There were a lot of great games this year. Pokémon Sword and Shield, Death Stranding, Control, Untitled Goose Game, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Baba is You all hit in 2019. But when I had time to play a game, I usually opted for another drop in Fortnite instead.
At this point, I’ve been hooked for nearly a year and a half, ever since Fortnite came to the Switch in June 2018. My first goal was to get that elusive first win, but the game keeps pulling me back with its frequent updates, seasonal events, and addicting battle passes. The improvements and changes in the newly released Chapter 2 have made the game even better. There’s always something to do that only takes a few minutes to get into. Those few-minute chunks frequently stretched into hours-long sessions for me this year.
In solo modes, I can always chase the thrill of a win, or spend some time checking off a couple of my battle pass challenges. Or I can play a low stakes game of Team Rumble (Fortnite’s take on Team Deathmatch) to see some guaranteed action. Or perhaps there’s a limited time mode, like the Avengers crossovers, that I want to try out. Or perhaps I can explore some new area of the map, which Epic updates on a regular basis. The game constantly offers new reasons to play and new places to see, and at the end of a long work day, it was often a lot more enticing for me to play an hour of Fortnite and see what’s new instead of picking up and puzzling through an entirely new game.
And every time I played, I almost always earned a few levels and one of Epic’s wonderfully designed cosmetic rewards from my seasonal battle pass, making any amount of time I sunk into the game feel worth it. The cosmetics are a great carrot to work toward, as Fortnite’s cartoony visuals give Epic’s artists the freedom to make a lot of really creative and entertaining skins that I love running around in, like a skeletal pirate, a DJ llama, and Peely, the humanoid banana. Epic’s emotes are also incredibly entertaining, and I love to bust them out at random moments in a match with my friends. (My favorites are the iconic default dance and the bizarre “Jaywalking” dance.)
Fortnite’s amazing live events were some of the highlights of my gaming year. Take February’s live Marshmello concert, for example — I don’t consider myself a Marshmello fan, but I had a blast virtually dancing to the music, and I thought Epic did a great job making the show feel like a real concert. My mind also still melts when I think about the unvaulting event, where every participating player got to vote on what weapon would be brought back to the game — and then, that weapon, the drum gun, was immediately available in the game. The surprise addition of lightsabers to the game after this weekend’s Star Wars event had me feeling like a Jedi all weekend, much like my colleague Andrew Webster.
And who can forget the black hole event, Epic’s way to cleverly mask a two-day downtime leading into Chapter 2? During that first day when the black hole knocked Fortnite offline, with no indication of when it would come back, I kept the black hole running on my Switch for hours, just in case anything happened. I spent more of my day than I care to admit feverishly reading every theory I could find about what might be going on. The night before the black hole was rumored to open back up, I was so excited I actually had trouble sleeping.
Fortunately, the wait was worth it. Right from the get-go, Fortnite’s Chapter 2 made a statement, transitioning you seamlessly from the typical beginning-of-season cutscene directly into a drop from the Battle Bus, with a thumping song accompanying your drop. On top of that, you weren’t dropping on the familiar Fortnite island: you and everyone else were experiencing a brand-new map for the first time in a long, long time. It was awesome.
Fortnite’s Chapter 2 feels like a full-fledged sequel that has me addicted to the game all over again. It looks better, even in handheld mode on my Switch. It has a smaller but better selection of weapons, making fights feel more balanced and fair. And that brand-new map is just plain better than the original one.
The original map will always be memorable for being the game’s first, but it was pretty flat, had a lot of similar-looking terrain, and it clearly wasn’t designed to handle the sky-high build wars that players regularly pull off now. Chapter 2’s map is bigger, has more diverse environments, and is a lot more vertical, creating more isolated battlefields that require smarter resource management to navigate around. I also love that it kept some old favorite haunts like Pleasant Park, Salty Springs, and Retail Row.
Another welcome addition in Chapter 2 is traversable water. Swimming downstream is an easy way to get across the map quickly, while fishing is a fun way to loot for weapons and health power-ups. And motorboats are a really useful way to zip around the island’s waterways. (They’re also fun, if terrible, to use on land).
Chapter 2 also added bots to the noncompetitive battle royale modes, and they have made those modes considerably more fun to play for a casual player like me. I only play the game on Switch, can’t build worth a damn, and my aim is horrible. So despite how many hours I’ve put into the game, I’m not actually that good. My previous strategy for a solo win was to loot some faraway place, hide along the edge of the circle for as long as possible, and then try to press some kind of advantage in a final one-on-one skirmish. The bots are bad enough that I can (usually) hold my own, though, so I’m finding that I approach each game with a lot more confidence than before.
Epic also made a few changes to challenges and battle pass progression in Chapter 2 that make it much easier to level up your battle pass. Now you earn XP not just for kills and challenges, but also for almost everything you’d be doing in a game anyway, like searching ammo boxes and looting chests. The game is now very generous about handing out XP — so much so that I went from level 68 to 113 this weekend in just a few hours of playing. Epic has made it much easier for more people to get their battle pass to level 100 by the time the season ends in February.
With Chapter 2, Epic has also shown a willingness to explore new types of game modes. For Halloween, it launched a new PvE limited time mode, which pitted 12 players against the Storm King, a giant, powerful monster on the new map’s central island. The mode was, for me, incredibly difficult, but I couldn’t stop playing it. It was really fun to work with players instead of against them, and I hope Epic brings more PvE modes to the game in the future.
2019 was also Fortnite’s breakout year for its competitive scene, and I spent a lot of time watching the qualifiers in the weeks leading up to the Fortnite World Cup. I find the matches to be fascinating. They’re usually slow, tense, and nerve-wracking until the final few minutes, when they become chaotic firefights with players building ramps and structures at a mind-blowing pace. Every time I watch a competitive game, I usually have the itch to hop right back into a match of my own.
When you combine Fortnite’s bite-sized structure and the frequency of updates, you get a game that I’ve been coming back to over and over again. It’s easily my favorite game in 2019. And with all of the improvements in Chapter 2, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m saying the same thing this time next year.