There’s something going on at Risky Reels. Cars are leaving Fortnite’s drive-in theatre, its screen now showing a test card for… something. After the game’s enormous black hole reboot in October this year it almost feels quaint. Once again, Fortnite is setting its stage for something new, shuffling parts of its world around like pieces in a chess game, in position for whatever big play comes next.
It’s growing harder and harder to remember Fortnite’s origins. Not just those early days before its battle royale mode launched when it was another game entirely, but even those early seasons and, as the weeks pass since its previous island setting was slurped into another dimension, bits of that too. Because change is the only constant in Fortnite, a game happy to knock down and rebuild everything it’s made out of as quickly as a missile to one of its late-game towers, put up in seconds by players bunkering down for the next shootout.
As I look around at other games which clearly want to be Fortnite – or rather, be as nimble, as experimental, make as much of a cultural impact as Epic’s extraordinary live game – it is its breathtaking flexibility and speed of change which stands out. Two and a bit years in and Fortnite has already gone through a full reboot, following a packed 10 seasons which saw its world build up to and absorb an ice age, a volcano, a meteor impact, a kaiju fight, pirates, zombies and a trip to the future – and move on to the next thing just as quickly after.
I’m aware this makes Fortnite’s change feel like churn – but nothing could be further from the truth. Fortnite has a knack for putting something, or some place, into the game just long enough for you to miss it when it is gone. Even its missteps – usually items a little too far on the powerful side – have ended up becoming part of the game’s history. Remember when you could pull the Infinity Blade from the stone? Remember the Boom Bow? Remember mechs?
I could write pages on all the things in Fortnite which are now gone completely. Items which seemed pivotal to how I played at the time – the Baller, Grappler, Rift-To-Go and Planes – and its odd mayfly experiments seemingly destined never to live long: Shadow Stones, the Pirate Cannon, the Storm Flip, the Sneaky Snowman. And then there are the places – its weird science bunker underneath that maze in Wailing Woods which became the volcano, or Polar Peak’s castle which arrived fully frozen, only to unveil more buildings as it thawed, a prisoner inside, and then eventually, a giant one-eyed monster that stomped all over the map.
When these things disappeared from the game, that was it – they were gone forever. And this is where Fortnite’s change really means something. Seeing these epochs come and go in mere months you are left feeling how precious the current instance of this world is – that things can be missed entirely, and then missed forever after that.