Fortnite's battle royale has gone through multiplayer gaming like a wrecking ball, but you couldn't find it on a mobile phone until this April, and even then, it was exclusive to iOS. Rumors swirled for months about an Android version, and now its developer Epic Games has finally launched a beta testing phase for those of us with a device running Google's OS (though the list of currently compatible phones isn't long).
If you have a compatible Samsung phone, Fortnite's setup process is more streamlined via Samsung's Galaxy Apps store -- and you don't need to wait for a beta code. However, we already had some perfectly good non-Samsung phones lying around, and we scored a beta key, so we decided to try installing the hard way on a Google Pixel.
Starting the game
As with the versions on other platforms, Fortnite prioritizes its battle royale modes, which are all free-to-play. The microtransactions are largely cosmetic, with the exception of experience point multipliers in the Battle Pass. You need to reach a certain level to access all the content of a given season, so the pass's multiplier means you can let your foot off the gas a little. It's not a bad acquisition for gamers who don't have the time to grind through everything.
While the game is best known for the battle royale mode that pits 100 players against each other with no respawns, you can also play 50 vs 50, or team up with a friend, or play in a squad. There's also Playground mode, which you can use to practice building structures and get experience with the many weapons that you'll find strewn around the island.
If you want something more intense, there's also Steady Storm mode, in which the perimeter of the map is constantly closing in.
Playground, 50 v 50, and Steady Storm are all "Limited Time" options, so if you haven't tried Fortnite on mobile, we'd suggest doing so soon, so that you can dive into the Playground and familiarize yourself with the controls, rather than having to jump into a full-fledged battle royale match.
Playing a match
If you've already tried Fortnite on iOS, you'll be in familiar territory: The lower left corner of the screen has a virtual analog stick to control your movement; you swipe with your right thumb to move the camera around; and on-screen buttons let you fire, look down your weapon sights, and crouch, jump, and build. When you see an item you want to pick up, get close to it and tap it to put it in your inventory.
Precision aiming with a touchscreen remains moderately awkward, though the mobile game offers some auto-aiming to make you feel less like a noob. If you don't like where the buttons are placed, you can move them around. In a match, tap a menu button in the upper right, and tap HUD Layout Tool. When you're done in this mode, tap the arrow in the upper right, then tap Exit.
Tapping this arrow also reveals the Change Fire Mode setting. Here you can choose to automatically start firing when you aim at an enemy, or tapping anywhere on the screen to fire manually, or using the dedicated on-screen button to fire. When you're first starting out with Fortnite on a mobile device, we recommend the auto-fire option to give you a fighting chance against more experienced players.
Thankfully, weapons, ammo, grenades, and bandages are found on the island, instead of being stored in your inventory. So in terms of available equipment, everyone starts out on a level playing field.
Like the iOS version, you get visual indicators when nearby opponents are moving noisily or firing weapons, to compensate for the limited soundstage that most mobile devices have to deal with. It helps, but we'd still recommend a pair of earbuds to maximize your situational awareness.
The game's UI also integrates your device's clock and a battery level indicator, so you don't have to exit the game or switch to another app to check on those things. However, you may have to squint, because the icons are quite tiny. On the 5-inch, 1080p display of our Google Pixel, many of the game's menus had legibility issues, but they look like they could be fixed if Epic decided to change the scaling.
If you haven't played Fortnite on mobile, or perhaps at all, we recommend checking out Playground mode first. You can still kill and be killed, but you can respawn right away (whereas regular battle royale gives you a single life). During our playtesting, most other players were pretty chill in this specific mode, letting us test different weapons and building techniques without much interference. However, you won't gain experience points.
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Is Fortnite for Android worth a look?
Based on our experience with the touchscreen input, this definitely won't replace Fortnite on PCs or consoles. Aiming and movement with a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad is much more fluid and precise. On a phone, drawing a bead at medium to long range is pretty challenging and unlikely to succeed. The mobile version also has to cut down on visual details, so it won't look as good.
If you want to play Fortnite on the go, we'd recommend checking out the Nintendo Switch edition instead, which provides both mobility and analog sticks for shooting and getting around. If you're not otherwise interested in the Switch, though, it would be hard to justify its $300 price tag, plus extra for a memory card and accessories like a case or the Pro Controller gamepad.
If you already have a Switch, that's arguably the best way to play Fortnite on a mobile device. It's admittedly much bulkier than pretty much any mobile phone we can think of, but you lose a lot when you have to use on-screen buttons to move and aim.
Even with auto-firing, combat in the Android and iOS versions is still messy and frequently frustrating, and building a structure is trickier and more time-consuming. Granted, everyone else on Android and iOS will be struggling with the same hurdles, but that doesn't make it less unsatisfying.
When you're away from your dedicated gaming devices, and you need to scratch that Fortnite itch, the Android and iOS versions are a tolerable alternative to hold you over, but it's difficult to remain engaged when you know how much better you could have it on the game's other platforms. Even a basic laptop with a mouse attached will be a sizeable playability upgrade.
- Like the iOS version of Fortnite, Android uses on-screen controls for moving, crafting, and shooting, which is consistently tricky despite Epic Games' best efforts.
- If you want Fortnite on a mobile device, we'd recommend looking at the Nintendo Switch version instead, though the Switch is much bulkier than a mobile phone.
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