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Lego Fortnite hands-on: Epic impresses with its take on Minecraft

Welcome to the next big thing
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Fortnite has Minecraft now. Lego Fortnite transports players to a procedurally generated world made of bricks (20 times the size of the battle royale map), where they must survive, build, and recruit villagers to grow their little towns.

At a preview event in New York, I got to play around 30 minutes of the game, splitting my time between survival and creative modes. While it’s clear a lot of it is heavily inspired by other games – as is the case with many other Fortnite modes – I came away impressed and convinced it’s got the potential to become as big as Fortnite itself.

The first thing that grabbed me was the building. You can construct specific pre-fabricated builds, which use ghost blocks that act as an in-game instruction manual, but you can also build completely freely, block by block. It’s the closest we’ve ever come to capturing the boundless freedom of Lego in digital form. While 30 minutes isn’t much time to play around with this, I managed to build a little fort to keep the critters out, as well as a range of simplistic vehicles.

You can use wheels, switches, balloons, and engines to create vehicles in Lego Fortnite. 

You can use wheels, switches, balloons, and engines to create vehicles in Lego Fortnite. 

Oh yes, there are vehicles. It uses a system similar to The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, allowing you to play with physics and create weird and wonderful contraptions. I created a little car that was essentially just a platform on wheels, some rocket engines, and a switch that you flip to make it go zoom. I also made a hot air balloon that required no hot air – if you want to descend, you simply shoot some balloons out with a crossbow.

I asked the developers what the best things they’ve seen during playtesting are, and I was told that one dev on the team created a floating fortress with their main village built into it. This allowed them to travel the world and bring the crafting benches to the resources.

The village system itself gives you a reason to make yourself a proper home. You can have up to 8 players in your world – and you can even set it up so they can log in without you (and all of this is completely free) – but some NPCs can also move in. These NPCs can be given jobs, such as gathering resources or tending to your farms, as you build your village into a bustling hotspot.

Farming is encouraged, but killing animals isn't in Lego Fortnite. 

Farming is encouraged, but killing animals isn't in Lego Fortnite. 

I’m impressed by how much Epic has managed to inject the mode with the signature slapstick comedy associated with the Lego brand, from the exaggerated animations when an enemy responds to the swing of your sword to the way a little plastic poop appears from under a Lego farm animal. Keeping with the tone of Lego, positive interactions with animals are encouraged, so you get better resources – eggs from chickens, milk from cows, and wool from sheep, for example – by petting the animals instead of butchering them.

All of this is rendered beautifully in Unreal Engine. The world itself takes on a stylized look akin to the Fortnite map, while the living things and buildings – all fully destructible – are made of Lego pieces. It looks gorgeous, particularly when you get airborne and look down on your creations. Before I got the chance to play, I sat through the opening remarks from a Lego representative as they shared some stills from the game. One of these was two dinosaurs – one from the game and one made in real life. They asked if I could tell which was which and guess what? I got it wrong.

It’s a stunning achievement that’s unfortunately a bit overshadowed by the mass layoffs at Epic Games. This title will make Scrooge McDuck money, and yet hundreds of workers across Epic are out of a job just before Christmas. Capitalism strikes again! That’s not very Lego. Or Epic. 

Of course, most players won’t even know this, which is why I feel it’s important to highlight it here. If you come at the game from a purely selfish view, this is one of the most consumer-friendly games ever released. Not only is it Minecraft mixed with Tears of the Kingdom for the low, low cost of absolutely nothing, but you can also import thousands of your Fortnite skins and hundreds of emotes without spending a dollar – all of them reworked into the Lego style. There aren’t many other developers who could launch something like this, at this scale. Epic Games is, once again, set to take over the industry.