Fortnite’s Building is Key to its Success
As you run on the same path through the same field in order to reach the same goal for the millionth time, a thought probably nestles its way into the back of your head. It’s one defined by stagnancy, boredom and a resolve to desperately try to wring some fun from the sameness of your situation. Then, however, you see a mountain before you and on either side of it, wooden stairways building to its peak. Gunshots emanate through the field, a dozen shoddily built walls manifest out of thin air, a kill appears in the feed and you begin putting two and two together. Now the only question that remains is whether you build a stairway up there and engage or stay on the path in search of something else. The aspect of Fortnite that I’ve enjoyed the most has been the bonkers usage of its building mechanic. This feature lets you use resources like wood, brick or metal to build structures to help you navigate the world. But more than that, the building has shown its potential to bestow history on the game world and visualize encounters in ways games fail to do even now.
Fortnite may unexpectedly be the game that pushes environmental storytelling forward. In the above example, there are at least three separate narratives going that are distinct in perspective but similar in goals. What Fortnite specifically does is tangibly chart the progression of these stories as the players in it bridge the gaps between them. It allows you to make and leave behind a story that’s all too evident in what you build. Regrettably, those stories all end in the same way, but it’s still neat to see how some of these encounters play out. While it may seem like the game’s composed of just gunfights, some of these meetings are much more than just gunfire. The quickest builders build mega-structures in attempts to outdo each other that end up looking like the marriage of abstract art and architecture. It’s not the most complete step forward in environmental storytelling but at least it forces individual elements together to make stories unlike other wildly popular games centered around building.
— Brennon O'Neill (@GoldGloveTV) March 1, 2018
Take Ninja for example, who’s deservedly become the #1 Fortnite streamer . He’s become absolutely masterful at not just building to gain advantage but building to put his enemy at a disadvantage. Simultaneously, he understands that the game is very kinetic and that a still person is a dead man. So what ends up happening is that strategies are being made on the fly, placed in the world while also prepping the next ten moves in case it fails, all while still just trying to blast your opponent in the face with a shotgun. At the end of that fight, not only do you feel like you outwitted your foe, but now there’s a monument erected to that triumph, which doubles as a warning shot to anyone who comes across it because as you run around the world of Fortnite, you can build your own stories but more often that not, will come across some of those that have since passed.
My favorite thing to do in the game is roll up onto an abandoned man-made structure. They don’t need to be monolithic like the death trap in the clip above. It can be any little thing which, just by looking at it, can convey a tale. I’ve seen stairways go up into the sky with a pile of loot on the ground in front of them. That person either fell or got purposefully dropped. I’ve seen similar stairways with a platform that held a jump pad that would propel a player to new heights and immeasurable speed. A friend of mine once did the same to escape the electrifying storm that closes in on you throughout the game. Wooden walls erected in the middle of the streets of murder capital of the world Tilted Towers always point to a gunfight. Bridges are built between rooftops that signal a potential ambush or blitz on an unprepared, poorly equipped team. Any structure built alongside any building is a surefire sign that the place has been picked clean of supplies. In Fortnite, signs of life are clear as day and this works not just strategically but evocatively too. Knowing where not to go, paired with the despair of knowing you’re fresh out of luck leads to immensely intense decision making.
Perhaps the most ingenious and simultaneously infuriating example of how building changes the game is how games typically end. A game of Fortnite will usually culminate with however many players or squads left building towers in order to literally get above the other and secure the headshot they need to win. It’s not just a testament to the craftiness of the player but the legacy of the game that stories of these towers made it into the meta strategy that now ensures every win. One day somebody built a tower, and within the week everyone else was building one too. Innovation turned story turned weapon.
Fortnite‘s been my intro to the Battle Royale genre, an impossibly simple genre that asks you to be the last man standing, and yet it’s managed to build new features atop that structure that complicates things further. Instead of just murder, Fortnite asks you to build, literally. Instead of visualizing change destructively, the games greatest feature challenges you to think creatively to come out on top. Destroy what you need but repurpose it to suit your needs and make a tangible difference in the game world. In some ways, doing that is the only way to possibly survive. That agency to do more than just shoot your opponent full of holes imbues it with an entire set of strategies and craftable narratives that make it literally tower over its competitors.