Fortnite is weird again — and I couldn’t be happier. The game’s latest season finally launched yesterday and, on the surface at least, it seems like a standard update. It has a new secret agent theme, with opposing factions and lots of new stealth gameplay options. But look beyond the well-tailored suits and you’ll find something even more notable: Fortnite’s offbeat personality is back in full force.
That’s something that was desperately missing from the previous season. When Fortnite kicked off its ambitious reboot to chapter 2 in September of last year, it felt exciting at first. Everything was new again. But that initial excitement eventually waned.
The first season dragged on for a long time — six months, or twice as long as a standard Fortnite season — and without many of the frequent changes and updates that longtime fans have come to expect. It felt like a complete 180 from season X, which, admittedly changed things a little too much. Aside from a handful of exciting moments, like the introduction of lightsabers, the new chapter was mostly bland. If I took a week off, I didn’t miss much, if anything.
Season 1 was a solid, if not particularly exciting foundation, and Epic has managed to build off of it in exciting ways. The whole spy theme isn’t just cosmetic. The map is now home to multiple locations filled with armed guards and lots of loot, which add a whole new layer to the experience. You can infiltrate a base, steal a keycard, and open up a vault for some of the best gear in the game. There are characters and missions, and you can even wear a disguise. And, I must add, you do all of this while playing a battle royale game with 99 other human players vying for the coveted victory. And you can do it dressed as a banana in a tuxedo. It’s wild.
What the new season adds is a dose of the unexpected. The new armed guard characters are smarter than any of the NPCs I’ve faced in Fortnite before; coordinated in a way that, if you’re not paying attention, can easily knock you out of the game. It adds a dynamic element when you drop in certain locations, particularly the large new fortress that’s been erected at the center of the map. There are also new tweaks that are just plain silly fun, like cardboard boxes to hide in or gliders you can actually ride around on like bouncy stuffed animals.
Even the menu is cool. It has an appropriate secret agent vibe, with a huge table surrounded by special operatives and other elements hidden away in vaults. There’s a secret spot that’s home to new challenges from Deadpool, who will be joining the cast at some unknown point in the future, too.
One of my favorite additions is that of choice. Many of the new character skins can be customized in some way; you can choose a light or dark theme based on one of the factions, and a character named Maya has multiple customization options. But when you make a choice, it’s permanent, forcing you to really think about how you want these characters to look. That’s not the kind of decision I’m used to making in Fortnite.
Given the sheer scale of the black hole event that led to Fortnite’s big chapter 2 reboot, it’s maybe not too surprising that Epic played things a little safe over the course of the first season. In fact, the choice seems intentional. “I often think of dramatic pacing like audio volume,” Fortnite creative director Donald Mustard tweeted on Wednesday, just ahead of the new season. “With some stories you work to slowly crank it as loud as possible so that when you ratchet it back to zero you feel the full impact of both extremes. Then, when the ‘new volume’ feels like normal you start to dial it up again.”
So far at least, that’s proving to be the case. In the wake of last season, the new update feels refreshing and exciting — and like a return to what makes Fortnite so much fun in the first place.