During Nintendo's E3 2018 presentation last week, Fortnite was surprise released on Switch. Well, I say surprise released, but thanks to an E3 show floor leak, a Korean ratings board leak, and a bit of eShop datamining... hey, I tried to look surprised.
Epic's third-person shooter has serious momentum and, since release on Switch, has been downloaded more than two million times. After several hours with the portable port, it's easy to see why. Switch has spent a fair amount of its first eighteen months surviving on a combination of firstparty exclusives and delayed thirdparty ports, but there's something about Fortnite that feels a special by comparison.
Switch's success has led to lots of ports. And the system suits them, because even if a game's been out for a few years, the fact the console can be used independently of a TV gives something like Doom an extra wow factor. But it's not all gravy. Some of these ports have technical limitations, because developers have to compromise on the less-powerful hardware, and on top of that there's the 'Switch Tax', an additional cost factor introduced because cartridges are more expensive to manufacture than discs (which carries over into digital pricing).
So there are good sides and bad sides to Switch ports, but Fortnite just effortlessly avoids all of the usual negatives. Fortnite on Switch has arrived later than other versions, but fast enough to ride the game's cultural momentum. This is still the biggest game in the world right now.
The compromises it's had to make are well-chosen. Fortnite on Switch doesn't include Save the World mode, a co-op jamboree where players fight off AI enemies. That's a shame, yeah, but this is not the Fortnite mode that you ever hear people speaking about. When Fifa 18 came to Switch minus its story mode, to take another example, a big part of what the game was marketed around was missing, and those picking up the port were right to feel a little short-changed. With Fortnite, first it's free, and second all that people really care about is the battle royale content, and everything related to that mode is here.
The free-to-play model really shines here, because existing players don't have to fork out anything to get it on new hardware. There's a mess right now about Sony not letting progress on its hardware be carried over to the Switch version, and the reasons why, but if you've previously played on PC or Xbox One you can transfer your progress over to Switch. Heck, you can play Save the World on your telly on Xbox, then Battle Royale on Switch while you sit on the loo. That's a value proposition anyone can get behind.
Most impressive is the strength of the port itself. Until now the only portable version of Fortnite available was the mobile version, which had to make changes. It doesn't support physical controllers so there's a lot of UI bumpf on-screen, the graphics settings are toned down for the hardware, and generally it doesn't feel like a real alternative to the 'home' experience so much as a very well-made novelty.
The Switch port of Fortnite however is fully-featured, runs like a dream, and the compromises are the right ones. On the TV it has a slightly fluctuating near-1080p resolution, at a locked 30FPS, with the same field-of-view as other console versions of the game. There's no notable increase in texture pop-in or reduction in draw distance, and to the naked eye the game looks like its more powerful cousins. In handheld mode, the resolution drops to 720p but it maintains that 30FPS stability. Sure the framerate is a drop in performance from the 60FPS versions, but it's one that I never really felt impinged on the experience of playing, and even when things got hectic it felt solid.
There's an interesting comparison here. Fortnite on Switch probably holds up better to its console compatriots than PUBG on Xbox One does when compared to PC. That's a validation of Epic's principles in building a game that can scale easily, and no doubt a reflection of the developer's storied history with both PC gaming and the Unreal engine.
What's so impressive is that Epic goes further than it needed to. Fortnite has functionality that Nintendo itself doesn't include with online games, most notably that you can plug a headset mic directly into your Switch for online voice chat that doesn't need a separate app. You can add friends on other consoles to your Fortnite friends list. It's easy and simple to get on and play with folks, so long as they're not PS4 Fortnite players of course.
After a few days playing Fortnite on Switch, I'm impressed. It's a thirdparty port with minimal technical drawbacks, has arrived while the game's still growing, and is the way I'll be playing Fortnite from now on. The rhythm of its royale mode suits the pick-up-and-play nature of Switch: long stretches of thinking time and holding down positions, punctuated by fast and exciting battles. It's also worth mentioning that Fortnite is online-only, there's no offline singleplayer mode, although it works well when tethered to a 4G phone.
With Switch ports, all-too-often you're left listing the compromises that had to be made. With Fortnite, they just don't matter all that much. This is a great port of a great game, and yet another must-have for the Switch library.