What the Fortnite? – Into the Fortnite Metaverse

Some people have actively tried to avoid the cultural juggernaut of Fortnite’s Battle Royale, but there’s been a fair bit of fuss over it lately that has pushed it beyond its usual bubble. 

In part, this is due to a brief comeback of the original map, followed by a live event and a new map for the chapter. Part of it is the introduction of Peter Griffin and Solid Snake to the battlepass. But that’s not all. They may have just changed the game forever, I’ve even caught our very own AngryPenguinJ enjoying a game. How did it come to this?

It was years ago that I first suggested that the Fortnite storyline was heading towards the creation of a “metaverse”, although annoyingly I only decided to tweet about it in March 2023. It’s important not to confuse this metaverse concept with the unsettling VR social environment that Zuckerberg was pushing. It’s also important not to confuse it with all the web 3.0 NFT nonsense.

4 members of a rockband burst out of a glowing blue rift

It started with the introduction of a “Creative” mode to Fortnite. This allowed players to create their own maps, generally starting with small platforming challenges or deathmatch arenas but expanding to cinematic experiences, horror maps and even smaller-scale battle royales. Creativity exploded recently with the introduction of Unreal Editor for Fortnite which allows for scripting and even greater control. The main lobby is currently a flood of creative mode experiences, which can be a bit overwhelming but there’s something for everyone. The quality of some of these can be questionable and it can end up feeling like Roblox, which notably did the massive raft of user-generated content first.

An image of the Fortnite "multiverse" each game mode is represented by a different coloured galaxy. A player character looks on floating in the void

So we have Battle Royale, the old Save the World survival mode and thousands of user-created experiences. Plus some social hubs, music concerts/interactive music videos and a few experiments with video content (yes that includes Quibi and the interactive event for the Star Wars trailer) in the same place, using the same player avatar and having battle pass experience and some unlocks function across modes. That’s quite a lot. However, in early December 2023, Fortnite introduced three new modes that are so diverse and polished that they could be considered whole new games. Although, two of them will need more content over time to live up to that idea.

These modes are:

  • Rocket Racing: a game made by Psyonix, the team behind Rocket League
  • Fortnite Festival: a rhythm game from Harmonix known for Rockband
  • Lego Fortnite: an expansive survival game with a Lego aesthetic

There’s even a possibility of Fall Guys being brought into Fortnite following a tease in the recent event and Epic’s acquisition of Mediatonic.

A lobby screen with a canyon background a Star Wars Stormtrooper caries a black fox on his back while standing next to a red and blue car with flame decals

This then feels like the beginning of Epic’s vision of a metaverse; several distinct games and experiences all in one location and crossplay between platforms with progress tied to one account. There is something quite nice about the experience of just switching between game modes depending on my mood but still getting those dopamine hits from unlocking new stuff or from being able to pick my favourite skin and take it with me, even in Lego form. Of course, your Epic friends list and the party chat etc come with you too. You and your friends could all be playing different games but then join up into a squad for battle royale, or you could bring your squad between each mode and make a night of it.

There are enough positives here that it’s easy to jump in and envision a future where this expands and improves over time. But then, what is the cost? There is something about the everything-under-one-roof approach that tickles my evil-megacorp senses. Fortnite’s monetisation is already predatory and practically responsible for alternate character skins being a thing you pick up for a laugh at a pound or two to almost essential extensions of our personality costing closer to £20. They also popularised battlepasses, a kind of stealth subscription filled with limited-time “must-haves”. Then there’s the fact this is all accessible to and marketed at children. Imagine that on an even grander scale. 

Lego versions of a Star Wars Stormtrooper and a Fortnite character with a burger for a head stand next to a Lego shack in a more realistic grassy field

And it’s already started to creep. The new rhythm mode has its own “battlepass” that costs double the standard one. There are free songs on rotation but buying one will cost you closer to £5 than the £1-2 that old Rockband tracks cost. The racing mode lets you buy functionally identical car models for around £28, with the cheaper ones being the equivalent of £10.

There’s also a sinister creep of increasing time-suck. Probably not an issue for anyone who’s not a completionist but doing “dailies” (short daily quests for decent experience rewards) on Fortnite used to take minutes. With several major new game modes, it’ll take considerably longer, ensuring you stay with the Epic/Fortnite ecosystem, and of course, it’s easy to get distracted by doing one more race/song/quest/thing.

There’s a way to experience all of this without spending a penny, but you’re an adult now. What if you do just buy the one skin from your favourite franchise? Or just pick up the battlepass one time while you try out the new content? 

This whole metaverse thing could still fall flat, but if it takes off, will it just be a fun extension to Fortnite or a scourge on the games and entertainment industries? At this point, I’m not sure, but I’m happy to play some cute Lego games with my friends in the meantime.

Platforms: Xbox Cloud Gaming, GeForce Now, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch

Developers: Epic Games, People Can Fly





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