Fortnite Battle Royale is out now for the Switch, and while it’s obviously a big deal for Nintendo to secure a port of one of the biggest games in the world, Fortnite would be a great showcase for the hybrid console’s versatility no matter what. Epic’s Fortnite strategy has involved putting the game on every system possible, letting players share progress and items across each platform. The Switch version won’t be your best option most of the time, no, but its very existence makes it possible to play the game in even more situations.
Well, unless you’ve been playing Fortnite on PS4, that is.
In handheld mode, Fortnite on the Switch looks roughly similar to the iOS version running on a recent iPhone, except the screen is bigger and lower resolution. Performance is a little smoother on the Switch, or at least more consistent at maintaining 30 frames per second. Most importantly, of course, it’s a portable version of Fortnite that can be played with proper sticks and buttons rather than a touchscreen. The Joy-Con controllers aren’t the most comfortable, and it’d be nice if Epic would add support for gyro aiming like in Splatoon 2 and Doom, but it’s still a much better experience than you get with a phone or a tablet.
The Switch feels like a completely new way to play Fortnite, at least in handheld mode. It’s the exact same game under the graphical downgrades, and it still looks pretty good on the portable screen. Fortnite’s cartoony, colorful art style goes a long way to flatter technical deficiencies. But with the Switch, you can play full-on Fortnite with proper controls anywhere you have internet access. Epic is even offering party chat through the headphone jack rather than Nintendo's convoluted app-based solution, though that's not coming until an update on Thursday.
I wouldn’t recommend playing it on your TV unless you don’t have another option, however. Fortnite looks vastly better on my Xbox One S, running at 60 frames per second with much more detailed graphics and longer draw distances. The Switch version is fine if it’s your first time playing Fortnite, but just know that a large TV screen will only blow up all its deficiencies.
The great thing about Fortnite, though, is that you don't have to play this version on your TV if you have a better way. The battle royale game is free, first of all, meaning there’s no reason not to install it on multiple systems, but, more importantly, your progress carries over. Fortnite Battle Royale is all about completing challenges and leveling up to unlock tiers of rewards across each season, which means you can contribute to your progress and use all the same hard-earned items with the Switch version when you’re away from home, even if you usually play on PC, for example.
The one caveat to all of this is that you can’t transfer progress to the Switch if you’ve ever used your Epic account with the PS4 version; Sony allows compatibility with PC and mobile but blocks the functionality for competing consoles. That sucks, frankly, because the PS4 is a big reason that Fortnite took off in the first place, and it means a lot of people won’t be able to play it on the Switch without creating a new account and surrendering their play histories and loot lockers — and the money spent along the way. Fortnite Battle Royale came out at the height of PUBG mania on PC, offering a free alternative with a console version at a time when PUBG had been announced for Xbox, and the PS4's large user base was quick to adopt it. This is going to affect a ton of PS4 owners who've also picked up a Switch.
Blocking Xbox compatibility is at least somewhat understandable from a business perspective, as the two consoles directly compete and Sony is in the stronger position. You can see why Sony would want to stop people switching from PS4 to the technically superior Xbox One X version, for example, annoying as it may be for the comparatively few people who own both consoles. But blocking the Switch is short-sighted and dumb. The Switch version of Fortnite doesn’t compete with the PS4 version any more than the iOS version does. If you have a PS4, you wouldn’t want to play the Switch version on your TV. From a PS4 owner’s perspective, the sole value of the Switch version is that it allows you to play Fortnite in situations that Sony's console isn’t able to serve. Is Sony really that worried about people buying V-Bucks in an airport?
All this is going to achieve is driving people away from Fortnite on PlayStation. Take me, for example: I only recently started playing the game. (Late to the party, I know.) I have a PS4 Pro and an Xbox One S, and ideally, I’d play Fortnite on the former system because I’d get better performance. Instead, I’d much rather go with the Xbox for couch play so that I also have the Switch option for whenever I’m outside of the house. That means Sony will miss out on its cut of any microtransactions I might want to make, even though as a platform I use PlayStation more than Xbox.
The bottom line is this: if you’re looking to get into Fortnite today, I can’t recommend the PS4 version unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll never want to play it on another console. Tying your Epic account to a PS4 means you won't ever be able to play non-touch Fortnite in your bed, on your roof, or in a tent on the side of a mountain with a Wi-Fi hot spot. Is that a trade-off you really want to make?