Fortnite’s next season kicks off tomorrow, and more than anything else, I really hope it tells a good story.
While Epic Games’ hugely popular free-to-play battle royale shooter might be best known for its colorful visuals, entertaining emotes, and pop culture references, one of the main reasons I’ve stuck with the game season after season is because of the way it tells a story through frequent changes to the game’s world. In most seasons, Epic slowly makes minute changes to the map that are feverishly dissected by the internet and eventually build up to live in-game events.
The first story event I experienced was in season 4: the now-famous rocket launch. When the appointed day and time came, me and millions of my closest friends all logged in to Fortnite at the same time and built towers around a hidden lair in a mountain where the rocket was expected to launch from. The rocket didn’t just launch; it launched, came back down, entered a rift, flew wildly around the map, zipped in and out of more rifts, and finally “crashed” high up into the sky, creating a giant rift.
After the rocket launch, Epic really started to get ambitious with Fortnite’s in-game storytelling. One multiseason arc involved a giant purple cube, which appeared one day without warning in a bolt of lightning, rolled around the island, fell into Loot Lake, lifted an entire chunk of land into the air to create a floating island above the main island, and eventually exploded in an event that briefly transported players into an interdimensional realm. The community named the cube Kevin.
Season X had perhaps the most grandiose event of them all, taking inspiration from many of Fortnite’s signature storytelling moments to make one big conclusion where a black hole pulled in the entire game world, leaving the game offline for nearly two days with no indication of when it would be coming back.
Each one of these live events has been extremely cool, and I don’t think I’ve missed a single one since I’ve started playing the game. I love getting to experience them live with other players, and it’s always fun to see how the map and the game changes in the aftermath.
That’s why I’ve been disappointed with the story, or lack of it, in Chapter 2 so far. When Epic finally launched Chapter 2 of Fortnite all the way back in October, there was a whole new map, which I figured Epic would use as a blank canvas for more awesome storytelling. The map already had some intriguing new areas that seemed ripe for some exciting moments. I had visions of the new dam bursting and flooding the island or the imposing nuclear reactors melting and creating chaos.
Things started out promising. Around Halloween, just a couple weeks after the start of this season, Epic celebrated “Fortnitemares” by adding giant purple crystals to the map’s center island and having zombies spawn from them. But once Fortnitemares was over, the center island returned to normal. And as part of “Winterfest,” which took place over the holidays, Epic added a few winter-themed landmarks to the map and, at one point, covered the entire island in snow. But things went back to the way they were before when Winterfest was done.
And now that we’ve reached the tail end of Fortnite’s latest season, it looks like we won’t see anything quite as interesting as Kevin to evolve its in-game universe. Epic has called back to the game’s history — it named the island’s new power plant “Kevolution Energy,” for example — but the studio has leaned more into a different, though probably more profitable, approach to in-game events: sponsored tie-ins.
Some of those were cosmetics tied to real-world icons this season, like a skin of Birds of Prey’s Harley Quinn, one of the famous streamer Ninja, or a Rickroll emote (which, yes, I did buy). And the season’s big live event was all about Star Wars, with a live conversation between Geoff Keighley and Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams, a clip from the movie, and an admittedly awesome moment where everyone was given lightsabers.
All of these helped Epic continue to build Fortnite as an immersive virtual world that blends a game and real life. But for me, they felt like short-term novelties instead of ways to actually make Fortnite really feel like its own universe. None of them advanced any sort of in-game plot for Fortnite, and they wasted a lot of potential of Chapter 2’s fresh start. The game even felt stale enough to me that I didn’t play it for about a month, which is the longest stretch I’ve had away from Fortnite since I first started playing in June 2018.
However, in the days leading up to tomorrow’s season launch, Epic has dropped some intriguing hints that the next season might have some new in-game story. Over the weekend, for example, eagle-eyed fans noticed that some furniture in the game’s center island had turned to solid gold. And the game’s Twitter account has been decoding teasers featuring a lot of black and gold.
Transmission Intercepted— Fortnite (@FortniteGame) February 18, 2020
Origin == Au
The storytelling has even extended to new real-world ads for Fortnite, which have a phone number on them. If you call the number, you can listen to a mysterious clip discussing an “agency recruitment drive,” an “oil rig operation,” and a weird noise that sounds like a human coughing up a hairball.
Video of the US Teaser Number: pic.twitter.com/05q1okjI9W— Happy Power (@HappyPower) February 16, 2020
It’s hard to know what these things may mean — if anything. They could just be clever new ways to build hype for the new season, which has been a long time coming. Most Fortnite seasons are about two months long, but the current one will have gone on for more than four.
But I really hope those teasers hint at some kind of overarching, in-game narrative coming back to Fortnite. Seeing the game change over time is why I keep coming back to it over and over again — and hopefully next season, Epic adds something as cool as Kevin.
Update February 19th, 4:28PM ET: Added details about Fortnitemares and Winterfest.