So You're Into Fortnite Now

Image: Epic

While those of us who play Fortnite were riveted to last weekend’s black hole, the rest of the world watched us watching it in confusion and, in some cases, curiosity. Almost two days later, when the game finally came back online, many of my friends—and many of you, in the comments—asked if you should get into it. You also asked if you’d get wrecked by a 10-year-old. The answer to both questions is: yes.

Fortnite’s had a pretty massive overhaul following the hole, entering an era that developer Epic is calling Chapter 2. Players are still sussing out the best landing spots and secrets in the game’s new map and learning its new systems. These changes mean it’s a good time to get into things and learn alongside everyone. Here’s what you, a Fortnite newcomer, need to know.

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So Fortnite’s just a video game, right? It sounds like a bigger deal than that.

Well, it kind of is. You’ve probably heard of it because of how popular it is, especially with young players. Its in-game dances and slang have filtered out into the real world; my nieces and nephews, who don’t play the game, nevertheless play a game called “Fortnite Tag” in gym class (I don’t entirely understand what it is, but it has “Fortnite” in the name.). The game and its players have also been in the news a lot, beyond just video game publications. Celebrities like musician Drake and TV host Ellen DeGeneres have played it alongside some of its most famous streamers. A lot of artists, in particular black artists, have sued developer Epic for allegedly using dances they invented without compensating them. A 16-year-old won $3 million for winning Fortnite’s World Cup this year. There’s a legal effort in Canada right now to take the game to task for allegedly being addictive. Epic has used some of the money it’s made off the game to launch the Epic Store, a marketplace for PC games that lots of people have strong opinions about. Its big in-game events, like the black hole, get a lot of attention in the press and social media, making Fortnite seem less like a game and more like a whole new world that’s corrupting your kids.

But yeah, it’s just a game.

Like anything, games can be bad when you do them too much. I’ve heard from friends about their kids getting bullied in the game or their grades dropping because they were playing too much, but Fortnite isn’t much better or worse than other games when it comes to these types of issues. It’s also a way for people to do something together or hang out when they’re far apart. It’s colorful, fun, and, even though it has guns in it, there isn’t any blood or gore. So, it’s not destroying society, but a lot of young people really like it, and that can freak adults out.

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Millions of people were staring at a black screen for two days. What was with that?

Fortnite isn’t just a screensaver, though you might think that after this week. Long story short: the game is divided into seasons, which last roughly 10 weeks and usually culminate in a big in-game event. The hole was the ending event of Season 10. It started on Sunday afternoon when the game’s entire map got sucked into a black hole following a rocket launch and a big explosion. To players’ surprise, instead of the game going on as it ordinarily would, all you saw when you loaded the game was a black hole. The internet went wild trying to figure out when the game would be playable again. After about 37 hours, at 4 a.m. ET, the game came back online as Chapter 2, with a lot of changes. It was pretty wild of Epic to take the hugely popular game offline for so long, especially during a holiday weekend in Canada and much of the US, so the stunt garnered a lot of attention.

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What is Fortnite when it isn’t a hole?

The best-known version of Fortnite is its battle royale mode, which is free to play on computers, Xbox, PS4, Switch, and mobile. That’s not the only Fortnite mode that exists. Back in 2017, developer Epic spun the battle royale part out from its less-popular co-op narrative game, Fortnite: Save The World. Save The World is a paid game, while Battle Royale is free.

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In battle royale, 100 players in solos, duos, or teams of four jump from a flying bus onto a map. As the phrase “battle royale” connotes, everybody then tries to kill each other, until there’s just one player standing (or one team of players, depending on the mode). If you aren’t playing solos, the game will team you up with strangers, or you can play with your friends. You start with only a pickaxe and have to find whatever weapons are lying around. Weapons have different colors, which denote how rare or powerful they are. You can also find potions that give you shields, items that give you health, and throwable items like grenades. Also, over the course of a match, a storm closes in on the map. If you get caught in it, you’ll lose health and eventually die. This forces players to keep moving closer to each other.

