Over the course of last two years and ten “Battle Pass” content release seasons, Fortnite: Battle Royale has become a free-to-play pop-culture phenomenon enjoyed by a user base of roughly 250 million players of all ages from around the globe.
Fortnite has come a long way from its initial launch as a fairly unsuccessful co-operative ‘build-a-base-and-then-defend-it’ game, and the brand has since branched out into other new gameplay modes and even various different kinds of merchandise like toys and school supplies. At one point the game was even adapted into a one-off comedy manga over in Japan that released in CoroCoro Magazine.
It has reached such popularity that brands see cross-promotion with the game as a good way to drum up positive buzz for their own products, with appearances in the game driving home more interest from its humongous player base. This also makes it the only place where Marvel’s Star-Lord or Black Widow and DC Comics’ Batman can team up to shoot assault rifles at Keanu Reeves’ John Wick or The Psycho from Borderlands. It’s a bit mad.
To put it simply — Fortnite is very profitable. So everyone was surprised when they shut it down!
It’s The End, But The Moment Has Been Prepared For
To understand and appreciate what happened in the lead up to Fortnite’s ‘sequel’ patch, you really need to understand what players had been experiencing until that point.
Everything had gotten … unstable in the weeks leading up to the event. Destructive, terrible two-pilot mechs dive-kicked across the land while named locations on the island were replaced, returned, destroyed or remixed by ‘Rift Zones’ throughout the course of the season as players performed taco rain dances, turned into furniture to hide in a city fused with the Moisty Mire or even used Batman’s grapple gun and prowled the streets of Gotham City as they competed for the often elusive Victory Royale umbrella.
Overtime Challenges a week prior included voice acting (in a Battle Royale first) from an in-game character known as The Visitor, who explained that the reality the game was taking place in had become dangerous and needed to be repaired before it was lost forever.
On October 13th, 2019 players grouped up on Fortnite servers around the world for the Season X finale event ‘The End’ as The Visitor and the other six members of The Seven worked together in an attempt to save all reality from certain doom.
The ‘Rift Zones’ started to collapse as rockets launched in from other affected dimensions and The Seven worked to use the mysterious ‘Hop Rock’ meteorite to seal a time-space fracture called ‘The Zero Point’ and hopefully bring the crisis to an end. It’s hard to say whether they were truly successful. The resulting shockwave launched players into the sky — and as the ‘Zero Point’ changed and swallowed the island, players said goodbye to a place they knew so familiarly for the final time.
Fortnite was over.
Supermassive Black Hole
For the next few days, the Fortnite development team over at Epic Games went radio silent. The game displayed only a pulsing singularity. Almost all traces of Fortnite were removed from their social media pages and even the Epic Game Store front page.
Every few hours, numbers would pulse up on screen around what everyone was calling The Fortnite Black Hole.
11 146 15 62 / 87 14 106 2 150 / 69 146 15 36 / 2 176 8 160 65
What did they mean?! The Fortnite community got to work and tried to figure that out. Within hours there was a breakthrough. The numbers correlated with words from The Visitor’s earlier voice recordings:
I was not alone. (11 146 15 62)
Others were outside the loop. (87 14 106 2 150)
This was not calculated. (69, 146, 15, 36)
The nothing is now inevitable. (2, 176, 8, 160, 65)
— Did … did The Seven need our help? The numbers started to loop.
A Whole New World
It’s early Tuesday. October 15th, 2019. My squad mates wake me up with Discord. We’ve all been keeping an eye on the Fortnite Black Hole as we go about our day-to-day lives and the game has just been hit with a 20GB-ish patch. We all download as soon as we can, but find the game has gone in to downtime. We wait patiently as our consoles attempt to log-in.
Eventually we get in and receive some messages from an unknown party in the bottom left corner of the screen. Fortnite: Chapter 2 dazzles our screens with a cinematic intro and then seamlessly transitions every player into a Solo match where we’re playing as fan-favourite Jonesy on what seems to be a new island. He made it! It looks like everyone made it. It’s unclear who in the story to thank, but that’s to be expected. Epic likes to leave a lot to the imagination and let us tell our own story most of the time in Battle Royale mode.
As we play matches and explore, we discover mostly new places … but also Risky Reels, Pleasant Park and Salty Springs are here, returning from Fortnite 1. Is this a new island? Or did someone change the island from before? Are we in a parallel universe? Did people just like those places so much they just rebuilt them? It’s unclear for now.
What is clear, however is the level of attention Epic Games have given Fortnite Chapter 2. Gameplay has been rebalanced in subtle but all important ways right down to the way certain guns like the assault rifle or pump shotgun feel to shoot. It all just feels really balanced, which is a welcome change of pace after the state of the game in Season X left a lot of players feeling dissatisfied and basically ready to stop playing.
Along with those battle balance changes comes the introduction of Skill Based Matchmaking and A.I. ‘bot’ players at lower game-skill ranks, so that newer players can get a feel for the game without being destroyed upon arrival on the island by people that have been playing for a long time.
For a while it has felt like the newer character models in Fortnite have had a different art direction to the much older areas of the island, but with introduction of the Chapter 2 Island things feel that way no longer.
The game overall has a more vibrant and cartoonish look than ever before, but also now has more of a ‘realistic’ scale for environmental objects and locations in general that lead to the island feeling a lot bigger and more like an actual place. All items and weapons returning from Fortnite 1 have been revamped with a new look to fit the new art direction, too.
Part of the changes to the island and gameplay also involve a renewed focus on ‘Water Gameplay’ with players for the first time being able to swim in larger bodies of water with a simulated current instead of instantly dying. You can also cast out rods to fish for weapons or consumables in the middle of a match. Replacing the mechas from last season are speedboats that allow for a full squad to group up and avoid the storm as they travel into the (questionable) safety of the battle zone.
Perhaps most importantly, we got the umbrella and then we played for fun for the rest of the day anyway and that’s all I can ask of the game. I look forward to seeing what happens to the Fortnite: Battle Royale community and where the story goes over the course of the coming Chapter 2 seasons.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Fortnite: Chapter 2, Season 1 is currently free-to-play and available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mobile.