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Fortnite offers something PUBG can’t match: Mystery

Epic Games has learned how to keep our attention

Epic Games via Polygon

Epic Games seems to have figured out the secret formula to getting, and keeping, the attention of both Fortnite players and the press covering the game: You gotta set up a mystery.

The launch of the game’s fourth season shows just how well this can work. The event was teased and hinted at for weeks, starting with the appearance of a comet in the sky. Things progressed from there, as Fortnite fans searched both of the game’s modes and even translated Morse code delivered via haptic feedback to try to figure out what was going on.

Fans knew when the comet would hit, and they knew superheroes would be involved, but ultimately that was the extent of their knowledge. The rest would be a surprise, including the exact location of the comet strike. We felt like detectives.

The comet hit the game early this morning, and the video that opens the season ... still doesn’t tell us much.

You have to jump in and look around if you want to see exactly how the map has changed, which makes your first few rounds feel like an exploration as much as a competition with other players. Even the patch notes are vague.

“The comet has left a scar on the island ... Visit the crater and you’ll find glowing rocks all around,” Epic Games said on the page. “Consume them and lift off with low gravity!”

Where did the comet land? Check out the map for yourself. How are all the other locations on the map impacted? You have to go out there and look. What will this do to change the flow of the game? Who knows, but everything, at least for today, feels exciting and new.

I went straight to the crater to try the Hop Rocks, glowing stones left over from the comet that seem to decrease the game’s gravity, to see exactly how high I could jump, and how that would impact the combat. Within minutes I was in an exaggerated bunny-hopping shotgun battle with another player. Neither of us knew how long the effect would last or what else the Hop Rocks might do to us. Their bounciness wore off before mine did, and I ultimately won the duel. Right before getting sniped.

Is this area going to knock the game out of balance? Will the Hop Rocks go away in a week? We have no idea. The only way to find out is to play, and pay attention to how the game changes. This is the first time I’ve woken up actively excited about a game’s update in a long time, and Epic’s desire to leave so much of the discovery to players is wonderful. You’re not going to get the whole story from the patch notes, nor should you. These shifts are things you’ll have to experience for yourself to understand.

Save the World mode also has new content, and you’ll have to play to see exactly what the comet did and how the superheroes tie into the game’s actual story. Both modes are sure to have other surprises that players have yet to find, and that’s an exciting idea.

Can PUBG do this?

It seems like PUBG Corp. has increased the speed in which updates come to the game, and is now more willing to play with wilder ideas to get people excited about the game again. But Fortnite’s latest moves are themselves a masterclass in keeping people talking about the game. That sense of mystery and greater meaning to each season is hard to fight.

PUBG has three different servers that often have very different content, but Fortnite keeps everyone together in one clump while it tries new things. Every player is exploring the same area, with the same changes. And we’re not really sure what we’ll find.

Epic Games keeps a breakneck pace when it comes to adding content and making changes to Fortnite, but this new emphasis on surprises and a bigger meta-story that ties both modes together is incredibly effective. This isn’t just new stuff to play — it’s a new mystery to solve.

Players still really don’t know what’s going on with the updated map, and those details are going to be slowly pieced together as everyone plays and notes changes they experience. We’re all fighting each other, sure, but there’s a sense that we’re also all working together to figure out the game itself. That’s likely part of the reason the game’s chat feels so friendly.

That feeling of a community working together and the sense of mystery that Epic has brought to Fortnite lately is something that is almost sure to grow the audience, and it’s an edge that PUBG likely can’t match. As the two games compete for players and learn from each other, it may be Fortnite’s sense of the mysterious that PUBG has the most difficulty replicating.