In 2017, months before Ninja would stream Fortnite with Drake and make national news, I was trying out its new battle royale mode. The game was extremely simple then compared to all you can do now, but the basics were sound: shooting felt pretty good, building was useful, and the destruction was unlike anything at its scale.
After a while, a behavior started to emerge that would eventually define how Fortnite is played. Building became less about getting from place to place, and more about rapidly constructing elaborate towers of brick and metal to confuse enemies and block incoming fire. Firefights stopped looking like two people shooting guns and more like dueling carpentry sorcerers competing to make the tallest pile of garbage.
Basically, I put down Fortnite when it started to look like this.
This week, Epic removed building from Fortnite's casual mode, so I picked it back up. Holy crap: I think Fortnite is finally really good?
Playing Fortnite without building feels immediately different in some key ways. The most obvious change is that, when I shoot someone, their first reaction isn't to cower in a tower of sticks and bricks. They actually have to turn around and shoot back! Sometimes I hit more shots, sometimes they hit more shots—it's great. I've only been playing for a few nights and I've already had fun, drawn-out brawls with what I'm pretty sure are actual players (there have been lots of bots, too).
No building has also made in-building fights a little more exciting, at least for a less experienced player like me. You can still destroy anything with your harvesting tool, but now the damage is permanent. I've made a habit of busting down building walls trying to flush out enemies within like I'm Sledge in Rainbow Six Siege. I also appreciate that, without three different building materials to worry about, the loot clutter on dead bodies is a lot more manageable.
And I haven't even mentioned the best part. To complement this no building test, Epic has also added new mobility features and a health boost. Players now run faster by default and can sprint in short bursts. I love Fortnite's sprint, partially because the animation has a lot of personality and detail, but also because it heavily cuts down the time I'm running across fields of grass. Ditto for the new slide and mantling abilities ripped straight out of an FPS—navigating Fortnite's colorful towns and rolling hills is now easy and fun.
The new movement suite, which I believe Epic plans to keep around even once this temporary no-build event is over, raises interesting questions about the game going forward. Building used to be required to get around the map, but Epic has essentially designed its way around it now. I don't need stairs to reach a second floor roof when I can hold spacebar to catch a ledge and hoist myself up. As for more extreme maneuvers, tools like grapple hooks, ziplines, launch pads, and bouncy Spider-man webs provide more than enough opportunities to get high up.
Frankly, there's already so much going on in Fortnite's map that I'm amazed that anyone can focus long enough to build an intricate tower. Just in the past few nights of matches, I've fought off AI soldiers in a blimp, launched myself out of a cannon, driven a car that I later upgraded with huge tires, blown up a tank, and pursued a dozen quests that have nothing to do with the actual battle royale mode.
As far as battle royale is concerned, I think building can safely go, and Epic seems to agree. Fortnite dataminers recently discovered evidence suggesting Epic is actually planning to keep no-build around as a permanent mode.
At the same time, I'm really happy that Fortnite as a whole has building, because it's responsible for all the amazing custom game modes that live outside the main playlist. Last night, I took a break from BR and ended up in an open-world snowboarding game. After that, I checked out Fortnite's shockingly good rendition of prop hunt.
I'm also glad that those who still want to play Fortnite with the full chaos of its building will still be able to. It's a mechanic so integral to the game that excising it completely would immediately alienate players that have now spent a significant chunk of their childhoods mastering the art of building eight walls, editing a window into the corner, and shooting somebody through it. Respect. While you do that, I will be over here playing my version of Fortnite.