Here we are. The End was literally the end for many aspects of Fortnite, but mainly we bade a fond farewell to a map we’ve grown to love, hate and know like the back of our hands. Chapter 2 is here, we’re back to season one, and everything has changed. Well, not quite everything, as it turns out, but still: a fresh start.
It’s at moments like this that I wish the island of Fortnite had a proper name. As it stands, players call it ‘the Map’ or simply ‘the Island’. Whichever you choose the area has evolved greatly since those early days when Battle Royales seemed almost a passing phase. Ten seasons since inception, while the battle between ‘Cattus’ and ‘Doggus’ didn’t quite destroy the map as some thought it might, we've seen many changes. The differences between the season one island and what we see today are huge: let’s take a quick look at both before diving into the details.
The most noticeable difference is how green everything was was in season one. The map was downright lush with grass and trees. The only build-up of materials other than wood was in the housing and shopping districts such as Pleasant Park, Greasy Grove and Retail Row. It was much tougher to find sources of stone and metal back then: Tilted Towers was only an idea at this point. The quest for high ground came from either player made structures or the hilly areas west of the river.
Of course, as players adapted to the game and Epic learned what the standout tactics were, the map had to evolve. In the first four months, the player base jumped from around 1 million active players to 35 million, forcing Epic to think differently about how to approach the design of the map.
Fortnite meta dictated that many games were ending in close combat fights, nearly always with shotguns, and players were eager to see more built-up locations. With season two, the greenery didn’t fade away, but it receded in certain areas to make way for buildings and new favourites: Tilted Towers, Snobby Shores and Lucky Landing appeared. But season two didn’t only bring about buildings, which rewarded us with more robust materials. The topography itself began to change.
More money was pouring into the Epic bank account as Fortnite's success grew, and the team working on the game began both expanding the map's possibilities and focuing on details. Even from above, we can see how the areas started to form biomes early in the process. More colour was leaking into the game – Moisty Mire became a swampy area that was darker than elsewhere, whereas Anarchy Acres started to feel more arid.
It was at this point we all started to realise that the biggest character of Fortnite would be the map itself. While the changes are subtle and seem to only add definition, players were starting to see personality being drip-fed from the developers.
However, season three arrived and little on the map actually changed despite the player count more than doubling. Everything seemed to be slowing down: it was the eye of the storm or the calm before it at least. There were rumblings in forums and message boards across the internet that a big change was coming.
Seasons began having ‘themes’ and season three looked to space, but one particular section of space where something lurked. Change was more definitively delivered through the new concept of in-game events, with a meteor smashing into Dusty Depot to begin a trend in overhauling locations to keep the game fresh.
Part of the appeal of Fortnite came from these changes, certainly for me. Players were no longer faced with the same map for months on end. As the meteor obliterated Dusty Depot, creating Dusty Divot, it forced players to think differently. Not only that, it gave players a reason to keep coming back – we wanted to see what had changed. For months, people had been dropping from the Battle Bus at their favourite destinations, learning the nuances of the area. If you were used to exploring the Depot, now you would find an enormous crater filled with ‘Hop Rocks.’
This all happened well before competitive Fortnite really took hold, but with the benefit of hindsight we can see how Epic were literally changing the playing field. It was clear that the area of battle was just as important, if not more so, than the weapons which were introduced or tweaked.
As season four opened, it wasn’t just Dusty Depot that received a new look; new locations had sprung up, giving players more options. Chunks of the meteor had broken off to strike Tilted Towers and the prison, which didn’t overly change tactics, but showed that things would never be the same again. The designers began to see the island as a vast group of smaller maps. In fact, if you look at the map for season four, you can break it down into sections.
Over in the West you could find a more densely populated area, built up with trees and hills, favouring players who prefer things up-close and personal. This idea of creating lots of pockets in which to hide felt reminiscent of natural landscapes created for FPS games, and this contrasts successful playstyles found on the Eastern side of the map, where things are a bit more open and force players to rely on building skills over design-led construction.
This balance could be seen in player behaviour, as fear of being sniped pushes you to create a base, whereas in places like Tilted, you could dive into a pre-built storefront. With this the North and South became a little sparse, due to lacking in locations or points of interest (POI).
The events that would soon take place within season four, themed on Superheroes, may have neglected the ‘poles’ of the map, but they brought the idea of lore to the front. Now the designers began looking at smaller details in order to pull players to oft-overlooked parts of the map. Risky Reels for example appeared in the first week of May 2018, reflecting the film sets which were popping up in Moisty Mire.
