The battle royale game mode isn’t exactly new, but its current mainstream spotlight can be attributed to the virality of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. After it sold tens of millions of copies on Steam during its early access period alone, there was bound to be a wave of games trying to capitalize on the genre’s exploding popularity. As of now, though, Fortnite: Battle Royale is the frontrunner in challenging PUBG’s dominance. And while many have dubbed Fortnite’s rendition a PUBG clone, there are just as many stark differences as there are similarities between the two.
A drastic contrast in presentation will hit you first. PUBG has a realistic, military-inspired look that’s layered on top of the already nerve-racking concept. Fortnite looks like a cartoon; it’s bright, colorful, and animated in a way that takes the edge off the imposing battle royale mode. Oddly enough, both games use Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 despite the divergent graphical styles. These games were also born out of disparate foundations.
At its core, PUBG shares much of the same DNA as its predecessors. Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene himself helped create the original battle royale mods for Arma, and through several iterations these mods eventually led to H1Z1: King of the Kill, which became the premiere battle royale game just before PUBG came onto the scene. However, PUBG offers a more accessible and streamlined experience than its forebears while retaining the military sim framework that taps into your tactical instincts.
This begs the question: How did Fortnite, of all games, become the one to go toe-to-toe with PUBG? Fortnite has its own tumultuous development history, but its initial vision was a mashup of Gears of War‘s Horde mode and Minecraft‘s construction mechanics, driven by a loot grind to hook players. At first, a game that controls fast and loose, almost like an arena shooter, doesn’t seem ripe for battle royale. However, Epic was able to adapt Fortnite into its own battle royal mode early on and capitalize on the trend, carving out its own piece of the pie.
Fortnite also had two key advantages over PUBG when its battle royale mode launched: it was both free to play and available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. PUBG recently hit the Xbox One in an early access phase, but it has a long way to go to match how smooth and stable Fortnite runs. Even on PC, you’re likely to run higher framerates and have a lower chance of experiencing game-breaking bugs.
When it comes to the overall concept, PUBG’s influence on Fortnite is clear. In both games, a 60-second warm-up takes place on an isolated island off the shore of the main island. 100 players are crammed into an air vessel and parachute down to the main island where a single-life deathmatch takes place. You’re continuously forced into smaller zones at random via a lethal circle as the match progresses; you’ll never know exactly where the final firefight will take place, either. Everyone scrambles for weapons, ammo, and health items across the map’s numerous towns and structures. You can either do this alone, as a duo, or with a squad of four, but it ends the same: the last person or squad standing is declared the winner. Conceptually, these games are the same, but in practice, they play very differently.
Regardless of your weapon of choice, you have to be precise. PUBG is all about precision.
Most noticeably, PUBG’s rules of engagement are in sharp contrast with Fortnite’s. When it comes to PUBG, player movement and the act of firing a gun are very deliberate and calculated. Tactical situations rely on positioning and working the given environment to your advantage; lying prone in brush to stay concealed in a open field, peeking around rocks or trees to take shots, and checking corners when entering houses are just a few of the basic (and best) practices. Guns fire with impact and have distinct recoil patterns and damage models in relation to the armor your target has equipped. Regardless of your weapon of choice, you have to be precise. PUBG is all about precision. You can’t say the same about Fortnite, at least to the same degree.
Fortnite’s building mechanics are remarkably easy to use and crucial to master.
Of course, aiming is key to winning in Fortnite, but the way assault rifles and shotguns work is closer to Unreal Tournament than it is to Arma. Rocket and grenade launchers are also part of Fortnite’s arsenal, and traps give players a chance to exercise a different type of cleverness. Because of the nature of its style, Fortnite feels much more chaotic and kinetic, and you can’t overlook the importance of building structures to stay competitive.
Fortnite retains crafting from its original Save the World mode, and getting a grasp of it is essential for victory. A pickaxe that functions as your only melee weapon is also used to destroy structures and vegetation which turn into wood, brick, or steel. With these elements, you build walls, stairs, or a roof, and can then be altered with windows and doors. It’s almost a guarantee that firing upon an enemy in an open field will lead to them throwing up a wall out of instinct to protect themselves and heighten their chance of survival. Scaling mountains and seemingly hard-to-reach places is made possible with an ad-libbed staircase. Fortnite’s building mechanics are remarkably easy to use and crucial to master.
On the other hand, part of PUBG’s appeal is that the clumsy crafting elements of its predecessors are gone, allowing players to focus on gearing up and executing tactics to survive each firefight. Ditching granular mechanics helps keep a relatively fast pace and lower barrier to entry while maintaining the realistic tactical shooter vibe. You need to strap on an armored vest and helmet to protect yourself, and weapon attachments help get the most out of the deep roster of firearms. Inventory management is relatively streamlined in PUBG, but Fortnite simplifies it to such a degree that you only have to worry about five inventory slots instead of a managing a weight limit.
Both games have large, sprawling maps, but PUBG incorporates vehicles that are of utmost importance to reach advantageous positions without getting swallowed up by the circle of death or gunned down by a preying squad. However, close-quarters encounters are a microcosm of how much PUBG and Fortnite diverge. If you fight in and around the buildings and towns of PUBG as if it were Rainbow Six–scouting enemy movement, peeking for sightlines–you’ll improve your odds of survival. In Fortnite, destruction is around every corner; if you know an enemy is on the second floor of a building, you can blow apart the floor beneath them for a surprise. You rack up kills by getting the jump on opponents in either game, but you can’t play PUBG like Fortnite, and approaching Fortnite like PUBG will only get you so far.
In Fortnite’s late-game, when it comes down to a single-digit player count, you’ll often see enemies creating their own fort-like structures in the safe zones, essentially building makeshift houses to leverage their resources and wit. It’s not much of a mystery where the last players are when you see them exercising their architectural prowess. Often times, PUBG’s final moments boil down to a waiting game, who gets spotted first, or a risky push with smoke grenades as your last bit of cover; it’s about seizing a short window of opportunity where things go from 0 to 100 real quick. It’s intense and frightening.
The more you dig into both games, the more you’ll see how their takes on battle royale offer unique experiences and tap into different skills, even though one is closely modeled after the other. The thirst can be quenched with either PUBG or Fortnite (or both), because the thrill of besting 90-plus other players is rewarding in a way unlike other multiplayer shooters. If you have to choose one over the other, keep in mind that Fortnite is best for those who want to engage in a form of base-building within a chaotic shooter that doesn’t rely so much on precision and realism, whereas PUBG has the look and feel of a tactical shooter to drive home the uneasy tension of battle royale.
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