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Fortnite's mechs are good, actually

(Image credit: Epic Games)

I knew how Fortnite's new B.R.U.T.E. mechs would be received before the Season X update went live. It's the same cycle with most additions to the battle royale sandbox. Planes were too beefy, too popular, their machine guns too accurate. Ballers gutted the endgame, allowing players to hold onto their building resources and sit on 200 units of extra HP before joining the fray. Drum guns made defensive building at close range almost impossible. Boxing up and playing edit roulette with a shotgun was a dead tactic against that incessant spray. Who doesn't remember the Infinity Blade?

Now mechs—co-op vehicles with 1000 HP, an automatic shotgun arm, an auto-targeting missile barrage, and the ability to leap up mountains—are forcing players to change their habits, and there's nothing a dedicated Fortnite player hates more than change. Just last Friday #removethemech was one of Twitter's top trending hashtags. The Fortnite subreddits are overflowing with anti-mech memes. Big streamers are pissed. It's a strange stance for a game that's changed almost every week for two years now.

Rather than vault the mechs or nerf them to hell, Epic made some light adjustments to their spawn rate in competitive modes and promised to better telegraph their attacks. Some players are reading the move as ignorance of the community, continued proof of an out-of-touch dev team. The inverse is true: these alleged Fortnite enthusiasts clogging the subreddits with anti-mech memes are just out of touch with Fortnite. 

Just build (new habits)

A pump shotgun is just as dangerous as a mech if you don't have building materials.

Mechs don't represent Epic tossing in whatever sounds cool without a second thought. The loudest players say they have too much health, that it's impossible to properly build against their missile barrage and heavy frames. And it's true. Building defensively against mechs is very difficult, but longtime Fortnite players depend too much on building to think outside their hastily constructed box. 

Mechs are pressure points designed to disrupt existing player habits and change how one goes about getting a Victory Royale. Like airplanes and ballers and drum guns and jetpacks and the Infinity Blade, they represent Epic's desire to prevent Fortnite from becoming a game where building is the only skill that really matters. The mech is a reminder, more painful for some, that smarts are just as important as amazing edits.

Mechs spawn at random, their location visible at all times as they scream in from the sky. They're effectively random points of interest that pull in aggressive players and push away cautious players, little bubbles that warp player pathing and incentivize the stealthier, long distance play I love. 

Rustlord should've been paying closer attention. 

(Image credit: Epic Games)

Close encounters clearly favor the mech. It's a big stompy robot with win-button guns. But being big and stompy and dangerous comes at the price of being loud and visible from far across the map. Fortnite has plenty of weapons effective at long distances, and with a target as big as a mech, they're a must in any inventory as of Season X. 

The recent addition of the fully automatic sniper rifle is a near-perfect counter to the things. A full mag does over 500 damage, half the mech's health. A quick reload or change to an AR if they're charging will finish them off or make them think twice about committing. The mech's jumps take a few seconds to charge, which keeps them in place, and dashes are on a short cool down—easy target. Chances are others will join in on the violence too, since anyone not in a mech is at risk of getting stepped on by one. 

By playing more passively and focusing on where the mechs are, I've been able to fare as well as ever. Occasionally I'll stop paying attention and stumble into one of the things, unprepared. I'll take the loss. It's been happening since Fortnite launched, albeit in different shapes and sizes. A pump shotgun is just as dangerous as a mech if you don't have building materials, your own close-range weapon, or a mobility item for repositioning. Sniper rifles still insta-kill me from across the map, the fault of my shallow shield and a lapse in awareness. Lessons learned in every instance. The mech is another battle royale variable like all the others, easier to criticize for its boisterous size and booming sound. 

(Image credit: Epic Games)

The friction comes from how these intended sandbox changes don't gel with the state of competitive Fortnite or the usual content creator pub stomps. I can understand why fundamental changes to play upset folks trying to make a living from their building skills and aggressive tactics, but Fortnite isn't Quake or CS:GO. It should never be so sanctimonious about pointing and clicking. 

Fortnite will never be perfectly balanced. Perfect balance is boring.

Competitive Fortnite has been boring for quite a while anyway. To best their chances for survival, competitive players rarely engage in conflict until they're forced to, ending games in crowded and chaotic 50-plus player circles. Meanwhile, content creators love to put on a show, favoring the aggressive, close maneuvers that the mech punishes. Both styles are valid, they're just not a timeless, universal solution to every Fortnite encounter. 

Every major addition to Fortnite is an opportunity to change these forced constants, but anything that catches these big streamers or pros on the back foot is usually met with disdain. Rather than adapt, the built in reflex is to call for vaults and nerfs from the get-go while fans and followers smile and nod. That they are the 'face' of the community and the loudest feedback is a shame. The hard truth is that the invisible majority of Fortnite players just want to have fun and to be surprised, which has little to do with what the most popular players want anyway. 

Epic is the keeper of the data and design docs, so its decision to keep the mechs around isn't arbitrary. It's proof they're not a nightmare problem for the bulk of the playerbase. This isn't to say mechs make Fortnite better than it's ever been, but it's certainly more interesting than it's been in a few months. 

VIDEO: The Unvaulting event in its entirety.

The Unvaulting event is a perfect example. Given the opportunity to bring one of six vaulted items back into play, players voted for the drum gun, one of the most despised guns in the competitive community (honestly, I didn't like it either!). 

It won by a landslide. Epic adjusted the item's stats over time and now no one really worries about the drum gun. Adjustments were made on the back end, but players also changed their habits. The mech will follow suit (I hope), but it will always feel overpowered. That's the point. 

Fortnite will never be perfectly balanced. Perfect balance is boring, and battle royale is a genre about overcoming impossible odds. It's about doing everything in your power to survive, whether that means camping in a bush with a sniper rifle, perfecting the art of building, or gunning for a mech and smashing everything in sight. 

Unpredictability and spontaneity make the genre. It's powerful items like the mech, the Infinity Blade, the drum gun, the airplane, that lead to breathtaking fights and dramatic narratives. We should all be for Epic 'breaking' its game as a means of exploring Fortnite's potential. If something is truly broken and ruining the game, bask in reassurance that Fortnite probably won't be the same game next week.

The variety, however jarring, is why I and so many players are still sticking around. With the World Cup out of the way, Season X is the perfect time to truly experiment. Tilted Towers is already a no-build zone, so let's make the mechs bigger. Or make them cat-sized. Give them more guns. Add sailboats. Set every tree on fire and give them the ability to scream. Let's see what sticks. 

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.