It was here that Epic began making more cosmetic changes with regularity. Over the weeks following the meteor crash, dump trucks were found hauling debris, a bunker was constructed in Wailing Woods and a Villain Lair was added to Snobby Shores. Most importantly to the ‘lore’, but also for news coverage of the game, this lair featured a rocket ship, which would become the game’s biggest talking point and bring in the largest shift in tactics from players.
It was in the week of June 25 – July 1 when players were greeted with a 72-hour countdown and all eyes turned to the rocket ship. On June 27 people began to hear a wailing noise emanating from the Villain Lair and suddenly it seemed that everyone was looking towards Fortnite.
The game was already a huge success but now the developers seemed to be doing something new, something which would pull together players to emulate a filmic spectacle. The rocket launched on June 30 with millions of players logging in to watch: the spectacle made history. but what followed changed the way games would be delivered to players and the idea of a ‘service game’ was truly born.
As the rocket smashed its way around the map, cracking the sky and destroying scenery, we began to wonder how it would affect gameplay. The introduction of Rifts was huge, for every kind of player from casual to competitive.
The meteor brought Hop Rocks, which gave players low gravity jumps for a short period, while the rifts could mean completely disengaging from a fight or using them to strategically redeploy. They changed everything, from how you could rotate behind players to escaping the storm as it closed in. Small rifts on the ground meant that players could appear from the sky as they would at the start of a match, effectively giving them a fresh entry point to the fight.
And all of this wasn’t caused by a new weapon or game mode: but through clever redesigns of the map, which had a knock-on effect to the mechanics. Suddenly we were playing both with and against the island itself.
These new rifts were not just gameplay changes, but crucial story points for the developers to have free reign over future tweaks. It gave them an almost canonical reason to entirely change the landscape. When ‘Worlds Collided’ in season five the Fortnite meta became very meta indeed. In fact, the idea was that these rifts were opening portals to other worlds, leaning very heavily into the sci-fi/fantasy slant the lore was hinting at.
Parts of our real world were ending up in Fortnite and props from the game were found here too – like the Durr burger which appeared in the California desert. This gave Epic the chance to wipe out the little-explored Moisty Mire in exchange for a more attractive area, in Paradise Palms.
And attractive it was! This was the first time a completely new biome was introduced to the game: sand. There was sand, and a holiday destination which was rich in materials and chests. So rich in loot, that it has become a staple area for many pro players to drop. This was the equivalent of releasing a new map in an FPS.
No small POI to visit, Paradise revitalised the South-East corner of the island. The multi-storey hotel offered tight corridor shooting and the ability to farm materials quickly, while also offering a great sniping position. The valleys, while not attractive, forced players to consider new angles whenever the safe zone settled here.
Looking to the North, Anarchy Acres had also found a new lease of life, bringing with it yet another gamechanger: vehicles. PUBG had had vehicles for a while and players had begun politely nudging Epic to add something similar to Fortnite. Of course, Fortnite is as far removed from reality as possible, so it couldn’t be a car or jeep and the Gol Cart – AKA All Terrain Kart (ATK) – was introduced.
Much like the rifts which dictated new play from a map change, the introduction of Lazy Links golf course did the same. These new Karts could fit a full squad, allowing retreat or a swift redeploy. While Epic could have just given players a vehicle, they made the smart move of implementing it through map and lore changes, thereby bringing about a new way of delivering content updates. Now players were acting as scavengers, hunting for any clue which might be found on the map hinting at what would come next.
The hunt wouldn’t be so intense as the rift which scarred the sky above the island began to shrink, spitting out lightning at seemingly random intervals and, on August 24, the largest strike of all left behind a large purple cube. Whether the team at Epic had a proper name for the cube internally or not, the community affectionately called this purple cube Kevin – which caught on at Epic HQ.
And Kevin was moving, rolling slowly across the map, leaving large runes burned into the ground and lighting up its surface with more runic symbols. It took a whole month for Kevin to reach his final destination, Loot Lake. It was clear that another change was coming, but even the month leading up to Kevin finding his home, he was altering gameplay.
Players had attempted to work out what Kevin was as he moved through the island. Some shot at it, others dropped nearby and tried to land on him. Both would find that Kevin was bouncy – hinting at his final actions – and we also found that standing nearby would replenish your shields for two points per second.
Again, Epic were using a forced element to urge players to move around the map. They were practically leading us by the hand because so many people logged in to watch Kevin: it’s subtle, but they slowly shifted focus using the map itself. Inevitably Kevin had to stop moving and the finale brought everyone to Loot Lake as it became one huge bouncy jelly.
