Fortnite for Android is the final piece of the puzzle that started out in September of last year with the release of the Fortnite Battle Royale mode on consoles, PC and Mac. Since then, the game got a release on iOS earlier this year in April and couple of months ago on Nintendo Switch.
The Android version of the game is understandably very late when compared to other platforms. Or perhaps, not so late if the objective here was to rejuvenate interest in the game and start the hype cycle all over again.
Unfortunately, the launch of the Android version hasn’t been the smoothest. The company first announced it won’t be releasing the game on the Google Play Store but through its own website. Then it had a timed exclusivity with Samsung devices. Even though that was short lived, the game is still not available to every Android device, with only a few hand-picked devices being supported right now. Most importantly, the game being released right now is still in beta, and not the final release we saw on iOS.
But it’s finally here and we have it installed on a Samsung Galaxy S9+, which is probably the best way to experience the game on this platform right now. Since we have already reviewed the game back when it released on iOS, we won’t be discussing it in detail again and will mostly focus on the Android port and its differences and similarities to the iOS version.
For starters, installing the game is not as easy as simply hopping on to the Google Play Store and downloading it. Samsung devices have it a bit easy, as you can go to the Galaxy Apps store and download the game from there. I’m not sure why the game is available on Samsung’s store and not Google’s. Perhaps Samsung doesn’t take a cut from Epic Games for transactions or perhaps Samsung paid a hefty amount to have it on its store. One can only speculate.
Once you download the game from the Galaxy Apps store, you realize it’s not actually the game itself but the game launcher. This is the same launcher that other Android phones will be downloading later from Epic Games website to install the game. Why Samsung had to distribute the launcher through its store and not the game itself is confounding.
The launcher does nothing but download the 90MB or so game, which then sits alongside the launcher in your app drawer. It’s not clear what the purpose of the launcher is beyond this point, whether it will be used to update the game or not. The game can clearly download new data on its own so it’s curious what the launcher does. Uninstalling it made no difference and the game was still accessible.
Once you start the game, you are faced with another hurdle. The 90MB game you downloaded wasn’t actually the full game at all but more like an installer and it will then download 1.9GB of data. Fortnite pulls this same stunt on iOS as well and it’s rather disingenuous as you are lulled into thinking the game isn’t that large when you see the app store size and then it drops this 1.9GB bomb on you once you launch it.
Once you download that you are given the option to log in. You can use an Epic Games account (also used on PC, Mac and iOS) or an account from PlayStation, Xbox or Switch if you want to sync your progress with one of those platforms. You can obviously only be signed into one of these at a time and once you pick, all your account info and purchases will carry over to this device.
It’s worth mentioning at this point just how slow Fortnite is to start on Android. Even on the Galaxy S9+, once you finish all your setting up and everything, the game takes anywhere from 70-80 seconds to reach the main screen from a cold start. It’s not especially fast on iOS either and even on the iPhone 8 Plus it takes about 50 seconds but it’s still considerably quicker there.
From here on out, the experience isn’t too different from what you get on iOS. The menus are just as bad as they were on iOS, with tiny buttons that look like they were pulled straight from the PC port and are barely usable. The graphics options are limited to low, medium and high, with the epic option grayed out and unavailable on the S9+, just like it is on the iPhone 8 Plus.
You can set the max frame rate target to either 30fps or 20fps. You could potentially save some battery by running at 20fps but 30fps is already a pretty low frame rate and running at 20fps will legitimately put you at a disadvantage compared to other players as it directly affects the responsiveness of the inputs. There is also a low power mode that can further reduce graphics quality stress the hardware less.
Visually, the Android version on the S9+ looks very similar to the iOS version on the 8 Plus. The presets work similarly on both platforms. The Low preset drops the internal rendering resolution to what looks like 480p, with significantly reduced texture detail. Bumping up to Medium renders it close to 540p but nothing much else changes. High setting gives you shadows as well as grass while also bumping up the rendering resolution to around 720p. The HUD remains the same resolution, though, regardless of what setting you pick.
At High, the game does look decent but the fact that it’s running at about 1/4th the native resolution of the S9+ display isn’t unnoticeable.
The iOS version doesn’t run at a higher resolution but it does run better. One thing that was very clear on the Android version was the pop-in. Basically, as you moved closer to objects, the game would swap in the higher resolution assets but because it happened very close to the camera, it was much more noticeable. Also, for some reason, the shadows cast by trees would only render about ten feet away from you, which looked very jarring as the shade would appear and disappear as you moved closer or away from trees. This happens on iOS at a much greater distance from the camera and is thus not noticeable.
Apart from that, there are also minor hitches in frame rate. It’s not game breaking by any means and most people wouldn’t notice but if you have an eye for these things you can notice the minor differences in frame times even when nothing taxing is happening on screen.
But when it comes to gameplay, Fortnite on Android works reasonably well and no better or worse than on iOS. The fact that the game works on mobile at all is still very impressive, especially since Epic managed to make far few compromises to the look and feel of the game on mobile than what Tencent had to do with PUBG. The crossplay functionality is also intact and it’s tremendous to be able to play with players on vastly different platforms.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that what we have here is still beta and the final release will likely be polished. Having said that, I wouldn’t expect any improvements to visual quality considering it’s nearly identical to the four month old stable release on iOS. I do wish, however, they reduce the time it takes to start the game and maybe improve the menus at some point in the future.
In the end, the game is about as good as you’d expect the Android port to be, at least on a powerful device. But one can’t help but feel Epic Games really botched the launch by first avoiding the Play Store, then making it a timed Samsung exclusive and then making people sign up for a beta available on very limited devices. The number of hoops and provisos currently involved in getting the game are just fizzling the launch of a very anticipated release, which is a shame because the underlying game is pretty decent.