Fortnite Is Better Than Overwatch At Telling An Evolving Story

Cracks in the sky. Rifts on the ground. Fake burger-restaurant mascots in real deserts. All eyes are on Fortnite’s map right now, and with good reason: It’s the main character of a story that could go just about anywhere.

Fortnite’s battle royale mode barely has a story in the traditional sense. Little is known about the broader context of the game’s candy-coloured murder purgatory; players drop in, drop each other, drop out. But over the course of the game’s last few seasons, developer Epic has revealed the faintest outline of a plot, and despite the lack of a core cast of characters or easily identifiable arcs, it’s made people care.

It’s accomplished this by tying nearly every major beat to the map, meaning that each story event comes with earth-shattering consequences.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this approach to multiplayer storytelling in contrast to that of Overwatch, a game I’ve been addicted to since its release in 2016. Overwatch grafts a much more traditional narrative onto an endless series of battles that aren’t so royale. The game surrounds its 6v6 payload push-offs with vibrant characters, decades-spanning lore, limited-time PVE events, in-game mysteries, CG videos, comics, and more.

It’s a lot. Players clearly care about Overwatch’s world, too, as enough fan fiction and fan art to fill hundreds of ancient Grecian libraries will attest.

Unlike Fortnite, though, Overwatch’s story lacks a focal point. If you ask any given Overwatch player what’s happening right now in the game’s present-day timeline, I’m willing to wager that they’d shrug and, at best, be able to offer up the backstories of a few of their favourite heroes.

In-game story events, meanwhile, have been focused on building out backstory even more, but in a largely disconnected fashion that’s difficult to tie into a larger arc unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool lore nerd.

Earlier this year, for example, the Retribution event followed Reaper, McCree, Moira, and Genji through an ordeal in Overwatch’s past that we’ve been told—not shown—is pivotal. Then we jumped back to the present and got a new hero entirely unrelated to that event, Hammond.

I’ve spoken to friends who took a break from the game for only a few months, and that was enough to set their heads spinning. Blizzard promises that Overwatch’s storyline will start cohering and moving forward soon, but it’s already been two years.

The aforementioned reams of fan fiction and fan art, while surely a sign of Overwatch’s success, also strike me as an attempt at making sense of it all, deriving order from chaos. Overwatch’s world and story aren’t even that complicated: there’s just a bunch happening, and in-game events ping-pong between timelines, making it difficult for the game’s whole player base to get invested in any one thing.

Fortnite’s story, on the other hand, is all focal point.

Events like last season’s meteor and this season’s rift-a-palooza are steeped in mystery. That might result in a similar confusion if that’s all that was happening, but in Fortnite they’re tied to a concrete end result: map changes. Fortnite has just one map, and over the course of thousands of battles royale (the correct plural; don’t @ me), players have become intimately familiar with it.

The rift event, especially, has taken advantage of that, sucking up signs, mascots, and other beloved landmarks one by one to the point that players have been holding in-game ceremonies to mourn them.

Without a doubt, this event is more complicated than the last one—there have been super villains, a missile countdown, and an ARG to accompany the map changes—but the map ties it all together.

Epic’s approach here is especially notable because while plenty of multiplayer games change their maps, they treat it as a weirdly humdrum thing. Usually, there’s hardly any pomp or circumstance at all—just a quick scribble in the patch notes that an object or path has been moved for balance purposes. That’s so boring! And it underestimates the value of changing a place over time, a failing that’s woefully common in video games.

In a game like Fortnite, the map is home. If you mess with somebody’s home, you’d better believe they’ll give a shit about it.

Lastly, there’s the temporal element. Fortnite’s meteor kicked off the previous season, but now it’s in the past. The missile launch signalled the beginning of the current event, but the only way players could see it was if they logged on at a certain time.