The playful bouncy lake wouldn’t last long, and Halloween was almost upon us. So, with the opening of season six, Loot Lake became the focal point of the theme ‘darkness rises’ (along with the rune patches left behind by Kevin). These areas became ‘corrupted,’ spawning baby cubes across the map, dubbed Shadow Stones.
Much like the earlier Hop Rocks which only hung around for one season, Shadow Stones were vaulted in season seven, but before then they offered an early version of the Shadow Bomb we see today. Though the Shadow Stones' effect of invisibility lasted a great deal longer than their newer counterpart at 45 seconds.
At this point, it was clear that Epic wouldn’t randomly drop new items which altered mechanics without the map dictating it. And everyone, from the gaming press to newcomers, were scrutinising every decision. The map updates were no longer rolled out just on the change of the season, but weekly, which further fed the idea of Fortnite being a ‘service game’ which must be played frequently.
Each week the patches which tweaked guns and items brought in new buildings, decorations and places to fight. Season six alone had floating islands, a new castle in Haunted Hills, it converted the soccer stadium into a race track, Fatal Fields became a Halloween theme park featuring a corn maze and Durr Burger and Uncle Pete’s Pizza battled for customers. And while all this happened, Epic quietly dropped another vehicle – a pretty game-breaking vehicle – into the game.
As the Runic wastelands faded, one thing was still lacking on the Battle Royale island though. Snow. Or at least an area which reflected a colder biome and, as Halloween ended with that Autumnal vibe, Winter wasn’t far behind. As season six began to wind down and players wondered whether Epic would take notice that winter was a-coming, a cloud was forming on the South-West horizon. That cloud soon turned out to be an iceberg instead and inside of that, was a castle and inside that, like a Fortnite Matryoshka, was a new menace.
By this point, player numbers were huge. Over 200 million people were actively signing in and playing Fortnite and to welcome them, Epic decided to crash that iceberg into the coast of the island, destroying Flush Factory again revitalising an often-overlooked area. The advent of winter brought perhaps the biggest update so far, not only freezing over a quarter of the map but introducing a new trap in the Ice Trap and another vehicle - the Driftboard, which operated much like the Quadcrasher.
Epic began to treat players as explorers, with each person becoming a part of the lore itself. Research stations began popping up creating zip-lines allowing for faster point-to-point movement. It’s probably safe to say that this season was also the most experimental as players started looking elsewhere at rival Battle Royale Apex Legends; which, coincidentally had zip-lines.
This experimental phase was not positively received by most and some consider season seven to be the weakest. While the expansion of a new biome was welcomed, map updates brought in new mechanics which alienated professional players and were considered gimmicks by others.
In the first week of December, Risky Reels made way for an airstrip and the controversial X-4 Stormwing made its appearance. These new mechanics of flight and ice completely changed the game. The former pretty much eliminated build battles as players could swoop in to thirdparty a fight, and the latter only made for fun in the new Creative mode.
The whole of the South-West was overhauled. New Points of Interest appeared – Frosty Flights, Happy Hamlet and Polar Peak – while shadows of older seasons were seen crumbling away. The fact that Epic subtly adjusted buildings and props dotted around, stamped their intent on The Island being a living world. We’d seen how big events changed everything, but in the now very regular patches we began to see quirks which reflected the way the community interacted. It was clear that Epic were listening to concerns, but also taking part in their own meta.
The pressure on Epic to constantly deliver carried on creeping upward. Now it seemed that the need to push the map into evolving was forcing the team to bring in mechanics that didn’t quite match the mission statement of Fortnite. Of course, Fortnite had to reflect the seasons, so ice and snow made sense from a visual perspective and, once Christmas was out of the way, Epic could move on to try new things again.
On February 28, 2019 season eight was beginning and another ‘corner’ of the map was renovated. The North-East was now greener than ever, with a jungle sprouting around the key feature of this season – a volcano. As Winter ended, Spring was arriving, and pirates came along too. Lazy Links became Lazy Lagoon and it had a pirate ship at its dock, complete with cannons. It was these cannons that could propel players huge distances, smashing through structures as they barrelled through the air. March 12th came around and the next major update rolled out, quite literally – The Baller.
The Baller was a game-changer and, while it wasn’t tied to the lore in the same way as Driftboards or the ATK, it completely changed how competitive games would be played. Not only did The Baller shield the player inside, but it was fast, and offered huge movement potential. Tournament games, particularly the first few weeks of the World Cup, were dominated by the new vehicle. Aside from these spherical contraptions appearing, there was also a helicopter circling the island. The focus would soon be back on Loot Lake.