Fortnite stands out from other battle royales, like PUBG and Apex Legends, because you can destroy stuff in the environment and build with it. Using your pickaxe, you can chop up pieces of the environment, like trees, cars, and rocks, to build useful stuff like walls, floors, and ramps. Building can be tricky to get the hang of when you’re new, but it’s a key component of the game. Someone shooting at you? Build a little hut to hide in. Need to get someplace high? Build a ramp up to it. Learning the basics of building is pretty simple, but knowing what to build, when, and how to do it quickly is a bit harder.

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Besides the main 100-player mode, there are other things you can do in Fortnite. There’s a playground mode where you or people you choose can explore the map and practice shooting or building without the pressures of a fight. There’s a creative mode where you can design your own areas and challenges. There are limited-time modes with special rules, like only using certain weapons or flying planes. One of them, called Team Rumble, is now permanent, and it pits two teams of 50 against each other to race to a certain number of kills. There’s also a competitive ranked mode, if you want to be hardcore, but we’ll get to that later.

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You said Fortnite was free, but my kids are always asking me for money for it. Are they scamming me?

You might be raising Oliver Twist, but your kids probably want money for the optional items you can get in the game using the in-game currency, V-Bucks. Some of those items come from a system called a battle pass, which gives you in-game stuff as you unlock its levels. Each season has a new battle pass. One version of the battle pass is free and everyone gets it, while another has more rewards and costs about $10. The paid battle pass also has extra in-game challenges you can complete for more experience. V-Bucks can be earned in game, but mostly you buy them with real-world money.

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In the current iteration of the game, you level up both battle passes by amassing certain numbers of experience points. You get points for basically everything you do in-game: killing enemies, winning matches, outliving opponents, searching chests, and more. Level rewards include items like different characters, called “skins”; dances and other moves your character can do; “wraps” that make your weapons look different; loading screens; and music tracks. Occasionally, the battle pass doles out some V-Bucks. It’s possible to purchase the next season’s battle pass solely through V-Bucks you earn by playing, but it takes a lot of work.

With the battle pass, you’ll always know what reward you’ll get before you do the task required, which is good. The popularity and transparency of Fortnite’s battle pass has encouraged lots of games to switch to this system as opposed to doling out randomized rewards, which can encourage unhealthy behavior and spending.

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There are also outfits and other cosmetics for sale in the in-game store. They’re only available for purchase, and they rotate out regularly. Everything is bought with V-Bucks.

You don’t need to spend any money to play or win, but customizing your character and getting the latest skin or dance is a big part of the game’s appeal. You’ll get plenty of fun stuff with the free pass, but I can see why someone might want to drop some cash on V-Bucks for the paid pass or stuff in the store. Personally, I don’t really buy stuff in the store, though I do pay for the battle pass. I’ve definitely played longer than I intended to so I could get a certain battle pass reward. It isn’t the healthiest choice, but it’s my call as an adult. Set healthy limits for yourself or for your kids, and it should be fine.

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I Googled “Fortnite” and now I keep getting offers for free V-Bucks. Have I discovered a loophole?

There are a lot of scams out there that claim to offer free V-Bucks but really just want to steal your passwords or personal information. Make sure you’re buying legit V-Bucks from Epic.

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I want to be part of the zeitgeist. Am I too old?

Fortnite’s brand is very kid-friendly and kid-facing, but anyone can play. If you’re worried about voice-chatting with minors, you can mute voice and never have to hear someone talk. As an added bonus, in my experience playing Fortnite makes you seem really cool to kids, as well as to their parents, because you can answer all of the parents’ questions.

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Do I have to know the story?

No. Fortnite tells its story weird: Each season has a plot, but it’s mostly told through changes to the game’s landscape, descriptions of character skins, through hidden messages in its loading screens, and through player speculation. This background story culminates in each season’s big ending event, which sets the tone for the next season. One season had a cube that moved around the map and created runes. Season 10’s black hole was precipitated by time rifts caused by a background character from a previous season and an in-game rocket and...a whole lot of other stuff. An end-of-season event, like the black hole, might not make sense to you if you don’t care to decipher the story for yourself throughout a season (which might involve reading subreddits and wikis). Still, the larger scaffolding of these stories will probably still be dramatic and enjoyable, even if you don’t understand all the particulars.

