My limited ocean experience is defined by dead things washing up on the beach and getting a huge rash between my legs from dried salt water, but Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 3 (opens in new tab) has me in a wistful way about The Big Water. I want to take huge gulps of the stuff. I want salt to crust my hair. I want to tell strangers about my Moby Dick tattoo that I'm usually embarrassed by.
Fortnite's map is flooded, its former hills and buildings just breaching the surface to create an archipelago of islands and debris where solid ground used to reign. Here, dry land is as valuable a resource as building materials, making for a more crowded, desperate competition overall. It's a lovely, violent refresh.
Islands create huge swaths of no man's land between safe places to hunker down in, and storm circles don't wait for you to find a nice means of transit between shelter. Braving the waters with whatever you have is a necessity now, and one that often gets me spotted, chased by a rabid shark, or into awkward gunfights with fellow swimmers. Season 3's flooded regions are panic zones, but I try to remember I'm not the only one pissing in the pool.
ABOVE: My attempts at subterfuge don't always work out.
Almost everyone's in the same situation as me, bare-assed out there in the water, doing their best zig-zagged butterfly stroke to dodge all the incoming fire and hungry sharks and player-piloted boats patrolling for easy kills. Seriously, those sharks are no joke.
But sometimes I'm the guy in the boat in full Ahab mode, a Victory Royale the last thing on my mind. I'm out here to ruin the lives of a dozen white whales, all these kids who normally fart out skyscrapers before no-scoping me now helpless little minnows I harpoon as effortlessly as clicking on desktop icons, all the while screaming at the incoming storm, calling for my crew to nail V-Bucks to the masthead.
The distance between islands forces me to consider positioning earlier and more often in relation to storm circle placement. Islands limit my choices, but in an interesting way. Wherever I go, it's likely to be more crowded than normal, concentrating groups of equally desperate players in smaller spaces. Do I join the fray immediately? Should I cling to some scrap out in the sea and brave the sharks? I still can't build well three years in, so I usually opt for a stealthier approach.
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I have so much fun playing in the water I'm surprised there's no support for swimming just beneath the surface, maybe by sacrificing health or shields or enabled by a new item, to allow for some stealthier maneuvers. Even without, I've escaped pursuers by hiding in the water beneath structures. I've quietly tread water behind debris to catch a ride on a passing boat, feeling the wind in my hair for a few seconds before eliminating the crew and commandeering the vessel. I've let island battles play out completely before moving in to clean up and take all the spoils for myself like a true scavenger.
Season 3 is the most dog-eat-dog take on Fortnite yet, the most Battle Royale, in the original sense of the term, it's ever been.
Epic knows islands are going to get pretty crowded, so it designed most of them as unique shooter arenas, replete with bounce pads, ziplines, multiple tiers, and flanked by screw-this escape routes like whirlpools.Those suckers send you flying.
Pleasant Park is one of my favorite refreshes, a rectangular arena where the houses are little islands themselves, separated by bounce pads and a wide open soccer field. I'm reminded of Halo's two parallel battleships in Boarding Action, and like that map's teleporters the bounce pads are a fun, risky way to close the gap if you don't have a long range weapon.
The Fortilla is another nice spot, a ramshackle oil rig flanked by five smaller isles, each connected by a zipline. I've had some good accidental games of hide and seek there, using the ziplines to make quick getaways, often cutting through the water to make some sneaky flanks.
Islands are concentrated chaos, areas designed to discourage locking down a spot unless you really earn it. I've had to beat back squads of marauders, enemy AI that drop from the sky. And like last season, some islands are already patrolled by NPCs, each home to a strong boss character withholding a unique Mythic weapon as a prize.
And then there are the sharks, Fortnite's terrifying new anti-camping devices. Turns out they're not restricted to water, as is shark law in the physical realm. These sharks soar through the air, a massive middle finger to the great whites from that one episode of Planet Earth.
They'll slither up stairs and destroy any building or object in their path to reach nearby players. While I'm not certain of their overall efficacy quite yet, they certainly discourage me from setting up camp too close to shore for easy pickings. Getting a good vantage on those lost at sea is a serious trial.
But if you can manage, the return of weapons like the hunting rifle feel like they're made for holding a smaller sect of land, picking off swimmers and fellow island lords from long distances. As a counter, the compact SMG—once the most hated Fortnite weapon—supports the kind of football tackle aggression you need to breach those same island forts as you crawl out of the water like primordial ooze with a gun hand. It dissolves walls. Everything in Season 3 feels geared towards the struggle to take or hold land at sea.
Which is why I'm surprised only half of the map is flooded. While the remainder has some refreshed areas, storm circles that converge there lead to matches that play out a lot like the whole of Chapter 2 so far. Epic's also said that the water will recede over Season 3, revealing new pathways and areas and—nah. The ocean is my home now.. As the waters dry up, I'm worried my interest will too.