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Toys and Tabletop Games

First impressions: Fortnite on iOS off to a promising start

Commentary: Fortnite just launched on iOS, and so far it captures that battle royale experience with just a few early issues.

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Even on the smaller screen, Fortnite looks pretty great.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Has the time for top-tier gaming on a phone finally arrived? 

When Epic Games announced Fortnite was coming to iOS, I wasn't convinced they could pull it off. Now that I've played my first game -- I'm pretty amazed with what I'm seeing, but the experience is far from perfect.

Let's talk about the good stuff first. Once I was logged in, I started a game and dropped from the bus as usual. The first thing I noticed was that the map looked pretty amazing from up high -- there was plenty of detail, even if it was on a much smaller screen. The controls include an on-screen joystick on the left for movement, buttons across the bottom to switch weapons and space on the right side to aim and look around. When you're ready to take a shot, you just tap the right side of the screen.

All that seems pretty clear-cut, and it is. But I'm used to playing on the PS4, and while I understand the controls well, I realized quickly it's going to take practice to instinctively know where everything is on a touch screen.

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The storm closed toward the Moisty Mire, so I ended up hiding in the muck.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

That said, the graphics look almost as good as they do on the console. You can see the blades of grass swaying in the wind, the draw distance is good enough to see far-off players and there are even water effects. Nothing's as good as the console version, but that's the sacrifice needed to run it on an iPhone. There is one big visual issue though -- it's pretty dark. You'll want to bump up the brightness before playing. 

Once on the ground, I managed -- if a little slowly -- to loot a couple of houses and score some pretty good gear. From there, I made my way to the center of the storm. In the process, I got into one firefight and managed to win, but mostly it was just my opponent and me flailing around hoping to hit each other. Don't expect a lot of expert marksmanship from the mobile competition.

My main troubles with the game so far are with the audio. On the phone, you can't hear directional sound like you can when you play on a console, which is a big deal. Not knowing where footsteps are coming from can mean death. To solve this, Epic decided to show where sound is coming from with on-screen directional arrows. It sort of works, but it's not ideal -- especially when you're fighting for your survival. I also noticed there were clicks and pops that came through my headphones periodically and frankly, they scared me every time. In a game like Fortnite, you're always listening for the shot that might take you down, so the audio glitches were startling and distracting.

Somehow in my first game, I actually made it all the way to the end and won. Admittedly, I got lucky; I survived until there were only two other people left and they managed to kill each other simultaneously, handing me the Victory Royale.

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A win is a win!

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Overall, I would say Fortnite's iOS port is off to a great start. The controls will take getting used to, and hopefully Epic can do something about those audio problems, but mostly we're getting what was advertised. If things continue to go smoothly, one of the most popular games in the world is about to become a whole lot more popular.