A quick look at Fortnite's mobile control scheme is enough make a dedicated PC player spontaneously combust. The mouse and keyboard cannot be bested—this is known. Besides, all those invisible buttons and joysticks with no center axes or means of physical feedback look impossible to master.
But I have to confess, despite telling myself I'd never play Fortnite on a damn telephone, it works so well on a technical level that putting up with some iffy controls makes the novelty well worth the inconveniences (and those controls really aren't the worst anyway). I mean, it's the full version of Fortnite's Battle Royale mode, set to receive the same updates at the same pace as every other version.
How it looks
I expected Fortnite mobile to look more like a port, but everything, from the squad selection screen to the backpack management menu, is the almost exactly what you see on PC. Some buttons are blown up for scale, but some are still as small as ever. It's rarely an issue, but with digits as wide as mine, trying to drop a shotgun to pick up another felt like trying to pick a stubborn booger. There's still time to refine that stuff, I'm sure, but I appreciate the parity. Made me feel right at home.
Catching sight of the island for the first time is where the technical prowess of the port truly sunk in. There it is, in full, on the same tiny rectangle I use to read tweets on the toilet. Fortnite runs pretty well on my dinky, outdated phone, an iPhone SE. One of Apple's budget devices, it's about on par with the iPhone 6 line in terms of power, so I'd expect the latest tablets and smartphones can run Fortnite at a level that looks about as good as it does on a mid-range PC.
There's plenty of aliasing when you blow the images up, but condensed on a few inches of real estate, it still looks might fine on my old horse. Most of the textures are clearly low-res, but it stops being a distraction once the shooting starts.
How it plays
I'm ashamed to admit that I did better in solos on mobile than I ever have on PC. Granted, I landed in a lucky spot smack dab in the center of the closing force field, but I got into a firefight or two while hastily assembling a little place to call home. There's some generous auto-aim on mobile servers, which automates things just enough control-wise to let you focus on movement. I was more worried about fort-building at the start, but because it requires less precision to plop down big squares than train tiny crosshairs on a moving target, assembling simple forts is a breeze. Adding doors or windows is just a matter of touching the smaller squares within each grid. Simple stuff.
I can't imagine mobile players ever having 1v1 building battles that match the intensity and intricacy of what you see on PC, but it works well enough to make it as valuable a tool as it is on any other platform.
Crossplay with PC
One of the port's most surprising features is crossplay compatibility with the PC version (PS4, Xbox One, and Mac, too). I gave it a shot with hardware extraordinaire Jarred Walton, who joined me from his PC for a quick squad match. Mobile players are normally matched with other mobile players, but joining a PC player throws you into the PC matchmaking pool so don't worry about stiff, inexperienced mobile players crowding your matches. The process is pretty seamless, too. I selected an empty position on the squad selection screen and chose Jared from my friends list. Progress and friends carry over between different versions of the game, so getting together was a cinch. Plus, I did enough damage to earn a new emote during out match together. Booted up the PC version shortly after and there it was.
We didn't do too well, but I'm not much good at Fortnite on PC as it is, and I'm not one of these darn kids who was raised on touchscreens. Mark my words, there are millions of kids out there that won't even notice what we consider mushy, imprecise controls. Legions of teens with cruddy iPhones will, on the daily, put the average Fortnite players of all platforms to shame. Crossplay won't be much of a boon to anyone but them, though I'm totally cool with dragging my squaddies down from a city bus if they'll let me. (Please let me.)
I started played Fortnite's mobile version as a crotchety old man, a skeptic content with his throne of mice and keyboards and 144Hz monitors. But now, having seen how well Unreal scales on phones, I'm convinced that this is going to be a fairly regular trend from here on out. Mobile ports may not be for PC players born before the turn of the millennium, and that's OK with me. What's the harm in another way to play together?
To get access for yourself, you'll need to sign up for an invite or wait until the full release in the next couple of months.