For as long as Fortnite has been around, Epic Games has loved keeping us in the dark on what weird interdimensional machinations have been fueling things behind the scenes. What started out as a cute mishmash of characters quickly became the perfect fodder for data miners and videogame theorists.
Epic quickly grew fond of its massive multiplayer blink-and-you'll-miss-it events, starting out with Season 4's rocket launch that ripped through space. Later seasons would see a giant comet freeze mid-air just above the island, and Season 4's one-off Marvel shenanigans had players (sort of) join forces to defeat Galactus.
Now Epic's debuted its first singleplayer event with Season 6, introducing us to a mysterious character named the Foundation and his temporary allegiance with Jonesy. The end result is certainly one of Fortnite's most unique events, but does it actually move the story forward? Will it stand up in hindsight?
Epic is at its most indulgent with the Season 6 story trailer, which shows off all of Season 5's ridiculous cast members (xenomorphs, Predator, Ryu straight up murdering Peely) battling with each another. But it couldn't have happened without Epic's clear love affair with Marvel in Season 4, which was itself a love letter to Avengers: Endgame's universe-smashing, timeline-hopping schtick, albeit with more classically comic book characters.
And wouldn't you know it, not 24 hours after I started writing this, Variety revealed that longtime Marvel directors the Russo brothers directed the three-minute introductory cutscene. I actually enjoy the Russo brothers' work. I think Avengers: Endgame would be a lesser story without their direction, but that obviously capitalized on a decade of smaller stories converging together. Cool as it is to see Peely get absolutely disintegrated by Ryu, it doesn't hit the same way Robert Downey Jr.'s exit did, for good reason.
I think it's this Marvel or Call of Duty-ish sense of storytelling—that you should really just give yourself over to the spectacle for now, questions things later—is what makes a singleplayer story-focused event work in Fortnite. In the moment, it's fascinating to see characters like Jonesy, who for so long was simply an extra comedic foil, speaking with the Foundation's straight man archetype. Who they are and what they mean to each other though? It'll probably stay a mystery for a long time.
Suddenly, things take on a slightly different resolution, and much like something out of Modern Warfare, we're in our character's shoes and watching things unfold with our own eyes. There's no real danger of failing (I spent a minute fiddling with audio settings) so Jonesy will squawk at you to keep moving like any good NPC might.
What follows is a series of quick scenes where you're helping Jonesy close several rifts, skirting through a few dangerous encounters with wolves, hunters, and an attack helicopter. You're never in any true danger and things resolve themselves before we can really make a personal impact, but what works is that it's the closest we've yet come to all those scripted Fortnite battle pass trailers where you see a player charging towards a hapless group of enemies, doing some cool super jump, and landing a perfect headshot.
Similarly, the final charge towards the Spire to help the Foundation contain the Zero Point's blast is much like that fantasy Fortnite has tried to sell in trailers. Like any good action game, it's all about forward momentum, as chunks of rock slam into the ground around you and a sudden gust of air lifts you skyward. Don't stop moving, never stop moving—until another story scene begins, and we're forced to watch the Foundation and Jonesy from a safe distance, like we're stuck behind the safety bar of a Star Tours ride at Disney World.
Does it all work? Well enough. In the moment, it's a perfectly serviceable action ride that keeps you busy enough to get swept away. Fortnite's graphics, which received raytracing support last year, are some of the industry's best, and the fact that the art style works for everything from God of War to Predator is nothing short of amazing.
But it sucks to see Epic adopt the modern Disney trope of always teasing the Next Big Thing. WandaVision can't simply be a self-contained tale of love and grief, it has to also set up at least three other sequels and new franchises. The Mandalorian can't simply focus on another character for an episode, it has to give them their own Disney Plus series. Hearing the Foundation warn Jonesy that we'll all need to keep fighting to escape the battle royale loop, and that he'll be back to collect on Jonesy's promise, feels a bit deflating. There are no stakes in a story that keeps moving the goalposts.
Sure, things will likely develop a bit more as the season goes on, but probably not on such a grand, well-directed level. The plot will be lost in the audio clips posted on Twitter, the wild fan theories, and countless YouTube videos. There are simply too many proper nouns (The Seven, Geno, the Foundation, the Sisters) flying around for an average player to really keep things straight. Almost four years into Fortnite, and it's still not obvious who anyone is or why I should care.
When you consider that Epic's multiplayer events, like the Travis Scott kaiju concert, are genuinely industry-shattering developments in technology and cultural cache, one hopes that that might have been transplanted into more intimate moments like these.
Fans are eager for answers, and let's not be silly, Epic is always going to tease things along so players keep talking, but I can't help but feel like I was watching SNL's old video game skit.
Ultimately, I imagine this will all come down to how any individual player feels about Fortnite's ridiculous, vague, and let's face it, very commercial lore. If you're the kind of Marvel or Star Wars fan who's just along for the ride and pretty colors, Fortnite's first single-player event is a very serviceable distraction that only gobs of money could build.
It's well-designed in the way that traditional shooter campaigns usually are, unlike the scattershot narrative adventures in Fortnite's creative mode, which live or die by how skilled an average fan is. Considering Epic is instituting Unreal Engine dev support in Fortnite's creative mode in the future, maybe we'll see more unique takes on storytelling there.
If Epic is going to employ modern Hollywood-scale storytelling to build out the world of Fortnite, it's going to need bigger stakes than Jonesy.