If the missile just cracked the sky and that was it, you could accuse Epic of manufacturing hype instead of actually trying to do something interesting. But the rifts and ensuing ARG suggest that Epic’s got plenty more cooking. Will the payoff be satisfying? It’s impossible to say. But so far, it’s been a hugely entertaining ride.

At this point, I’m actually still more attached to Overwatch’s world and characters, but I think Fortnite is telling a much more effective video game story, one that seems perfectly crafted around this era of constantly-updating games.

In some small ways, like the tiny, varied conversations between characters before matches start, Overwatch leverages the fact that it’s a game people play over and over and over. But it’s mostly been disappointingly clumsy on that front.

Put another way, the Bastion and Mei CG videos were ten times more affecting than anything that’s happened in-game. Fortnite, by narrowing its focus and telling a story that leverages constant updates that come part and parcel with multiplayer games in the year 2018, has got a huge chunk of its player base on the edge of their seats. I think everybody can learn from that.


Comments

    Fornite deserve some applause for what they do but storytelling is not one of them, especially when compared to Overwatch. Even if they were on the same plane. There is no 'story' to Fornite just events.

      yeah just that one clip "dragons" from overwatch about the story between Hanzo and Genji blows anything past, present in fortnite.

    Lol, look at this guy right here. 'Fortnite's better than Overwatch at telling a story', 'We've got a rocket and parallel dimensions', 'Greatest. Story. Ever.'...
    Jesus, rook... You'd have thought Fortnite invented ARGs. Is this the world we live in now? Fortnite wins a Hugo Nebula Award? Fortnite rethinks human condition, propels humanity into philosophical utopia?
    Overwatch's animated shorts and rich, complicated backstory eat this garbage for BREAKFAST, and then spits it out, because it tastes like GARBAGE.
    Talk to me when you're deeper than 'things disappear and reappear in the real world', ya hump.
    Love your work, Nathan.

      To be fair, he does have a point. Overwatch doesn't really have much in the way of in-game story, bar the yearly Overwatch Archives event, and so far it's like every other scrap of Overwatch Lore - backstory. Every other bit of in-game story is the short voice lines played in the 60 seconds before a match while everyone's running around, smashing things up.

      I don't play Fortnight, but maybe it's just my longing for Overwatch's story to move forward that has me in some agreement with the writer, at least in the regards that Overwatch is lacking.

      It would be having a book that the first chapter took place with an army, poised to fight at a battle, then spent the rest of the book going into the backstory of the main key fighters...without telling the story of the fight itself.

        I see frustrations in your comments... which i somewhat agree. I also wish Overwatch would hurry up and deliver more of the story..

        But, the one thing you are missing is experience with fortnight.. Go download it and play it, its free to play..

        If the story in overwatch is having a book that the first chapter took place with an army, poised to fight at a battle, then spent the rest of the book going into the backstory of the main key fighters...without telling the story of the fight itself.

        Then story in Fortnight is like having a book, having its hard cover all cracked and lollipops and gum stuck to it. And when you open it up, there are no pages.

          ... Then story in Fortnight is like having a book, having its hard cover all cracked and lollipops and gum stuck to it. And when you open it up, there are no pages.

          ... also, it turns out its a trash can.

        It's a pretty weak point, because you're basically saying 'nothing outside of the game counts as the game's story', which is abitrary. Blizzard have pushed the boundaries of canonical story-telling by presenting their story across a wide variety of mediums - archive notes, in game missions, origin animations, and high quality CG set pieces. I rewatched all the OW animated shorts with a friend a few months ago. All-up it took us about an hour and a half, so basically the length of a short movie. And that's not counting the origin videos and other extras. That's an insane amount of work! And you're willing to discount it because... it's not in the game?
        The hamburger in desert isn't in the game. Are we counting that?
        As someone else pointed out, Fortnite doesn't really have 'story', it has events. 'Stuff happening, which rolls into other stuff happening' is not a story. It's cool, sure. It's fun experientially. But in terms of story depth, it is about ankle deep.
        But I'm pretty sure the author knows all this and really only wrote this story to trigger OW nerds like me into clickbaiting. Mission accomplished.

