6 Years Later One Controversial Video Game Just Redeemed Itself Big Time
LEGO Fortnite is the game protective parents have been waiting for. Really.
To many parents, “Fortnite” is a dirty word. That’s because it’s still shorthand for Fortnite Battle Royale, the open world “free-to-play” survival game that is famous for shooting, violent imagery, never-ending play, and in-game purchases that can sap a parent’s wallet. But that game came out over 6 years ago and Fortnite is no longer beholden to its one blockbuster. Fortnite is a gaming platform owned by Epic Games that includes a variety of “free-to-play” games from Fortnite Creative (more building, less fighting) to Fortnite: Save the World (a cooperative play game) to Rocket Racing (a brand new game that is what it sounds like) to Fortnite Festival (also new, like Guitar Hero, but in front of a live audience). And now, the one most worthy of our younger kids’ time, LEGO Fortnite.
Another LEGO game, you say? OK, ok, bear with me. I am aware there are over 20 LEGO-branded video games — from Ninjago (there are a few of these) to Star Wars, Soccer Mania (old school!) to Harry Potter. Putting the skin of the famed Fortnite characters on a few minifigures and letting them do battle seems almost inevitable at this point. But this isn’t just a partnership cynically meant to bring two giant audiences together. This game is a wildly creative and satisfying open-world game that feels a lot like, well, playing with LEGOs. That’s something that has never been done before — not like this.
A LEGO Game That’s All About The Build
LEGO Fortnite is an open-world game with two modes: Sandbox, where you build homes, villages, castles, or whatever you might be able to build out of LEGOs (i.e. anything your imagination desires) and you can invite friends to play in your world or just show mom and dad. Survival is where you build towers but to protect you from LEGO skeletons, spiders, and a host of other baddies that come out at night. In the latter you can slash and shoot them with your swords or pickaxes or crossbows (familiar items to LEGO lovers) and, that’s the gist of it. The game gets far more complicated if you want. In Sandbox mode you can build all sorts of things — including vehicles and machines (the rocket engines unlock some fun movement) — and in Survival, as you gather items, fight hunger and the cold, build bigger villages, meet and interact with non-playable characters, and find bigger baddies, the world grows and grows.
Yes, you can buy items in the game, but it is in no way in your face. My kids (12 and 6) have been enamored by LEGO Fortnite and have yet to ask for any upgrades, though the 12-year-old is well aware they’re available. It seems the game developers are true to their word when they say on lego.com that, “Players can enjoy LEGO Fortnite without spending money – there are no ‘pay to win’ elements. There are cosmetic items available for players via the Fortnite Item Shop, but those are optional for players. ”
That said, this game only came out a week ago and my kids are on a relatively strict screentime regimen. So if they get out of the Sandbox mode and start the more robust Survival gameplay — they might start to care more about extending their play through purchases — primarily by buying outfits or emotes.
Minecraft, This Is Not
I’ll probably give in to a few of these purchases because as a parent I already love this game. Why? Because it’s gorgeous and familiar and brings me closer to my kids in the same way that building LEGOs together does. Because, I’m a little sorry to say it, it’s not Minecraft.
It’s impossible to not draw a Minecraft comparison here and I would like to attempt to speak for all Minecraft-puzzled (hate is too strong a word) parents when I say Minecraft hurts my eyeballs. It is visually horrible to those of us who didn’t grow up on it. (I was a kid who pushed through days of 8- and 16-bit gaming and am relieved to be where we visually are today and a little befuddled by anyone who would want to go back in time graphically, at least not for nostalgia’s sake). That said, my daughter has built vast worlds in Minecraft with pride and care and she walks me through them explaining all the beautiful twists and turns and imaginings. I try to follow but end up squinting, grimacing, and kinda uninterested. I know it makes me an out-of-touch “old” but I think the game is hideous. Minecraft is 13 years old now — and I’m sure there’s a rising generation of parents who will be able to bond with their kids over these worlds. I listen attentively to my daughter but am relieved to get out of the world. I just didn’t have this as a kid. I had LEGOs.
Which is why LEGO Fortnite is immediately familiar and enjoyable. I don’t just want to hear about the things my kids have created, I want to get in there. The biggest advance in this game, by a mile, is the building. You can construct things that come together through kits, which feel like living instruction books. You can also go freeform — a more pure LEGO experience. Every little detail of the world looks like it was built with LEGO bricks, from the sheep to the berry bushes. But the things you create don’t just look like they’re out of a box, they click together in any way a LEGO brick clicks. The kits force you to go through every step to make the houses, sheds, and mansions. So the bigger your ambition, the more time you must spend with them, every part satisfyingly raining from the sky and clicking together (I can only hope an upgrade will allow haptics to make you actually feel the locking of blocks; basically the only thing missing from this game.)
Playing With LEGOs, Onscreen And Off
My whole family is enamored. And I hope that the way the kids play LEGO Fortnite — with creativity and joy — keeps up. So far in my house, it has proven to be perfect for family and eventually friends to play LEGOs in another form. Anyone looking for the social elements (but maybe more wholesome) like you find in Battle Royale will be disappointed. You need to invite folks to your world. Open and public play isn’t part of this. That’s great for most parents because it’s safe and you avoid tears from bullies knocking down your tower. But it also means that time spent onscreen is not social unless you push for the playdate (or have a sibling beside you).
I would also say that this game might drive you to play more LEGOs in real life. I was sitting on the floor putting together a LEGO set with my six-year-old this morning who, since this game came into our lives, has gone back to his real-life LEGOs as if reminded how fun they were. We followed the instructions and started to freeform and then he started to tell a story. I almost brought up what that we could recreate this in the game, but I bit my tongue. The world of LEGOs has no barrier for him — wherever the blocks fall, his imagination runs.