As the helicopter settled at the Lake, excavators weren’t far behind and, as each day passed, they dug away at the island terraforming it completely. It seemed everything was changing: the lava was slowly creeping south, volcanic air vents burst open offering players a chance to redeploy, and once again Epic ushered in new mechanics under the guide of environmental impact. With every small addition of a vehicle or a hole, players had to adapt, and the developers were managing to keep things fresh.
It couldn’t be denied that there was a solid strand of story flowing through Fortnite, even if Epic didn’t address it directly. Shadowy corporations moved invisibly amongst players seemingly causing the chaos we saw each day. Maybe they were involved with the eggs that appeared after the winter thaw?
Speculation swept forums and message boards with some players wondering what would happen next and others feeding the collective consciousness with video clips, screenshots and ideas. From one edge of the map to another, the changes kept coming and weren’t abating. The volcano was about to erupt from players chucking in items and ammo, while over at Polar Peak the ice was cracking, and something was watching.
As the season came to a close, the recently rebuilt Tilted Towers was destroyed once again, leaving behind only the insurance company “No Sweat Insurance.” The lava and destruction also took away Retail Row and the spewing ash cloud transformed the entire style and lighting of the island as Epic would once again reveal a huge change.
A power had been laying dormant beneath the map, a power which gave the team at a chance to link new Limited Time Matches to the lore and give us a taste of time-hopping in the spotlight.
Season nine, and the pirates have left, but so have the shadowy corporations which seemed to be controlling the destruction of the island. Tilted Towers was now Neo Tilted, Mega Mall stood where Retail Row once was and the volcano became Pressure Plant. The three new areas heightened the idea that each POI was being treated in the same way new maps would be released for an FPS.
Neo Tilted, for example, was completely different to its predecessor and they brought in the futuristic Slip Streams. As players zoomed around the map in these new tunnels of wind, eyes returned to Polar Peak because it was cracking and emitting a strange noise. The cracks revealed an eye… and it was looking at us.
The World Cup rounds were still steadily ticking away; players so used to using Rifts found themselves without the portable version for round rotations. Epic would have been forgiven for switching focus to the upcoming finals in New York and leaving players to simply explore the map. But they didn’t slow down at all.
The ice was cracking, castles were appearing – holding Infinity Blades for a new LTM – the eye disappeared, footprints were found and now there was a monster loose, destroying chunks of the island when us players weren’t fighting. Only one thing could stop the monster who travelled here way back in season seven: a giant mech, obviously.
All this time, over the past six months, around all the events and POI updates; grass was growing, buildings received new roofs, quirky props appeared suddenly and vanished equally fast. While 80 per cent of the gaming world was watching the robot being built, others were discovering Stone statues, telescopes, mini-games, giant ducks and the ever evolving ‘BLOCK.’
The island wasn’t just home to vast updates, but also tiny ones which never truly impacted the way people played but added character and charm to the scenes around them. Each prop, tree and new building was a puzzle piece in an ever-evolving jigsaw.
The Ice Monster fought the Mech, and lost spectacularly after taking a sword to the skull. The fight itself chipped away at aspects of the map, tweaking yet more areas. Epic were using these big set-pieces to constantly change and evolve the map, taking immersive and environmental storytelling to a new level.
We as players are used to devs introducing new maps or changing the look of the world we inhabit, but not on such a scale or at this pace, though some may argue rightfully that MMOs have been doing similar for years. But this is revolutionary for shooters and has transformed the Battle Royale genre, which was already pretty new, into a new breed of service game.
While we explored the new time rifts which are bringing back old POIs and turning places like Tilted into a location where building and breaking are prohibited, the minds at Epic were busy planning their biggest shake-up yet. Everything in Fortnite is tied to the map, or the island, whatever you want to call it.
It has become a living, breathing character more important than anything else seen within the game. Epic could have brought in new weapons, the rifts, slip-streams and Ballers without those aesthetic changes, but they would have carried less weight. It’s the personality that leaks through in the updates which pushes players to come back each day, as well as the tight mechanics.
The End came and Epic left us staring at a black hole. Everything had gone; everything was sucked into a black hole – including the menus – as The Visitor reset the universe and corrected the Zero Point. Beyond the black hole is a whole new map – one that players will be exploring for weeks to come. Who knows how this one will evolve, but judging on the past two years, it’s going to be a great ride!
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour from the British isles.