An elaborate fort built by players of battle-royale game, Fortnite.

How Fortnite’s island is changing the landscape of battle royale

© Epic Games

Fortnite’s infamous island has changed what people expect from the battle royale genre, so we take a look at how that happened.

While Playerunknown’s Battleground might have ushered in the current battle-royale craze, it’s Epic Games’ unlikely hit Fortnite that's emerged as the frontrunner of the burgeoning genre. As a result, many of the imitators hoping to make a dent in the multiplayer market are increasingly cribbing notes from the cartoonish contender at the top of the heap. And no aspect of Fortnite has received more of this scrutiny than the island where players battle it out to see who’ll be the last builder standing. But what makes Fortnite’s infamous island so unique in the ever-expanding realm of battle royale? Let’s take a look.
From a raw size perspective, the island that has so captivated gamers worldwide is much smaller in area than other entries in the genre. While estimates vary, it’s obvious that it’s a tiny fraction of the size of Erangel, the original 8km-squared concrete-and-clay battlefield of PUBG. While a lot of factors likely went into this decision – primarily, Fortnite’s lack of jeeps and sedans to rampage and run over your competitors with – it produces a wide variety of distinct gameplay effects when compared to a larger space that casual players might miss. For one thing, it pushes players closer together sooner in the match, which means that early firefights are generally more common in a game of Fortnite than they are in PUBG, excluding the classic hot zones like the School or Military Base, which are always a mess in the early game.
Get an idea of what Fortnite's all about in this trailer:
This has the effect of minimising the amount of prep time that players have before they hit their first well-equipped opponent. In turn, that means that you have less time to scour each building for loot and chests when compared to the slower-burn of a more tactical game like PUBG, which might not align with every gamer’s preferences. Still, such isolation contributes directly to one of the genre’s most annoying phenomena, the dreaded 'zone-out.' Every PUBG player knows exactly what we’re talking about: you’re fully-kitted out by the first circle, ready to take on all comers, yet the boundary falls in such a way that you have to find a beat-up motorcycle or sedan to avoid the dreaded blue zone, which makes you a target for your fellow outlanders. Even worse, sometimes you can’t find a vehicle at all, so all you can do is shoot at your fellow doomed survivors as you wait for your inevitable demise.
Because Fortnite’s island is designed around foot traffic alone, it manages to blunt some of these annoyances, which some die-hard PUBG fans might view as core features of what they view as a more hardcore experience. However, after playing a few rounds in Fortnite’s island, because of the shorter distance between beloved landmarks, like the fast-food spot Tomato Town, or the high-level loot of the Flush Factory, the vast tracts of mud-huts and open fields between PUBG’s broken cities can feel a tad humdrum in comparison. While they might seem like a simple distraction at first, the building subsystems of Fortnite offer a variety of defensive options, especially near the endgame, and scouting the perfect location for your tower of power can be the difference between snagging the win or coming up just a little short.
Loot exploding in the face of a player in Fortnite.
A typical moment in Fortnite
While nascent contenders like The Farm 51’s World War 3 promise to offer unprecedented scale to battle-royale conflict, the gritty game that started it all is going in the other direction. Over the past few weeks, PUBG Corp have been putting the finishing touches on the game’s third map, Sanhok, which comes in at a tidy 4km squared – a quarter the size of the classic Erangel. If the decreased area wasn’t enough, they’ve also increased the rate that the circles progress, which means that the gunplay is even more frantic than you might expect. PUBG Corp say these changes were inspired by feedback from the community, but the increased clamour of competition in the battle-royale genre speaks for itself, and it’s clear that the game is trying to adapt to changing player preferences.
Even still, Fortnite’s community is experiencing a clash of its own, with players fiercely debating the merit of the game’s first 'vehicle' – a shopping cart that players push with their feet. As an ever-evolving game, Fortnite makes changes to its map and loot by the week, with a comet even destroying a well-known location, the Dusty Depot. While it’s hardly the game-changer that some players expected – at least compared to the jetpack – some players are worried that it’s a slippery slope from a shopping cart to a motorcycle, or even a van that can barrel through the ever-important buildings that players spend so much time on.
While it’s difficult to tell what Epic’s plans are for its blockbuster hit, its island remains the map to beat in battle royale – and one doubts that adding some cars to the mix will do much to change that.