Up close with Fortnite Battle Royale's massive map update

This week’s Fortnite Battle Royale map update is more than a mere tweak. Epic has added five new named locations in the western half in the map, including the biggest town yet—Tilted Towers, where the buildings are six or seven stories tall—and an underground network of mine shafts designed for close-quarters combat.

The development team call Tilted Towers the game’s first "city". On the ground, its footprint is about the same size as existing locations like Greasy Grove or Pleasant Park, but level designer Sidney Rauchberger tells me that the extra height adds more variety. "You can try and own buildings, and there’s building to building combat. And because the buildings are large, there’s a lot of close quarter combat inside of those buildings," he says.

You’ll get even closer to your enemies in Shifty Shafts, the second most notable addition. "It’s a medium-sized underground mine," Rauchberger explains. "That’s going to have a lot of claustrophobic, closed-quarters shotgun battles. It’s dark and more frantic."

So, let’s see the new map in full. The first picture is the old map, the second is the new one.

The old map...

And the new map. A bit easier on the eyes, right?

Hell of a difference, right? You’ll immediately spot the five new locations: Junk Junction and Haunted Hills to the northwest, Snobby Shores on the west coast, Tilted Towers near the center of the map and Shifty Shafts just below it. The idea behind the changes was to add density to the west side of the map, bringing it in line with the east, Rauchberger says.

Part of me can’t wait to poke around these new settlements, but another part of me is sad that there’s no longer a section of the map to visit if you want to stay away from the action. I loved dropping in the west precisely because of how sparse it was. You could grab a chest from the top of the mountain, survey the area, build your way down and pick people off as they tried to sneak between the few houses dotted around.

We now have a mountain region, a farm region, a swamp region, and the old grass look is in a smaller part of the map. It’s like night and day.

Sidney Rauchberger, level designer

Rauchberger says there’s no reason to worry: the team is determined to let you play that more cautious style if you want to. "We didn’t want to put too much in, we still want people to be out in the open or up a mountain and have a variety of scenarios that they can express themselves. Building plays a larger part when you’re out in the open, so we want to make sure it’s still a large part of the game." The team will be sifting through player feedback to make sure the balance is right, and keeping an eye on loot drops to see how the extra chests they’ve added affect the flow of matches. 

Alongside those named towns the team have added more "points of interest"—basically smaller settlements and buildings that you can explore. I’m almost looking forward to discovering these even more than the named towns. Naturally, everyone’s going to head straight for the big buildings, which could leave these smaller spots deserted. The compound to the east of Flush Factory looks particularly juicy. 

The eastern half of the map is virtually untouched, from what I can see, but it still looks quite different. That’s because of the visual facelift the developers have given the game, adding biomes to give the world more variety.

"[Before], everything had a similar green tone, and we wanted to spruce that up," Rauchberger says. "So we added different biomes. We now have a mountain region, a farm region, a swamp region, and the old grass look is in a smaller part of the map. It’s like night and day." These new visuals will make points of interest more recognizable, and easier to call out to teammates, he tells me. 

The aesthetic is partly a result of new level streaming tech the team have built into the game, which allows them to craft more detailed environments without sacrificing performance. "Before, we loaded everything at the same time, so all corners of the map were always there. With this new tech we can stream those in selectively based on where you are in the world, which basically means we gain a whole lot of free overhead.

“That allows us to have more visual variety in the POIs, more POIs in the first place. It will allow us to introduce new gameplay items, new cosmetics, etc. Basically, it just frees us up to be more focused on adding cool stuff to the game." And it sounds like the team will be focusing on this map for a while. When I ask Rauchberger whether Epic is planning to add a second map to Fornite Battle Royale, he says: "We don’t have any concrete plans yet, but we’re definitely open to the idea."

I’m sure fans will always wish a second map was in the pipeline, but the new update feels like it’s packed with enough new stuff to keep the community occupied. Between the five new towns, extra loot spots and underground passages to explore, I for one can’t wait to drop in. We’ll all be able to try for ourselves when the update drops later this week.