Fortnite Battle Royale has taken a while to grow on me, but with the release on Nintendo Switch and my idle curiousity in how well it can fare on the tablet turned home console, I think I’m finally seeing clearly what keeps the millions of players coming back day in, day out. The game’s been looming over every platform, from home console to smartphone, but the Switch’s unique form brings all of these platforms together in one, combining the best of both worlds.
Fortnite on Switch shows just how capable the console’s tablet-orientated Tegra X1 chipset is. This might be a mobile chip that’s three years old, but with enough care and attention from developers, it can still deliver solid visuals and good performance. Of course, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise consider the scalability of Unreal Engine 4 and that Epic have already brought their game to mobiles earlier this year. That’s part of why Fortnite on Switch is far from surprising.
So where does the game on Switch sit in relation to the game on iOS? It’s something that’s muddied somewhat by the different form factors and the way that the Switch underclocks the X1’s GPU in handheld mode quite dramatically, but putting it up against the lowest end iPad Air 2 and iPhone 8, it not only holds up well in comparison, it actually manages to exceed even some of the latest generation Apple hardware. In fact, while we don’t have one, the Switch looks to be a remarkably close match for the game on iPhone X, which is slightly more capable than the base iPhone 8 thanks to having 3GB of RAM and not just 2GB.
The biggest advantage Switch holds over the iPhone 8 comes in shadow draw distance, foliage and general stability. Though there is still some pop in for distant objects and the most detailed shadows fade in the near distance, it’s not actually that noticeable when playing, and that’s largely because of the grass that covers so much of the ground helping to disguise it. While the grass does also fade in, it helps mask the bumps and divots in much of the world geometry.
Performance and image quality is also much more stable in general. The game looks a tad blurry in handheld, indicating that it’s not running at a native 720p, but consistency is more important here, and in handheld mode performance is general very steady at 30fps. It’s only occasionally when there’s a lot going on or there’s a hiccup with server latency that this drops. It’s also a damn sight better than iPhone 8 with objects and textures popping in around the corners of other geometry, as these are culled much less. Unsurprisingly, it feels like the Switch’s 4GB of RAM gives it a leg up almost across the board.
However, while Switch is a portable console, it’s still a console with buttons and twiddly sticks, and so has a lot more in common with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game. Playing in handheld is still great, thanks to the decently sized analogue sticks and full set of buttons, meaning there’s no compromises being made, no added on screen clutter and no auto-aim from mobile making the jump. That said, the positional indicator from nearby footsteps or chests would have been appreciated as I feel that the positional audio is lacking.
Visually, it is of course a major step down from other console, both in handheld and in docked. Only targeting 30fps, it’s halved the frame rate of PS4 and Xbox One, the lighting has taken a big step back and assets across the board are lower detail. It’s exactly what you’d expect, with grass which is nowhere near as thick, and which lacks the specular effect that reflects the shifting day-night lighting. That lighting doesn’t stream and bloom across the screen anywhere near as much, making the game look noticeably flatter and less interesting, even if the overall art style holds up very well.
That’s all well and good on the Switch’s 6.2″ screen, but when it’s blown up onto a TV with a 900p image, it’s less desirable. The Switch is best kept as a companion piece to the game on home console, or better yet, a compatriot, enabled via cross-network play.
Sadly, as has been covered elsewhere, that’s not possible between Switch and PS4 – to the extent that if you’ve ever used your Epic account on PS4, you simply cannot use that same account on Switch – but it is possible with Xbox One, PC and mobile players. The set up for a squad is clunky, relying on in-game menus that aren’t well suited to the smaller screen, and you have to import Nintendo account friends to your Epic account to get around Nintendo’s lacking infrastructure, but it does work relatively well and works great in game.
Fortnite for Switch blends together the feel and gameplay of the game on PS4 and Xbox One with visuals roughly equivalent a top end Apple iPhone X. It’s an impressive feat, making this a great companion or alternative to the game elsewhere.