It’s important to understand that Fortnite is actually two games in one. The original Save the World mode is based on a previously popular craze, horde mode. The other, Battle Royale, is derived from another more recent survival game kick. That’s probably what you’re here for.
Both have different, separate monetization schemes, which we’ll explain in detail below.
Loot boxes are only a thing in the Save the World mode
The ever-popular loot box concept is present in pretty much every modern online shooter, but only in the PvE (player-versus-environment) Save the World half of Fortnite.
You earn loot boxes from regular play
By simply taking story missions and leveling up you’ll earn new loot boxes, which are cleverly disguised as cute loot llamas. Llamas can reward you with bonus boosts, survivors (characters), items and schematics with various rarity levels (common, uncommon, rare, epic and legendary).
Epic Games has been fine-tuning Fortnite around loot boxes for nearly a year now, implementing various bits of feedback on how to reconcile boxes in an early access game that currently sells Save the World packages for $39.99 at minimum.
Buying boxes isn’t explicitly required to advance in Save the World, but the various boosts and items will help later in the game. Survivors and heroes are of the utmost importance late in the campaign because you can assign different squad members for each mission and capitalize on their specific strengths. Having a bigger squad means more answers for whatever each mission might throw at you.
You can buy loot boxes
If you’re so inclined you can also spring for V-Bucks, the premium currency of Fortnite, to buy llamas. You can purchase V-Bucks at the exchange rate of $1 per 100 V-Bucks, with discounts for bulk purchases.
Regular llamas will run you around $1.00 (100 V-bucks), rarer llamas are 350 V-Bucks, and you can purchase special event llamas with tickets (an in-game currency you earn through opening other llamas).
If your account has founders status (meaning you’ve purchased a tier at $39.99 or above), you’ll also be eligible for extra llama rewards for daily logins.
Battle Royale operates on a season pass concept
Fortnite Battle Royale, the most popular portion of the game, does not use loot boxes. Instead, it instead entices players to level up on two different tracks by completing matches (and challenges) to earn experience. One track is free, and the other requires a purchase of a battle pass for each season.
Seasons last roughly 70 days (based on an estimate for the now-completed Season 2) but are subject to change.
Silver and gold battle pass tiers
Understanding the split is simple: Silver is free-to-play, and gold is a premium subscription. If you buy into gold, you’ll also earn all of the rewards for silver.
Paying nothing at all will place you on the silver track, which grants rewards every four levels. These are usually menial, with bonuses like emotes and occasionally at very high tiers, cosmetic harvesting tools and small V-Buck bonuses. Rewards typically cap out around level 50.
If you regularly play Fortnite Battle Royale, you’ll probably want to pick up the battle pass for 950 V-Bucks (around $9.50). It puts you on the gold track, which grants huge bonuses in bulk after your first level up (usually a new costume and various XP boosts), as well as rewards for every single level up. When the next season starts, players are required to buy a whole new battle pass for roughly $9.50 once again. The gold track goes all the way up to tier 100.
If you’re a power player or want to save time, you can also spring for the battle bundle, which will run you 2,800 V-Bucks (about $28.00). It includes the battle pass and 25 instant level-up tiers. Buying a battle pass will also net you extra rewards for the next season cycle. For instance if you purchased Season 2, you’ll net a small five-tier head start in Season 3.
You can buy items directly from the shop
As each Fortnite Battle Royale season goes on in the background, new items will be available in the shop, accessible in its own tab at the top of the lobby screen. Usually these are festive seasonal cosmetics (currently they revolve around the Chinese New Year) that run you anywhere from 800 to 2,000 V-Bucks. They’ll rotate in and out and are separate from the battle pass rewards.