(Pocket-lint) - Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last few years, you've at least heard of Fortnite - it's basically the gaming sensation of recent times (you might be cute, Animal Crossing, but you ain't got 350 million players).

Fortnite is a behemoth, after exploding onto the scene a couple of years ago cresting the wave of battle royale games to huge success, and is now available on a wide range of platforms. 

Even if you've heard of and about it, though, you might not be aware of what Fortnite is though, how it works, how to play or why everyone cares so much. We're here to help with a breakdown about what the game is about and everything else you need to know. 

What is Fortnite Battle Royale?

The original version of Fortnite was intended by developers Epic Games to be a zombie survival game. An open-ended experience pitching co-operative players against waves of zombies while giving those players the ability to gather resources and build bases to defend against the oncoming hordes.

Coming around the time that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds was starting to make waves, the development team decided to build and release a new free-to-play mode for Fortnite with a similar Battle Royale style - that turned out to be a stroke of genius.

This style of game is based on the Japanese thriller "Battle Royale", originally released in 2001. The premise of the gameplay is simple enough - 100 players are dropped from an aeroplane (or, in Fortnite's case, a floating battle bus) onto a large island or area where they then need to fight it out against one another until there's a final survivor or surviving team left. 

To add to the tension, a randomly placed shrinking circle of doom forces players into closer and closer proximity as the game progresses. Anyone caught outside this zone will inevitably die and be out of the running. The game is therefore not just a fight against other players, but a race against the clock.    

This design was popularised by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, but with Fortnite Epic Games added something new. The resource gathering, base building elements of the main game appear in the Battle Royale version too. That means players have a variety of choices in how they play which include building a base at the end to defend themselves from other players, building walkways into the sky or onto nearby mountain tops or even quickly building defensive walls to protect fallen teammates from incoming gunfire while they're revived. 

The game starts as a race to gather resources, find and collect bigger and better weapons and kill or avoid other players who happen to be in the vicinity. Players need to be constantly aware of the shrinking play zone and aim to remain inside it while not getting eliminated along the way. The game ends when the final players shoot it out and one team or individual is victorious. 

Fortnite is playable alone or with friends and it's the playing with friends where this game really shines. You can play with up to four players in a squad or two players in duos mode. The experience will vary wildly depending on how many people are playing. On your own, you've got no one to watch your back but you're not likely to bump into a group of four enemy players at the same time either. 

The experience is certainly thrilling and gamers are loving it. This gameplay style seems to be incredibly popular but the game itself is also seeing huge and growing numbers of players because it's not only available on multiple platforms, it's also free. 

Fortnite Battle Royale also features bright cartoon-like graphics that make it appealing and easier to access than the more serious PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or Call of Duty: Warzone. With character emotes, daft animations and well-crafted building mechanics it often appears silly and more amusing than a serious competitively-styled game too. 

How to download and play Fortnite

As we've already mentioned Fortnite is available to play on multiple gaming platforms, the most recent of which is mobile. It's also been designed to allow for cross-platform play meaning all of its players can face up to each other regardless of what machine they're playing on (unless they choose not to). 

The intention here is to allow everyone to play with their friends no matter what machine or device they're playing on. As the game is free, it's also easy for anyone to dive in. 

Playing on PC

On PC you can download Fortnite straight from the official website. All you need is an Epic Games account and then you're free to download the installer and get started. 

Playing on PlayStation 4

To start playing Fortnite on PS4 you simply need to go to the PlayStation store and search for "Fortnite Battle Royale". Again, the basic version is free so just add it to your basket and download. If you're on PC you can also add it to your account via the PlayStation store website

Playing on Xbox One

Go to the store and search for "Fortnite Battle Royale" then click to get it for free. You can also get it in your browser here. It's worth noting that Fortnite is also on the list of Xbox One X Enhanced games

Mobile

For a long time Fortnite was a bit complicated on mobile, especially on Android, but that's no longer the case. It's playable on most relatively new Android phones or iPhones. 

You can download it here from the Apple App Store, and here from the Google Play Store.

Best of all, there are no shortcuts - Fortnite on mobile is the exact same as it is on every other platform in terms of content, with only the visuals and controls being substantially different. 

How much does Fortnite cost?

Fortnite: Battle Royale is free to play. The original survival game (now called Fortnite: Save The World) can be purchased from the website and from various console stores, but the game that everyone is obsessed with is free to access. 

If you choose to do so, you can pay for cosmetic items to change the look of your character, but there's nothing to help you win or get the edge over other players. 

Fortnite Battle Royale also offers Battle Passes which are optional purchases that allow players to unlock various exclusive rewards including cosmetics such as loading screens, banners, character emotes, different gliders and more.

These Battle Passes are sold on a "season" basis, which means they apply for a limited period and will appeal more to dedicated players and fans of the game. Once purchased, the more you play, the more rewards you unlock, with 100 rewards available - one for each of the tiers in the season. Players can also purchase a "Battle Bundle" which instantly unlocks 25 tiers and requires less playtime. 

Battle Passes and other in-game items can be purchased inside the game itself, using the game's premium currency, V-Bucks, and if you buy plenty of things the costs can mount. However, none of them will give you a gameplay advantage. These purchases are certainly something for parents to be aware of, for sure. 

Is Fortnite suitable for my kids?

The game currently has a low age rating of 12+ but parents should be aware it does still involve shooting and killing other players, albeit without any blood or suchlike. That does mean that your child will pretty quickly get familiar with a range of gun types and weaponry, though, which you may find off-putting. 

Also, as with all online games, the experiences may vary wildly and there's always the influence of other players to consider. Costs are also something to keep an eye on and be aware of. Fortnite is certainly not as gruesome as some other games, but it's no Minecraft either, so don't assume it's great for kids based on its art style!

Writing by Adrian Willings.