Fortnite isn't a fad. Since the launch of its battle royale mode in the summer of 2017, the player population has ballooned worldwide. A record of over 8.3 million concurrent players across all platforms was reported in November, over double the February record of 3.4 million.
But Fortnite's island was sparse when it launched, making its incremental growth a perfect way to see how frequent updates affect player retention. Epic's spaghetti-plus-wall ethos for introducing new stuff made Fortnite the subject of controversy and praise nearly every week in 2018, but the sentiment rarely mattered. Change is fascinating, and Fortnite changed more drastically and more often than I thought was possible.
Near the end of 2018, it's in a comfortable spot. The weapon arsenal has been filled out, the vehicles are a riot, the winter update reinvigorated the blandest corner of the map, and the competitive scene is growing at a steady clip. Fortnite's doing just fine. So where does an ever-changing game that doesn't need to change go from here? It's almost impossible to say. Epic doesn't share much information with the press ahead of time, so to compensate I've been paying extra close attention to everything Fortnite for the better part of two years. I have some guesses, a few mild and a few wild, about what we might see out of Fortnite in 2019 based on previous statements from Epic and the direction Fortnite's design appears to be headed in. Speculate with me.
Underwater environments are likely on the way
With spring, I'd wager we see a deep thaw run through the icy parts of the map. Greasy Grove is currently submerged in a frozen lake, and you can see the buildings, chests, and weapons just beneath the surface. Maybe we'll be swimming there soon. A quick look at the Season 7 battle pass hints at a wet spring, too. A snowman spray melts in agony, an octopus icon becomes available at tier 84, a blazing sun at 62, and previously scuba-diver skins could be the earliest hints at an underwater environment. Fortnite's snowy environment was teased for months through skins and battle pass rewards, so it's not a long shot to think Epic might be doing the same for an underwater area.
Glider redeploy will come back
But expect a bit more preamble when it does. We were taken by surprise with the first glider redeploy test, and it arrived at the same time as an infinite army of cube monsters. It was too much change at once for Fortnite players, but the moment glider redeploy was pulled out, dozens of pros expressed disappointment. The ability to redeploy your glider made movement more fun, even if it wasn't quite balanced yet. Fights were easy to dogpile onto from a distance, sure, but the pace of play sped up and those annoying towering build-fights took a backseat. Fortnite became more accessible without alienating skilled players. Building still gave players an advantage, but skillful, tactical movement was finally brought to the fore. Epic just couldn't iterate on the feature quickly enough. It's since been restricted to larger team modes while Epic plays with mobility items in the default modes, but expect to see it make a comeback, even if it's not a permanent one.
More ways to move
In the early months of Fortnite, the development team wasn't ready to commit to vehicles. But now, the mobility seal has been broken. Pulverized. Disintegrated. Fortnite saw four new vehicles in 2018, and that doesn't even take ziplines, experiments in glider redeployment, shadow stones, rifts-to-go, balloons, grapplers, or the upcoming driftboard into account. Fluid building and precise aim are nice, but strategic movement might be what actually wins the most games in Fortnite. Changing up your options for how you move make those decisions much more interesting than rotating on the outer edge of the circle opposite to where most players landed every match.
Expect more ways to move in 2019. For starters, we've yet to see a consumable version of Shadow Stones, and those teleporters under Wailing Woods can't just be for show, can they?
The Infinity Blade is just the beginning
The Infinity Blade didn't last long. The first of Fortnite's Mythic items, it arrived extremely overpowered, granting users health for every kill, which were pretty easy to pile up considering the reach of its leap attack. Everyone was right to hate the sword, but not right to hate the idea of the sword. Mythic items are here to stay, and yeah, Epic says more are on the way.
"The presence of Mythic items in gameplay is to provide an interaction a step above the Legendary item functionality and something you’ll continue to see," Epic's first update on the Infinity Blade reads.
The goal is to create situational opportunities and force players into different playstyles, not just depending on what gear they're kitted out with, but where they are on the map. If you're within reach of the Infinity Blade, the best counter is elevation, which makes Polar Peak such a great locale for it. It's already the tallest area on the map making ramping up a necessity, and with the blade around you'll wanna be well-practiced to build up at a moment's notice. The floor is lava (even if it's ice), and the ground is a great journey down. Best have a mobility item at the ready around there, just in your fort is pulverized by a sword.
So long as they're not overpowered, mythic weapons could recontextualize whole swaths of the map or emphasize their unique landscape, giving wielders a new way to play while forcing everyone else to adapt. So long as that adaptation is fun rather than painful, that is. Epic will really need to nail down a better way to implement mythic weapons before I trust it to happen.
Building will change
Fortnite was built in around six fortnights (three-ish months), which didn't leave room for drastic iteration on the barebones systems that made it in, namely building. The building system in battle royale was basically taken right from Save the World, just sped up a bit. It's since become the proving ground for Fortnite players—how skilled you are with its obtuse, complex building system largely informs how well you'll perform. But while the weapons, map, items, and movement systems have been reworked time and time again, the building system hasn't changed much since the start. Sure, some of the timings and controls have been streamlined, but becoming a master builder nearly requires heading to YouTube for help.
