasonably earn them through natural game progress without the kind of grinding that even 16-bit-era RPG gamers would draw a line at.

Don’t get me wrong, I still hate it for those reasons. But I also thought it was a shit game, and, to my surprise, it isn’t. The controls are tight and responsive. If you’ve played Uncharted, Gears of War, Tomb Raider, or virtually any other third-person game with shooting, you’ll pick this up in no time. I’m told the building mechanic is a lot easier on PC, which I did not try, but I at least commend its inclusion, as it sets it apart from other, similar games like PUBG. But since I won the game without building a single thing, it’s really not necessary.

I can see why kids love it, too. Even before [gestures outside at the hellscape], it served as a combination of gaming and social media. You get together, you do a Duos or Squads run, and you can play with friends in an environment that isn’t the same sci-fi/historical war settings we see in every other shooter. It’s Snapchat with a gun, which, on paper, sounds worse than any animal Australia can conjure up, but it works. And in the year of Cthulhu’s nightmares that is 2020, the game’s ability to be both entertainment and a social hub cannot be dismissed as worthless.

Does it have financially predatory practices, an awful economy tied to manipulative Skinner box psychology, and a massive toxicity problem that Epic doesn’t seem the least bit interested in curbing? ABSOLUTELY. But its repetitive nature isn’t any different from any other shooter, and at least this is bright, colorful, and the violence is cartoonish instead of explicit. It’s not a game I’ll play again – I’m not competitive by nature, so the game scratches no itches for me – but I understand the appeal a little more. It isn’t the Great Satan I thought it was. Not, at least, from a gameplay standpoint.

That, I’m sure, will be Roblox.

Yeah, don’t you think of doing this again right away. You’re gonna have to sit through a month of The Hallmark Channel to get right with me.

And in closing …

One of the first things I’ve done whenever I got a new WWE game over the past few years was to rebuild the TV schedule and rosters. Men get Raw, women get Smackdown, and the men’s roster is a hodge-podge of legends and current favorites. I always made it a point to push Luke Harper on Raw, because the dude was just awesome. RIP Jon Huber. Yours is a vacancy that cannot be filled.

Me on Twitter! Or there’s email, if you prefer, which is [email protected].

Next time around, I’m going to look at some of gaming’s biggest news stories of 2020, and how they affect gamer parents, our kids, and what lessons we can learn from them. Some good, some bad, plenty of the usual snark. See you in 2.