Last night I reached Level 100 in my third consecutive Fortnite battle pass. I didn’t achieve this through a deliberate grind or setting aside time to floss my way through Tilted Towers, I just played for fun whenever the feeling struck me. So many live-service games expect you to make their daily presence a part of your personality, but Epic Games has somehow struck a cadence where even casual players like me can find fulfilment in each season without the risk of burning out. It’s generous, satisfying, and has ruined all other battle royales for me.
I first understood this when I jumped Warzone 2 this past weekend, and came to realise that doing absolutely anything in that game takes forever. Perhaps I’m just not accustomed to the formula after being away for so long, but even the act of getting into matches is a cavalcade of loading screens, lobbies, unskippable cutscenes, and a landing and looting stage which is far too long given the minimal time to kill. You can spend ages gearing up and be wiped out in seconds, and then another cutscene and period of waiting around plays out once you’re in the Gulag. Fail to run the gauntlet, and it’s back to the main menu with you. Maybe it just isn’t for me, or the Fortnite behemoth has taken over more of my being than I ever expected it to.
I return to Apex Legends with each season, if only to see the new heroes in action and see exactly how the maps and mechanics have evolved. But the crew I once ran with has long since moved on, and I’m not one for solo play in a game where team comp is vital, so I left it behind and fear how much I have to catch up on. PUBG was my first taste of the genre like so many others, and it remains fantastic, but the omnipresent dread of digging through abandoned houses in search of loot hoping a stranger doesn’t blast me to pieces with a shotgun has been replaced by goofy crossovers and an intense focus on mobile play that I just don’t care for. So many games in this genre have either moved on or sought to overcomplicate themselves in service of standing out from the crowd, and Fortnite is the only one that strikes that balance effectively. Or I’m just that much of a simp for John Cena.
My embarrassingly large skin collection aside, I think its appeal primarily comes down to progression and how often it feels like I’m being rewarded for my time. Free-to-play titles are designed for you to eventually spend money, slowing the initial pace of rewards to a crawl as your immersion rises, convincing you that now is finally the time to open up your wallet and fully commit to the ecosystem. It’s fully possible to keep playing for free, but you won’t get nearly as many goodies and the game treats you as a lesser being as a consequence. It is much easier to spend £8 or join the Fortnite crew to hop aboard the battle pass and start earning the good stuff. You get your money back from completing the whole thing, and nobody ever uses the shitty emotes and icons, it’s all about the cool skins and harvesting tools hiding amidst the premium tier. Go on, come to the dark side with me already.
Ever since the release of Chapter 2 – the date of which I’m refusing to look up because it will make me feel old – Fortnite has been unrivaled when it comes to player satisfaction. Every single thing you do results in mountains of experience points. The mere act of opening chests, gathering ammo, and outlasting your opponents will build up your level, while taking the initiative to kill in certain ways or explore specific locations will progress quests that also feed into a wider mixture of character arcs and seasonal narratives. It’s genius, and I still find it hard to believe how many ticking parts make up the entire package without it all falling to pieces. It’s a tonal nightmare filled with an unimaginable mixture of characters and influences, but the core idea of Fortnite shines through it all. You don’t need to understand what is happening, and it’s so damn fun it hardly matters anyway. Epic Games has somehow turned the obscene amounts of money it has spent on licenses into a halfway compelling yarn – Lady Gaga could be a primary antagonist and unlockable skin in the next season and I wouldn’t bat an eye.
That’s just what Fortnite does, and there’s a solid chance she’d be flanked by Mr Beast and Ed Miliband as the trio prepare to take on the world. Comparatively, I’m not sure any other battle royale out there could ever replicate its unparalleled mixture of mechanical density and abject surrealism. Nobody else has the money, talent, or platform to make it work, all because Fortnite has spent the past several years crafting a metaverse that puts all its rivals to shame. It sounds like I’ve been inducted into a cult, but it’s a really cool cult I promise.
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