For someone who’ll play any game providing there’s a gun and something to point it at – you’re looking at the one person on this side of the equator who admits to liking Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City – Fortnite‘s been an odd outlier in my life.
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It’s a strange thing, really, given how much of my time I give to battle royales. The antithesis of an oversaturation live-service game market, battle royales are wonderfully liberating. As I’ve written about before here, games like Apex Legends and PUBG don’t give a shit about how much you play them. Ostensibly there’s a handful of treats to reward player loyalty and retention – cosmetic stuff, usually – and while yes, admittedly, your knowledge of the map is important, especially in a 3v3 fight, winning a chicken dinner doesn’t have much to do with how regularly you play it. It’s usually just luck and fortuitous timing.
It puzzles me, then, that despite courting pretty much every battle royale known to humankind – including the less successful ones like Ubisoft‘s bandwagon-hitched Hyper Scape, which I got heavily invested in for several weeks before I crawled back to PUBG like an apologetic ex – Fortnite just didn’t work for me. I mean, it’s colourful and bold. There’s a healthy variety of weapons and vehicles. It has lots of those aforementioned guns I love so much. There was one thing I never truly got to grips with, though: building.
I know. It’s stupid, complaining about something that’s so intrinsically part of a game’s identity. Why don’t I just complain that there are assassins in Assassin’s Creed? Or too many racing tracks in Gran Turismo 7? Building is as much a part of Fortnite as its quirky skins and weapon sets, and yet it always felt like a mild annoyance to me, like the unknown support act before your favourite band comes on. Building just got in the way of the shooting for me.
Before you find me on Twitter to yell at me, yes, I know, that’s stupid, and yes, I know it’s crucial in Fortnite because without it – as players are learning now, of course – the maps are curiously flat with limited organic vantage points. Building can make all the difference in escaping an encounter and succumbing to it. If you can’t build – especially now, three years after Fortnite hit the big time – then you need to find yourself another battle royale, pal. Which is what I did, of course.
Right now, though, in a surprise twist to the launch of Chapter 3 Season 2, building has been unceremoniously yanked from Fortnite. Not entirely, of course – arena and competitive modes still include it – but in the main mode – the mode that most of us play – Fortnite veterans are having to entirely relearn their gameplay strategies. For some, it’s been a welcomed change of pace for a game they’ve been enjoying for years; for others, it’s a shocking betrayal. What made Epic Games think that removing the one thing that made Fortnite stand out from its battle royale competitors could ever be a good thing? Whatever possessed the studio to remove something so integral to its success?
It’s ballsy, though, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not quite like FIFA getting rid of goalposts, but it’s pretty bloody close. It’s rare that a studio would dare mess with a successful game’s DNA at all, let alone so drastically, and it’s hard not to admire Epic Games’ courage to make such a change – even temporarily – given it has such a gargantuan and vocal fan base.
Talking of which; the community certainly is divided on this one. A post on the Fortnite reddit called “Feedback Megathread: Building vs. No Building” has clocked up almost two thousand responses in just a matter of days, and the position alternates from post to post. Half of the players love it, and are hoping it turns into a permanent mode. Half hate it, and wished the no-build variant had come in as a time-limited event instead of affecting the main mode. Some think building is “too OP”. Others insist Fortnite isn’t Fortnite without it. One thing’s for sure, though; a lot of curious people have stopped by to check a no-build Fortnite out, both new and lapsed players alike.
Does that include me? You better believe it does. It’s hard to come in cold to an established franchise, but it’s been a lot of fun, not least because I don’t feel like I’m starting off on the back foot anymore, juggling both shaky combat and (non-existent) construction skills. I understand that removing building from Fortnite just makes it like every other bloody battle royale for some, but for me, that definitely isn’t a bad thing… and I’m still in awe that Epic Games had the balls to do it.
Vikki Blake is a freelance journalist and columnist for NME.