Although it didn't get a flashy presentation of its own during any of the main press conferences this year, base-building zombie-smashing co-op game Fortnite's presence at E3 has still managed to stand out. In a crowd of multiplayer games increasingly focussed on competition, Fortnite wants players to help each other instead. And honestly, in spite of is extremely long and uncertain development period, its timing couldn't be better.
There are so many games trying to snap up a few bites of Overwatch and Hearthstone's lunches, so many games returning to the arena shooter format, so many games in the next wave of survival deathmatches. Practically every other game with a major multiplayer component is being touted as the next big esport.
Shoutcasting! Heroes! Seasons! Ranks! But what if you don't want to compete, necessarily? What if you want the heroes, the loot, the teams, but don't enjoy the tension of head-to-head conflict against other players? Even the approachable-looking co-operative adventure Sea of Thieves seems to have its own PVP elements.
Personally I've found the trend a little dispiriting. I don't hate competitive games, and I can usually hold my own in them, but I don't particularly enjoy playing them either. They stress me out, they make me anxious, they make me unhappy—and that effect is the exact opposite of what I come to most games for.
But in a trailer released just prior to E3, Fortnite establishes a multiplayer action experience that's a heck of a lot more constructive than the current alternatives—and I'm not just saying that because fort-building is such an important part of it.
As exhausted as I am with zombies, I love this trailer. They repeatedly mention helping people, both teammates and NPCs. It centers skills other than players' headshot accuracy and K/D ratios: creativity is presented as just as useful as a good gun, if not moreso, and the gameplay footage coming out of outlets like IGN only reinforces that. It also contains some of the character-heavy, loot-driven elements that have kept me popping into Overwatch here and there for over a year in spite of my aversion to the game's competitive scene.
The bottom line is that Fortnite is as much about defending as having something to defend, swiss-cheesing a horde as a bonding exercise. That it's showing at E3 at the same time as PWND—a game where killing an opposing player counts for nothing unless you teabag them (and allows you to pick up downed opponents and drag them away to more safely do so)—is a small relief. Almost enough to, you know, offset just how out-of-touch and downright gross PWND sounds.