Friday 'Nite is a weekly Fortnite column that takes a closer look at current events in the wide world of Fortnite, with a special emphasis on the game's plot, characters, and lore.
Fortnite Chapter 3, Season 2 is launching this weekend. Probably. Maybe. We'll see. While in-game signs point to this being the case, there's nothing typical about this upcoming new season, so much so that we can't confirm it's even really happening.
It's never been like this before for one of the biggest games in the world. Sure, two Fortnite seasons in 2020 were each extended by several weeks due to COVID, but those delays were communicated to players and press well in advance. Much of the world shut down in the early spring and summer months of the pandemic, and video games took a more public hit than many other industries as studios scrambled to adjust to at-home game dev. But today, a different struggle affects a small but specific set of games: Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
While the war's most devastating effects include human rights violations too numerous to count, we're also seeing how the conflict disrupts the lives of people not fighting in the war--or, in some cases, people not even near the conflict geographically.
Some studios in Ukraine have had to relocate developers and alert players to delays while their devs quite literally fight for their lives. Nintendo's Advance Wars 1 + 2: Re-Boot Camp has been delayed for what seems like obvious reasons--the game's depiction of military combat--despite the game's rather lighthearted tone, even if Nintendo is toothless to say that's really why the game was pushed back.
One can safely assume Activision, which was reportedly eager to reveal the next Call of Duty sooner than its usual marketing cycle would suggest, is now carefully watching the news in the hopes of not coming off as insensitive to those affected directly or indirectly by the war in Ukraine. When things like games, movies, and TV depict war against the backdrop of real-life war, things get messy.
The best intentions can come off as tone-deaf and ill-advised, and for Epic, the issue demands an immediate answer, but is without much of a roadmap.
Here's some content that was being worked on this season but still unfinished, most likely for S2:
- Cattus Cave
- Tactical Sprint
- Double Deagle
- Jetpacks Chest
- Clamber Mechanic
- Tactical Overshield
- Zeppelin (maybe IO NPCs)
- Vehicle Mods: Armor & Turret
A season focused on the all-out war between Fortnite's major factions has been in the works for months, if not years, but now may arrive just as players, or at least onlookers, find the whole storyline wrong-headed. Should Epic delay the season? My guess is that's exactly the question its developers are asking themselves and each other right now, even just a day before the current season is meant to end.
Speaking to popular Fortnite content insiders, the vibe they've gotten is as you might expect if you've been tracking this lead-up to Season 2. Epic has not just been silent in a public-facing way, but even the game's bustling Discord server has recently lacked regular engagement from the Epic devs who are normally seen popping in and out to chat with players and fans. Are they heads-down on altering the game's content, their own messaging, both, or neither?
In my view, one of a few things is about to happen, and I genuinely don't know which one we'll see this weekend:
The first outcome: Epic quietly delays the season and the game gets no update this weekend. Never having truly announced the end date of Season 1, this would technically be an "internal" delay, even as fans know the season was set to end on March 19 thanks to the battle pass end date shown in-game, which has historically always told players the season finale date months before Epic says so.
The second outcome: Epic launches the season exactly as planned, with the exception that the hype cycle that normally surrounds the final days of a season is now absent. Without any teases for an event or the end of a season, Epic may simply kick off the new season and tell virtually no one it's coming.
This outcome would indicate Epic thinks its in-game content isn't problematic amid the news cycle, but that marketing the in-game war as the same colorful fun Fortnite is known for would be in bad taste. As much as one of the world's biggest video games could possibly be stealth-launch, this would be Epic going for it.
The third outcome: Epic launches a heavily revised, but not delayed Season 2, with some would-be fascinating last-minute changes to which we may never be privy. This would be the most intensive outcome, but is perhaps also the most likely. If it's too late to change the bulk of the content of the season--and let's assume it is--then you either have to erase the messaging (outcome two) or radically revise it.With Fortnite Season 2, Epic may be seeking an impossible tact for its war story.
I could see Epic scrambling to completely re-imagine its themes, title, trailers, and maybe even some dialogue for Season 2, in the hopes of painting it all in a less militaristic light. That's going to be very hard to do when credible leaks suggest things like tanks and DIY armored cars are coming to the island for the first time ever, but maybe if those militaristic additions are later-season additions and not there at launch, Epic's hope is that they won't seem so poorly timed when it's time to add them to the game.
Imagine the undertaking of re-rendering and rewriting its launch trailers in the dozens of languages they launch in each season. On top of that, the studio would need to find the right tact when doing so. How do you hype up your fans with a war-themed trailer without also inviting criticism from people who find it all sort of gross? It's an unenviable balancing act, and come this weekend, we'll learn whether Epic walks that tightrope, falls to the ground, or cuts the rope entirely.