While many pros see mastering its obtuse processes as a necessary rite of passage—editing pyramid pieces while jumping over them, quick edit shotgun blasts, boxy spike traps built in flash—those same complexities contribute to the boring turtle-tunnels that define high-level Fortnite play during the endgame. I'm not saying the building you know and love is going away, but like the glider redeployment test, I suspect building might see some similarly jarring changes, maybe in a limited time mode. Expect a tweak or two with new players, intuitive controls, and stamping out stubborn playstyles in mind.
Creative mode is going to be big
It's easy to assume Epic just wants to eat Minecraft's lunch, but Minecraft ate Legos' lunch and Legos ate wooden blocks' lunch and wooden blocks ate trees' lunch, and so on. People just like making stuff, and Fortnite's Creative mode is another excellent place to do that, even in such an early state. Players have already recreated classic shooter maps, like de_dust 2, and monoliths from pop culture, like Stark Tower from The Avengers.
But best of all are creations made for The Block, a new area on the battle royale map that will feature some of the best player-made creations. Players are making POIs, and I suspect The Block won't be the only area, in all modes, where that happens. Expect LittleBigPlanet levels of customization, down to little details like how individual weapons behave or triggers for scripted machinima sequences. Epic wants hardcover coffee table books made for this.
Epic will inch towards a more unified Fortnite experience
Between the Save the World, Battle Royale, and Creative modes, Fortnite is essentially three games under one roof. There's more natural crossover between BR and Creative since you can launch both from the same lobby. Plus, the best creations will appear in the BR map as Epic sees fit. And as more assets, items, and weapons are added to BR, so too will they appear in Creative. The two modes feed one another, but Save the World is still largely a completely different game that appeals to a different audience. The base-defense horde mode that started it all is still all on its lonesome, though some recent updates point to a more unified Fortnite overall.
The Save the World UI recently got a complete revamp with menus expressed via characters that hew closer to the look of BR characters. On the lore side (because everyone loves some Fortnite lore), Save the World's first big boss character makes an explicit connection to Battle Royale. Once you kill the Storm King a purple cube emerges from his melted form. Could it be Kevin, the cube that rolled through BR for months? Narrative connections between the two games doesn't seem like much, but I see it as the undercurrent of a larger push to make Fortnite a more cohesive game.
Destiny 2 juggles a couple completely different modes with lopsided player populations successfully, and I think Fortnite can manage something similar. Imagine an interrelated ecosystem that incentives play across all modes, the goal being to point skeptical players to something they enjoy and keep people playing Fortnite in general. I don't know if it'll be expressed via a hub world since that places too many interactions between the player and getting into a match, but I have to imagine we'll at least see cosmetic incentives shared between the modes. Challenges in Save the World to unlock Battle Royale gear, and vise versa, at the very least. But with all the success Fornite has seen, I'd like to think the methods for bringing Save the World into the fold will be much more imaginative. If it sounds a bit ridiculous, I agree, but Epic is making big money on a game that didn't really start finding itself until Battle Royale released just over a year ago. Fortnite's 'final' form is going to be something we don't see coming, and it's going to be a lot bigger than what's there already.
The first Fortnite World Cup will arrive with better competitive features
Fortnite's first year as an esport was, overall, a mess. It was incredible conceptually, with new items, map changes, vehicles, weapons, and balance tweaks affecting play on a weekly basis. Half the appeal of tuning in was to see how the pros adapted. All the while, live events carried on in official competitions as if nothing could go wrong.
A lot went wrong. During the final day of the Summer Skirmish, a $1.5 million competition, one of the infamous cube's anti-gravity fields bugged out. More recently, the Infinity Blade nearly wiped a cluster of helpless endgame turtlers in the Winter Royale. Speaking of turtling, it's still the only way pros play Fortnite, boxing up in the final few circles with a couple dozen other players. Praying is a legit tactic in these scenarios.
But besides those nagging issues, Fortnite is still a great spectator sport. It'll be an even better one once in-game spectating options become available. With the first Fortnite World Cup scheduled for 2019, you bet Epic is going to want to put on a good show, and the ability to let players spectate matches feels like a vital part of that. Live casters are getting better all the time, the pop-up cups are a great way to experiment with competitive variables, and the live camera work is much better at following the action than ever. Now's the time to let players take the wheel.
A recess for technical maintenance
Maybe this is turning into more of a wishlist, but Fortnite has some technical issues. As Epic adds more stuff, those issues can only pile up. For how well it plays considering how often it changes, Epic is doing one hell of a job keeping Fortnite stable, but troubling bugs and exploits still pop up regularly. I don't think taking time here and there to clean house would hurt.
Change is still The Thing™ and will remain so
Fortnite is at a point where you can drop into its map on your lonesome and make your own fun. It's just a massive combat sandbox at this point, with tools and weapons that allow for expressive, creative play limited only by player intuition. And Epic will likely never stop making weird stuff to pile on top. Fortnite will become the Smash Bros. of battle royale, with more items and weapons than necessary. And so seasons will follow suit, shifting the meta according to what items are vaulted and which are introduced (or reintroduced). Fortnite will never remain static.
One season might focus on stealthy play, the next might focus on aerial maneuvers and make the jetpack available for three whole months. Battle royale is about adapting to the conditions of your surroundings, after all. Fortnite will never strictly emphasize the same skills each season, let alone each week, and we'll see even bolder changes in 2019.
Epic will answer one interview question
We can't lose hope.