Fortnite for Dummies: Why It's Taking Over the World (And How to Jump In)

If you've heard about Fortnite Battle Royale lately, it's for a very good reason: over 125 million people have given it a try, and it's played by 40 million people every month, including celebrities like Drake and, apparently, Norm Macdonald.

The game's popularity may seem sudden, and if you've still never played then it may also seem like a giant mystery. If that's the case, then consider this your introduction to the most popular game around today.

What kind of game is Fortnite Battle Royale?

Fortnite Battle Royale is an online-only multiplayer shooter in which 100 people airdrop onto an island to collect weapons and armor and fight to see who's left standing. Take enough damage and you're out of the match for good — no respawns and no second chances. That sounds intense, but most of the fun comes from just trying to win.

Unique to Fortnite is the building mechanic that's a little like Minecraft, another hugely popular game. You can collect building materials that let you make walls, ramps, doorways and other structures. How is this useful in a shooter? The terrain is big and varied, so if you need to get to the top of a steep mountain, just build some stairs.

If you're out in an open field and start taking fire from another player, build a wall to protect yourself. You need to use your pickax to harvest building materials. You don't land with anything other than that pickax.

What's the goal?

The goal is to be the last person alive. As each player is slowly eliminated, the match will eventually narrow down to just two people from the initial 100. But even if you're not the last person left alive, lasting longer nets you bonuses you can use to customize the look of your character. It can be exhilarating knowing you're in the top 10 or five out of 100 starting players. And if you do manage to be No. 1, the feeling is unforgettable.

What makes Fortnite Battle Royale different from other shooters?

Aside from being able to build walls and ramps all over the place, the scale of Fortnite Battle Royale is a relatively new thing for this genre. The most popular shooters before Fortnite, games like Call of Duty, have much smaller teams, with much smaller play spaces. While games like Fortnite do exist, and which  laid the groundwork, none has attained  this level of popularity.

Where can I play Fortnite Battle Royale?

Odds are you already own something that can play Fortnite. Currently, it's available for download on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It's also playable on Windows and Apple computers from the official website, and on iOS smartphones from the App Store (an Android version is coming soon). If you want to know more about how Fortnite plays on a touch screen, check these essential tips.

Even better, you can play with other people online across different platforms in some instances. There a couple notable exceptions -- for example, Xbox and Switch players can play together, but PlayStation doesn't play nice with either platform.

How much do I need to pay?

This game is  free to play, with no upfront cost  or subscription fees. You only need to make an account, with no payment information needed. So that explains some of this game's incredible success, at least.

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But, of course, there are things to spend money on in Fortnite. These items are only cosmetic (such as skins), and are for people who want to look a little extra special while playing. You can also purchase a $10 Battle Pass, which gives you an additional tier of rewards to unlock beyond what you'd get by playing for free. So while you don't need to spend any money to play, it's definitely possible to spend quite a lot of cash on Fortnite.

Fortnite became a phenomenon for a few reasons. First, it's a polished, AAA-quality game that's  free to play. Second, it's fairly easy to pick up but deep enough for pros to master. And finally, its colorful, kid-friendly aesthetic makes it a hit for players of all ages, and is a far cry from the more serious stylings of rivals such as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

Fortnite can also be as fun to watch as it is to play, which is why the game has exploded on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube. The game's top streamer, Ninja, regularly racks up 100,000 concurrent viewers, and when he teamed up with rapper Drake for a special stream, the duo got a record-breaking 600,000 fans to tune in.

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And the game is about to get even bigger, thanks to the recent announcement of the Fortnite World Cup, a global tournament  set to culminate in a 2019 championship with a total prize pool across all events of $100,000,000 (yes, $100 million).

What's Fortnite: Save the World? Is that something different?

Yes, that's something very different. Fortnite: Save the World is a cooperative game that came out before Fortnite: Battle Royale. It's not free (although it will be free eventually), and consequently not nearly as popular. It's still a fun game, but don't get it mixed up with Fortnite: Battle Royale. In Fortnite: Save the World you build forts (which explains the Fortnite name a bit) to defend your base and  points of interest from waves of zombies and other monsters.

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It looks the same and shares many of the same gameplay features, but there are a ton of differences. If you want to know more about Fortnite Save the World, read our guide.

Anything to know for my first few matches?

  • Make sure you go in with the right attitude. Play to have fun and  see how well you can do, and worry about playing to win for later. Even very skilled players don't win a match very often.
  • Don't forget you don't land with any guns or equipment. You need to find it all yourself. Check inside of buildings and other structures.
  • You need to keep moving and follow the safe zone. This is a big element of the game. Soon after starting a match, a lethal lightning storm will start constricting the play field until it's just a tiny area. Check your map and stay out of the storm.
  • Playing with others is a big help, and keeps the mood light. Remember, this game is free and you can play it on anything from your Switch to your phone. Ask someone to try it out with you.

Credit: Epic Games

Andrew Melcon is a freelance writer who specializes in covering games and gaming hardware. He's tackled everything from PC game controllers to Pokémon and PUBG and his work has appeared on sites including Tom's Guide, Tom's Hardware, Laptop Mag, and more.