Last night, Houston Texan J.J. Watt asked Twitter a question that’s gripping not just the nation but the world. It was a quiz with only two options: PUBG and Fortnite: Battle Royale. It’s the off-season, after all.
For those just joining us, PUBG means PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which along with Fortnite: Battle Royale constitutes a true cultural moment in gaming. Both of these games are functionally identical: 100 players parachute onto a map with little more than their wits and a will to survive. They scavenge weapons and kill anyone they come across while the playable area of the map continually shrinks, killing anyone caught outside the safe radius while forcing those inside of it to kill each other. At the end only one player — or duo, or squad — can survive.
Both games have exploded: PUBG is older, but comes from a smaller developer. Fortnite is a relatively new entrant, but it’s moved quickly thanks in no small part to the technical expertise of industry mainstay Epic Games. And while these are two very similar games, they inevitably appeal to different sets of gamers. So which one should you play? Let’s dive in.
The Basics: Fortnite is free, and it’s available on PS4, Xbox One, Mac and PC. PUBG costs $29.99, and is available on Xbox One and PC — though the Xbox One version needs a lot of work. If you only have a PS4 or don’t have $29.99, congratulations! your decision is made for you.
PUBG is also available on mobile in China, but since this is an Western, English-language publication we’re going to focus on the other modes.
Just look at them: The most broad difference between these two games is clear from the moment you boot either of them up. PUBG is a realistic tactical shooter, Fortnite is cartoony and stylized. That’s the essential concept here, and it goes far beyond just the obvious differences in presentation. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but you can actually get pretty far in this case: which of these games looks like one you’d rather play?
We’ll go a little bit deeper into this. PUBG is a military shooter along the lines of Arma: it’s a precise game with a deep selection of weapons, all of which can be customized with attachments and all of which require practice to use accurately and properly. PUBG is a slow game that’s all about positioning, caution and striking at the right moment. It’s much more approachable than some of its predecessors, but the depth of armament on option can still be unwieldy for a new player. It still rewards the expertise of those who have managed to learned the ins and outs of both the map and its weapons.
Fortnite, on the other hand, is wacky chaos. Guns are much looser, and they come in such variants as the minigun and the rocket launcher. Like in PUBG, you need to be cautious, but it’s much more important to move quickly, to react to constantly changing situations and to be flexible about your strategies.
You see this borne out in how a map plays: PUBG’s maps are big and intricate where Fornite’s map is small and weird. The former can be slow and tense – you might be able to get to the top ten without ever seeing another player, spending twenty minutes camped with a shotgun, eyes on the door, which is never as boring as it sounds. Fortnite moves quickly, kills you quickly, and throws you back into a new game quickly.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
Building: While speed is probably the most practical difference between these games, the building system is the most clear cut. PUBG evolved from other battle royale games like H1Z1, and carries with it the military shooter core of those games. Fortnite: Battle Royale is a spinoff of Fortnite: Save the World, a survival RPG that revolves around player-created forts.
That means that there’s a whole other system operating in Fortnite that allows people to build bases or modify existing ones, as well as smash and blast their way through even the most unassailable cover to attack fortified positions. You might not interact with the building mode much in your early days, but watch any match until the end and you’ll likely see two or more fort-building virtuosos creating winding mazes to trap or confuse their opponents as well as sniper nests, skyforts and more. You also might see people opting to avoid the whole combat thing and create strange esoteric monuments in the middle of battle.
Building is surprisingly easy to become fluent in, but the skill limit is high as your own twisted imagination. The world of PUBG is static, which encourages careful positioning and strategy. The world of Fortnite can change on a dime, which encourages flexibility.
Updates and tech: This was clear right from the beginning, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. PUBG is an indie success story and, for a time, a scrappy operation that only left early access in December, and even then only on Steam. You can tell: this is a game making up for lost time when it comes to technical refinement.
Fortnite, on the other hand, is an Unreal Engine project made by the same people that make Unreal Engine itself. Not only does it to suffice to say that not only are they pretty good with it by this point, but also that they had a much better-established operation from the get-go. Fortnite is a much cleaner experience overall, with fewer technical problems and an opportunity to only improve over the coming months. It also means that Fortnite has a better development pipeline that comes with constant rotation of new weapons, limited time modes, special events, map changes and more. While we can’t predict the future, generally speaking you can expect more content coming down the pike for Fortnite.
Fortnite: Battle Royale.
All the feels: This one is just as important as anything else in the mix, even if it doesn’t feel as specific as something like map size or a big new system like building. For me, however, it’s this difference that can feel the most striking, and it’s this difference that most determines which of these I want to play. At the end of the day there’s just an overwhelmingly different feel between the two of them.
We’ll start with PUBG, a relatively grounded experience despite the absurdist premise. The game is tense, occasionally overwhelming and tough, not just in the gameplay sense but in the atmosphere it’s trying to evoke. It wants you to feel in constant danger, and it’s remarkably successful at this. You feel the eyes of your enemies on you at all times, right up until those moments when you see an unsuspecting player between in your sights and strike. The world of PUBG is a brutal one where only the strong survive.
Fortnite, on the other hand is a weird and stylized romp that manages to come off shockingly good-natured despite being a no-holds barred fight to the death. You’ll be assaulted by teddy bears and medieval knights, and you’ll gain an appreciation for those moments when everything goes sideways and you wind up blown off the side of a cliff. When you die the game automatically sets you spectating the person who dispatched you, and you can’t help but start to cheer for your killer in a strange inversion of the usual killcam mechanic. It’s little things like that that make Fortnitefeel like you’re all in it together, even if you happen to be killing each other.
The bottom line: Clearly, most players will gravitate to one or other between these two games. There’s no right answer, and you’ll just have to ask yourself which rabbit hole you want to dive in: a military sim’s world of weapon mods or a fantastical building adventure. But because I’m always annoyed when these articles don’t conclude with a clear recommendation, here’s my preference:
Fortnite. It’s just more fun.