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Part of the fun of the game, for me, is trying to figure out what’s going on. Fans are especially active online in discovering hidden secrets and creating theories. Sometimes those stories filter into the game. If you weren’t following the saga of the cube, for example, you might not know that players nicknamed it “Kevin,” and that could be confusing. However, the new map makes some of the previous stories moot, so if you’re into fan lore and wild guessing, you’d be getting in on the ground floor if you start playing now.

Is it hard to learn to play?

Fortnite is now much more accessible for newcomers. The black hole stunt got a lot of attention to the game, which Epic seems to have planned for with Chapter 2. So, a lot of things have been streamlined or made easier. Battle stars, which you used to use to level up your battle pass, are gone now; you do everything through XP. XP is earned just through playing the game. With the new medal system, you get even more XP for doing things you’d regularly be doing. At least in the early stages, I feel like I’m making progress quickly.

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Last season, Epic also changed how the game decides who else is in a round with you. Now, you should be matched up with players who are more on your skill level. This reduces the likelihood of you getting thrown into a match with experts who will immediately decimate you, which for many newcomers is the biggest stumbling block in many battle royale games.

Epic also seems to have added computer-controlled characters this season. The developer said these bots would be coming to the game but hasn’t released patch notes, so we can’t know 100% that they’re in, but they seem to be. Many other players and I have encountered characters who don’t move or act like human players do. While this might feel like it cheapens the experience, it’s also been a great way for me to practice keeping my cool when I run into an enemy. Killing bots makes me feel like I’m doing well, even if it’s a false sense of satisfaction, which means the game feels more rewarding to play.

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Basically, Fortnite feels less intimidating these days, which is good if you’re new. If you haven’t played in a while, the basics are still the same, and there’s tons of new stuff to explore.

Image: Epic
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What if I’m not good enough?

There are lots of ways to have fun in Fortnite if you aren’t a World Cup contender, and there are also lots of ways to get better. You can find lots of tips for fighting and building on YouTube and Reddit. Team Rumble is a great mode to practice in because you rejoin the game whenever you die, and the chaos means there are lots of players to fight. You can also go into playground mode alone or with friends and pick an area to land. There, you can explore the map or practice your building, which you’ll need to get comfortable with to really succeed in the battle royale mode of the game.

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You can also just play the game with your friends and have a good time. While you don’t want to detract from the game by trolling others, it’s completely okay to play the game as a way to unwind or do goofy stunts instead of being hell-bent on a win.

I’m too good.

I’ve never had this problem, but congrats! If the regular games are feeling too easy for you, you can play in the ranked mode, Arena. It’s for competitive players and doesn’t feature bots. You’ll play against others of your skill level, and Epic regularly runs tournaments in which players compete for money. July’s Fortnite World Cup was one such tournament, with a hefty $30 million prize pool. There are plenty of competitive opportunities for you out there.

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Can I or my kid get rich playing Fortnite?

Maybe! Esports is a viable career, and there are plenty of teams who might be willing to scoop you up if you’re good enough. While World Cup Solos winner Bugha got a lot of notoriety for his big money win, that didn’t come out of nowhere, and it took a lot of hard work. So, you probably won’t get rich quick.

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You might also be thinking of famous streamers like Ninja, who made their careers on the game. While I can’t say the life of a streamer or esports pro is the life for me, it could be for you. Make a Twitch channel and see what happens! Don’t count on instant riches, though, or many riches at all.

I’m a celebrity/politician/CEO. Will playing Fortnite make me more famous?

Maybe, but it will also make you gross for capitalizing on a trend for your personal gain. Unless you truly want to play Fortnite for the fun of it. That’s fine. Do that.

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You’ve convinced me.

Thanks.

I’ve got a whole weekend ahead of me, and I’m ready to play. Any final words of wisdom?

Be a good team player: be respectful to your teammates and other players, mute your mic when you’re not talking, and be a good winner or loser. Very few of my friends play the game, but I’d recommend finding some other newcomers to team up with. Fortnite’s way more fun with friends.

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