Fortnite had to do away with all its crossovers to find its fun

Fortnite had to do away with all its crossovers to find its fun

To know Fortnite is to experience the absolute fever dream and a mishmash of assorted media that comprise it. The current season, Chapter 5 Season 3, takes war vehicles that look straight out of a Mad Max movie, combines those with items from the Fallout games, and then adds in a heavy dose of inspiration from the band Metallica, of all things.

For so long, the battle royale mode of Fortnite has appeared to be a bottomless pit of collaborations that brought significant gameplay changes along with them. The developers have taken away building, then brought it back. They transformed the map back into a classic version (called Fortnite OG) last fall, and then quite literally exploded it and launched a new map. In the past six months alone, you could play as Greek gods or wield the power of the elements from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Seemingly no addition could be too much or too over the top for Fortnite. The game’s appeal lies at least in part in the sheer absurdity and excessiveness of it all. But now, the new Reload mode that launched on June 22 takes one big step away from that mindset.

Instead of leaning into gimmicks, Reload strips the game of any fancy tricks and speeds up gameplay elements from the classic Fortnite Battle Royale mode. Instead of 100 people, each lobby contains 40 people, and the mode features a condensed map and faster gliding, which speeds up the game a ton. The developers have littered the map with chests so players will be up and fighting in no time. Last — but certainly not least — Reload adds a feature where players automatically respawn in the earlier parts of the game so long as one of their team members remains alive. So now you don’t need to wait for your teammates to reboot you, and the average time spent playing is much higher.

An image of a character in Fortnite Reload shooting an enemy player. Another player next to him stands inside a shield bubble. Image: Epic Games

From the outside, it seems like a way to appeal to the players who just want a good old classic battle royale shooter with fewer of the frills that come with each season. Players don’t have to worry about anyone getting away with the Metallica-inspired Ride the Lightning item — which allows players to zip across the map in a matter of seconds — or mess around with any players focused on pulverizing enemies from the relative safety of a tricked-out Mad Max-esque war vehicle. Most of the time spent in Reload revolves around looting, maintaining health, and then — of course — fighting, since competitors keep respawning. The communities online that form active parts of the competitive community have already voiced their appreciation of the mode.

The developers behind Fortnite find themselves in a powerful but strained position in 2024. According to Newzoo, a firm specializing in video game data, Fortnite had the highest number of monthly game users across PC and console in May. In an interview with The Verge, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney said that the company doesn’t just want to “hang on” to its 70 million monthly active users, but to continue to “grow by welcoming creators, bringing in new genres of games and new ways to engage that go beyond the battle royale experience.”

As it gains more users, the game’s development team must continue to appeal to an ever-widening audience of players. In my day-to-day life, I’ll play the game both with other competitive players who want to work our way up the ladder, and with my 10-year-old cousins who might struggle with basic aim and controller skills.

A still from a trailer for Fortnite Reload. It shows two players giving another two players cover as one runs carrying the other on its shoulders. Image: Epic Games

The developers need to find a way to appeal to all of those players, and Reload gives us a window into what their strategy is moving forward. Instead of trying to force all of its players into the singular Battle Royale square, Fortnite will continue to offer different gameplay modes. We’ve already seen this to an extent, since Epic Games has released different kinds of games on the Fortnite launcher, like the rhythm game Fortnite Festival or its slate of child-friendly Lego games. Now it’s made a similar move with the main Battle Royale mode.

Today, players can choose between regular Battle Royale mode with building, Zero Build mode, and both the Build and Zero Build modes within Reload. This gives a new outlet to those frustrated with the current season, and it appears to have paid off. The new mode attracted more than 1 million players the weekend it launched, and it has maintained a steady player base since then. For now, going back to the basics seems to work.