When Fortnite was sucked into a black hole at the weekend, social media lost its mind. PlayStation Network and the Epic Games Store had technical issues due to the sheer volume of people trying to see what's happening, and Epic pretty much played their publicity stunt perfectly, holding the attention of streamers and players alike until Chapter 2 suddenly landed yesterday; an update that changes a lot.
We won't go through the list of changes, as you can find those here, but after playing Chapter 2 - which is actually kicking off with Season 1 as a sort of reset - we're impressed by what we've seen. While previous seasons have seen Epic continue to innovate on what's come before, this sort of wiped the slate clean.
What we mean by that is that the map has been replaced by something new, although not that new. Some areas like Retail Row are back in reinvented form, and there are other fresh areas like a beach and a Bavarian-style town thrown in there. Looking at the big picture, it looks very similar to what's come before, since it's mostly green, there's an island in the middle, and there are marked locations dotted about, but when you get closer you see the various changes in place.
For a start, it's received a major visual bump. Everything looks a lot smoother and more polished now, right down to the characters and UI, and Epic continues to make upgrades to the experience in this department. If you look back at Season 1 of what's now called Chapter 1 (we guess), these games are worlds apart, although for some reason this new Fortnite feels almost radioactive in its brightness.
The new map blends the old and the new in such a way that it's not a total shock for players - much like Season 3: Meltdown in Apex Legends - meaning newbies can come in and enjoy without the rest knowing exactly where all the good spots are (for now). You also have to uncover areas of the map by visiting them in the game as well, which colours the map and reveals the named locations and landmarks, encouraging you to visit everywhere.
It's also worth noting that you're encouraged to explore because of Battle Medals as well, which you earn in matches for activities from killing opponents to staying alive for a long time, although we could do without the loud noise that comes up whenever you're given one, since it's a little unhelpful when you're in a quiet moment trying to hear footsteps.
There are also new mechanics at play as well, as those who loved to hide in bushes can do so in haystacks and dumpsters now, although there's a risk since you make noise entering these objects. There's also a Bandage Bazooka to heal injured teammates, who you can actually carry as well if you're in a real tricky situation, so these are little flourishes to spice up the experience.
What we were really impressed with is how much Fortnite has leaned into the social aspect, as the inclusion of fishing and group emotes feels a little like Destiny to us, in the sense that there are more silly things to do together when you're not battling with other squads. Of course the emphasis is still on combat, but these other little features are a nice touch.
Another nice touch is the new focus on water. Whereas before swimming pools only came up to your waist, now you can swim all you want in all bodies of water, and you can even go faster by jumping in and out of the water like a dolphin (beware though, that makes you a noticeable target).
There are even boats too, and these help make the game feel even wilder. In one match we were charged down by a boat as rockets went off everywhere, and in another someone made a daring escape from our own bullets using a boat. With rivers intersecting the island a lot, the boats open up a lot of options, as do the zipwires on the power grid.
Then there's the weapon upgrade system, as you can upgrade your arsenal at certain benches in the map, adding a new element to the combat so that it's not all about which weapon you're stuck with from looting chests. With all the gear added to the game since launch, some of which has been vaulted, the variety on offer as things stand is seriously good.
This is still the same Fortnite we've known for a while, but all of these little changes - along with the big map refresh and visual upgrade - make things that bit better. Epic has used last year's map as a template to bring things back to basics, stripping down the wild elements to bring us a foundation that can be used as a springboard for another chapter of weird and wonderful ideas Epic no doubt has planned.
With more ways to earn loot and XP too, as well as a continued focus on social elements, we'd say Fortnite is in the strongest position it's ever been. Epic got a load of fans hooked with their PR stunt, before throwing them into a new, slick version of their game that isn't too intimidating to new players, nor is it boring for veterans. We're guessing it'll take a while before Fortnite's ideas start running out...