For a little while it seemed as if Fortnite had lost some of its luster. Following the impressive black hole event that kicked off a new chapter for the game last September, the pace of change slowed significantly, while many of Fortnite’s top players expressed frustration with the lagging competitive scene. Meanwhile, other games — most notably Riot’s new team shooter Valorant and Call of Duty’s battle royale competitor Warzone — filled the void and began dominating platforms like Twitch.
But Fortnite never stays quiet for long. Over the past few weeks, Epic has released a number of updates focusing on what makes Fortnite so great — and most of it has little to do with being a battle royale shooter.
First there was the Travis Scott music tour, which featured five in-game events over the course of several days. It was psychedelic and surreal and proved extremely popular; upward of 27 million players joined the experience, including more than 12 million during the first virtual concert. Notably, the event was completely free of violence. As soon as the music started and a giant Travis Scott began stomping around Fortnite’s island, the guns disappeared and all players could do was run around and enjoy the spectacle.
Not long after, Epic introduced a brand-new space in the game called party royale. It takes place on a smaller island, one completely free of the two main activities in the battle royale mode: shooting and building. Instead, it’s meant to be a relaxed environment where you can hang out with friends. There’s an outdoor movie theater and a club with towering holographic dancers, alongside race courses and other points of interest like a pirate ship and soccer field. Epic describes it as an “evolving space,” so we’ll likely see more activities and events added in the future.
Both of these updates point to Fortnite’s likely future. While the game became a phenomenon based on its winner-takes-all battle royale mode, that was also a game mode riding an industry wave that has, over time, felt like a limiting factor for Fortnite’s ambitions. Much has been made of how the game is really a new, immersive social network and the closest thing we have right now to a metaverse. But the combative nature often got in the way of that. Just think back to the first major in-game event, a rocket launch in 2018, that many players missed because their avatars were murdered.
Epic has mostly fixed its approach to in-game collective entertainment since then. You can no longer die during a big event, and over the years, those in-game spectacles have become even more ambitious. Still, when you’re doing things like watching J.J. Abrams introduce a new Star Wars clip, it’s clear the battle royale mode was never built with this in mind. It was very jarring to finish watching Travis Scott only to be immediately dropped into a bloodbath.
Party royale feels like an answer to this problem. The social events and the competitive side of Fortnite have always felt at odds, but now they have their own distinct spaces. One is a battleground, the other a playground. They complement each other. It’s not hard to envision movies or TV shows debuting at the party royale theater or big-name acts stopping by the club for virtual concerts. The mode also gives Epic more room to try new things, as changes to party royale won’t have any bearing on the competitive Fortnite scene. (And that scene can be very vocal with complaints.)
Of course, all of this depends on whether the new area takes off. Epic says it’s still an experiment, and it’s unclear how long-lasting it might be. Other similar initiatives, like Fortnite’s Minecraft-inspired creative mode, haven’t quite taken off the way many expected. One of the reasons these large-scale events take place inside of the battle royale mode, despite some awkwardness, is that it’s massively popular and still the dominant reason so many people log into the game each and every day. You go where the people are.
But whether it’s successful or not, party royale shows that Epic understands what Fortnite has become and is trying to evolve the experience to match. Often the best parts of the game aren’t really a game at all — soon shooting could be the least important part of Fortnite altogether.