It's About the Story!
Let us begin with a Fortnite health report. Two weeks ago, I sat at my keyboard and told you all I was bringing a giant to its knees by making it so popular it was unpopular. I said if someone as old and niche as I was covering it, then it was on borrowed time. As if my prophecies have ever needed justification, a week after my column dropped Saturday Night Live had a Fortnite skit…There is nothing less cool to early teens than a sketch comedy show featuring political humor directed at old people! SNL, unwilling to grant Fortnite the slow decline I did, crit it with none other than dad jokes! Or rather the “joke” of the skit itself was about a dad trying to play Fortnite to be cool with his kids. Never go full dad joke. There’s no coming back from being associated with that.
(Um, kids don’t watch SNL anymore, they watch professional trolls on YouTube make them laugh their money away…kind of like certain games…hey now that would make a good gaming culture column! Way better than listening to you overdramatically b…) Like that Guns N’ Roses video where Axl swam with dolphins, Fornite isn’t edgy anymore. But not unlike GN’R, it has the potential to evolve into something more than a pop culture phenomenon. Now onto the column.
I’ve continued to dabble in Fortnite since we last talked and frankly, I’ve continued to enjoy it. Not in a MMORPG PVP kind of way, not even close. But as a casual quick PVP fix. It appears that concept, someone casually enjoying something, can be quite controversial in 2018. I’m not talking about the forum fighters here at our beloved MMORPG.com. I was nothing but impressed with everyone that took part in the Fortnite discussion last week. I am talking about culture as a whole. Hobbies aren’t zero sum to me, but I guess that is us as a species now? There is no gray, no like, no just ok. We are love or hate with zero compromise all because a tiny thumbs up trained us so, or maybe it just opened the door to what was already there? It’s a strange time to be a person that casually likes things, and I casually like Fortnite.
The features that impressed me last time have only further impressed me since the new “$eason” came out. Fortnite’s mysterious storyline drives the narrative of the battlefield and continues to evolve in ways that both unify the players and slightly alter the gameplay. It’s nothing extreme, but it’s enough to pull casual players back every few months, give the frequent fliers something new to play with and offer both plenty of new things to buy. By MMORPG standards it’s not a large content patch but for a shooter, especially a free to play shooter, it’s a welcome concept.
Over time I’ve found the gameplay loop to be increasingly entertaining. No not the run, gun, repeat loop most people might be thinking of. The gameplay loop I developed of course! One that I assume makes me a minority among Fortnite players. So, what do I do?
I spent much of my time during the last couple of weeks exploring the map. It’s a very creative world with plenty of inside jokes, Easter eggs and random developer touches that lead me to believe the artists had fun building it. I’ve grown quite fond of exploring basements, ever in search of puzzle pieces, for what reason I have no idea. While doing that I often step back and admire the work of the developers. They have staged these buildings in unique ways and many of them tell a story that leads to a secret if you care to seek it.
It’s not all about exploration. Call me MMORPG conditioned but I enjoy the simple daily quests. “Use a campfire to restore health.” “Do X damage with X gun.” “Explore X places on the map” etc. My favorite one was trying to find the eight street lamps that had speakers then dance under each one of them. The absurdity of that combined with the constant threat of battle made for a hilarious, albeit sometimes frustrating, experience. I also spend a lot of time driving shopping carts off ramps, shooting clays and trying to do rolls in the golf carts.
One match I spent the entire game in a corn field that obscures vision but was full of loot. The next match I spent the entire game chopping that corn field down. Speaking of loot, I’m always on the lookout for a golden chest! You can take the MMORPGer out of the game, but you can’t take the MMORPG out of the gamer! In more serious games I might feel like I was hurting the team effort, but this is Fortnite. It’s the zerg of online shooters and in the end, I have to do what everyone in Fortnite eventually does.
As the map shrinks I head to center where I am quickly dispatched by what I assume is a gamer half my age with hundreds more hours logged. Such is a day in the life of a MMORPGer role playing a MMOFPS as a full-fledged MMORPG! Looking past what is a simple MMOFPS on the surface I found that Fortnite had a lot of underlying potential. I had a lot of fun with what is there and find myself asking the questions only the developers know, where does this game go? Do they continue to play it safe and milk what is, or do they take that underlying structure and push it in a more MMORPG direction? Does it become Saints Row Online or a full-fledged MMORPG with basic combat? That sounds crazy, but these developers keep an eye on our genre. They have taken several of the most beneficial parts and utilized them. Regardless I am fascinated with the story that unfolds, both in game and outside of it, from this cultural phenomenon.