Remember when Fortnite was just a battle royale game? After six years of storylines, concerts and even Olympic events, Fortnite has grown beyond its roots into a general catch-all social space. And Epic Games isn’t going back, expanding the Fortnite experience even further with three new modes announced at its Big Bang Event this weekend: a racing game, a social music experience and, most importantly to kids, a Lego-themed survival builder that launches today.
If “Lego-themed survival builder” sounds suspiciously like Minecraft to you, you’re not wrong. Minecraft itself has been burdened with comparisons to Lego since its release over a decade ago; this is just the Lego company returning the favor. There’s a survival mode, where your little Lego minifig explores a verdant landscape punching trees and rocks to gather supplies for building. There are skeletons that wander around at night and will attack if they spot you. Various animals wander around that can provide resources: If you pet a chicken it will produce an egg, though I accidentally punched it first and got nothing as every other chicken proceeded to avoid me for the rest of the day.
Once you get into it, though, the comparisons fall away. The procedurally-generated landscape is realistically rendered thanks to the power of Epic’s Unreal Engine, with natural-looking trees covered in individual leaves and blades of grass that blow in the wind. Punching or chopping natural features is what turns them into Lego elements. It’s weird, almost like you’re colonizing the real world by turning it into a Lego one. It’s also huge, about 20 times the size of the battle royale island.
Once you’ve obtained the materials, building is rather simple. There’s a list of building plans, and your character adorably holds a Lego tile with blueprints on it while you’re in the construction mode. Players get a handful of essential recipes to start like a campfire to keep warm and a shack for shelter, and they can earn more as they play and level up. The game will helpfully sketch a ghostly outline of where each component goes, asking the player to slide and lock it into place. There’s no place for error or major creativity in the basic survival mode — that’s what the sandbox is for. There, all of the building plans will already be unlocked, leaving players free to let their imaginations go wild.
There’s plenty here for Lego devotees, as Epic has scanned around 10,000 different Lego elements for use in the game. All of your favorite pieces should be present, and the company plans to add more in the coming months (there are over 30,000 unique Lego elements total). As this is an official collaboration with the company, many of the graphical assets were received directly from Lego, and only “legal” builds will be allowed (as opposed to “illegal” builds, which refer to Lego configurations that in the real world, may stress or break pieces). Hardcore Lego aficionados will definitely appreciate the attention to detail.
And Epic would certainly like to see more Lego fans playing Fortnite, especially kids. Though it started life as a violence-oriented game, the title has evolved into a gathering space where kids sign on just to socialize with friends. The Lego feature, along with the two other modes Epic announced over the weekend — Fortnite Festival and Rocket Racing — are Epic’s way of facilitating that by providing activities that are more than just running around and shooting. By eschewing the violent elements (as well as controversial practices like loot boxes), Epic also hopes to make Fortnite more palatable to parents.
Lego Fortnite, similarly to Minecraft, lets you customize the challenges you'll face in your world. You can toggle gameplay basics like enemies, hunger, temperate damage, stamina and so on, along with some more advanced features. The mode supports up to eight players in a party, and you can delegate seven of your friends as "key holders" to your world, allowing them to access and edit it when you're not around. Each player can have eight worlds saved to their profile.
As for existing Fortnite players, they’re free to continue playing as they always have and completely ignore the new modes – the only difference they’ll see is that the main menu has been expanded a bit to accommodate the new options. But, if they do decide to try out the Lego mode, they’ll find plenty that’s familiar, as over 1,200 skin options have already been translated into minifigs, and there are 100 emotes for your character to perform. Players will still earn XP, which will go into their overall stats, as opposed to remaining walled within the Lego mode. Cosmetic elements can be used between modes as well and, when you tab between options in the in-game locker, it will tell you what modes each skin is compatible with.
As this is Fortnite, all of the new modes will be free-to-play, including the Lego survival builder. Epic hopes this will bring new players in, though it remains to be seen whether it can draw significant market share from Minecraft. Existing players will see the new option pop up today (December 7), with the other modes set to follow this week.