          Blizzard have pushed the boundaries of canonical story-telling by presenting their story across a wide variety of mediums - archive notes, in game missions, origin animations, and high quality CG set pieces.

          TF2 has done all of that, years earlier. Only they didn't just delve into the characters backstories, but rather pushed forward, which is the point I'm unhappy with.

          We've seen a great short on Bastion, seen a comic that he and Torbjorn met each other before the Overwatch recall. What happened since? We've seen absolutely nothing about what's happened since Winston hit the recall, other than Brigette arguing with Reinheardt that he doesn't have to go and...that's really been it. I, and many others, wnat to know what happens next, not just what happened.

            I understand that you want something different than what has been offered, but that's not the same thing as bad storytelling. That's just you wanting something different. It's not like we know the origin stories - they make great standalone vignettes that gradually expand the lore of the OW canon. I enjoy them personally. However, just to be clear, more than a few of the OW shorts tell current OW stories. Sombra's short was set in the present, Reinhardt's was set on in the present with flashbacks and teased Brigetta (sp?), all 5 of the original cinematics were present. That's more than half of the total.
            You want character development. Great. I get that. I want that too. But that's what Blizzard wants us to want. That is the test of great story-telling - do you want to know what happens next. Now, there is a tipping point where teasing is not enough (see Lost or The X-Files). Where you need some jam today instead of jam tomorrow. I am not there yet with OW. Honestly, I feel like they are building towards something big, and hoping it's a feature length movie.
            There may come a time when I don't feel this way anymore. But not yet.
            And I feel like the TF2 comparison isn't really relevant? Sure, TF2 had shorts, but they were pretty cartoony and light on the world-building. Yes, there are similarities between OW and TF2, and most hero shooters. Does that really have an impact on the story OW is telling? Those OW cinematic shorts are works of art, worthy of Pixar. IMO, at least. :)

              Honestly, I feel like they are building towards something big, and hoping it's a feature length movie.

              After their experiences with the Warcraft movie, I doubt it.

                Yeah... that was all kinds of badness...
                What can I say? I'm a dreamer. ;P

    Fornite changes things regularly enough for it to generate a bit of chit chat, alter the map, and justify some new skins. But let's not go calling it a story. It's really not. You create your own stories in these games, via the game play - that's why people keep turning up.

    What story? lol...

    Who is the main character?... who am i supposed to relate to?.. Where is the narrative..?

      I dunno, hearing about "BilboTeaBagginz" dabbing while riding a rocket into a wall of trolleys is pretty compelling...

    Fortnite is the video game equivalent of fast food. modify a few skins and adding a few bite sized morsels of an event does not make it a good story. sorry not sorry.

    With frequent cosmetic or map updates I'd say it's more like click-bait instead of an engrossing story.

    This article reads like a forrnite fanboy attempting to defend his game by attacking others. Fortnite has no story. It's just shooty shooty bang bang.

    Overwatch the game basically has no story.
    If you compare it to TF2, which has essentially the same treatment (comics, short films and explanations for new content) it pales, simply because it doesn't make any sense.
    Not to imply TF2 is perfect (respawning isn't explained, clones aren't explained (on one team and both)) but at the very least there's an explanation why these 9 chumps are working together. It's a job!
    But why are Widowmaker and Tracer on the same team? Why is Moira on a team with her enemies, working against her fellow Talon-members? Why are Zenyatta and Orisa pushing an EM bomb to destroy all the robots in Dorado?

    I don't think Overwatch the game NEEDS a story. It does perfectly fine being a multiplayer game with story relegated to comics and movies. Note I'm not saying it should just throw shit to the wall and give us rainbow unicorn levels; using the backstory as guidelines for new characters and maps is pretty important.

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