Fortnite has suddenly returned to its long-lost original map for a month-long mini-season fueled by nostalgia, and its sudden rise in popularity has exceeded everyone’s expectations. It’s the best time for Epic Games’ ever-changing battle – even by Fortnite’s stratospheric levels – and yet I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness that this is the version of Fortnite that all 44 million players picked up on Saturday.
The game’s first map is a special place, home to multiplayer memories and a series of fun and memorable live events, the popularity of which has not really been higher since then. But it was also a very basic and terrible game – a soft but progressive creation called “Early Access” and built on top of Epic Games’ quick take on the original PVE zombie shooter Fortnite.
Seeing this version of Fortnite explode now is bright for the future of the game that I play the most every day – Epic itself is starting to grow in popularity again after the peaks of the closed period (and has been since. very difficult to play on mobile). But the fact remains that this is a version of the game, which, nostalgia aside, lacks many of the features and functionality of Epic built on these foundations. And it presents something of a dilemma for Epic, as it must now navigate how it will deal with the tens of millions who came to play Fortnite OG after the end of this month.
Fortnite OG makes small concessions to new players by keeping the game running and running tight (this came several years after the original map had already been put into the black hole). There are also zip lines to cater for Zero Build players who can’t access other high-level areas. But there’s no swimming, no cars, no vaults and keys, no game augments, no friendly AI characters to hire or bosses to defeat. The map’s wide open spaces and its basic loot pool provide a history lesson in game design. And as nice as it is to see the original Island with ray tracing, there’s no escaping that it looks like a game from 2017, rather than one built from scratch in Unreal Engine 5. (Will we ever see the Unreal Engine 5-powered map that was there last week again? It looks impossible, and I’ll miss the lush rainforests and warm autumn landscapes. Its replacement in the zero edition was probably designed to avoid confusing new players or long-lost returnees, but it ended up surprisingly. .)
More importantly, am I enjoying Fortnite OG now? Well…it’s definitely a trip. I can’t remember another game that has turned back the clock so dramatically (or where this has been requested so much by players). An interesting exploration, but where its rough edges are just that – however it is lovely to walk in the real places of the Island as well. I find myself counting down the days until today’s Fortnite returns – and wondering what will happen when it does.
With 44 million players to experience the game’s original map, will Epic really return its creation to the black hole of history again? Or could the first Fortnite island be offered as a separate mode, alongside the game’s new fifth island, which is widely expected in early December? Offering both seems like an easy solution to keep everyone happy, but I wonder if Epic might be afraid to diverge from its focus – that most might stick with their original Island rather than jump to the shiny new map they’ve worked so hard to create. Indeed, Epic has resisted any urge to provide more Island maps in the past (and prevented fans from recreating them using the game’s creative toolset).
It’s been a bit of a mixed year for Fortnite as a whole, after the game rebooted its map last December in favor of its new Unreal Engine 5 showcase, but with the lack of any live event or real narrative going forward since then. This summer saw the departure of the game’s fan-favorite creative director Donald Mustard, and there is a sense among gamers that we have yet to see what exactly comes next. Perhaps the arrival of Fortnite OG is now meant to serve as something of a creative reboot – a moment to acknowledge the past but come out with a new Chapter 2, rather than Chapter 5.
Six years in, I’m willing to give Fortnite the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Epic Games planned for this exact problem, and this mini-season is a very clever focus test of the OG map being kept as an alternative play option. (It’s worth remembering the addition of Zero Build wasn’t initially guaranteed to be permanent.) If nothing else, this is all Fortnite at its extreme: a chameleonic and ever-changing creation that seeks to maintain popularity by continually defying expectations. The worst thing about Fortnite, I’ve always felt, is that it gets boring. Whatever happens next, we’re a long way from that.