Fortnite OG
Image: Epic Games

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Ethan thanks the driver of the time-travelling Battle Bus...

Back in 2018, a rallying cry echoed throughout the Nintendo Switch community. It was just three simple words, yet the phrase heralded the dawn of a major tide shift in the gaming space: “Where we droppin’?”

Fortnite isn’t just a game — it’s a pop culture sensation. Yet, times have changed since Epic Games’ 100-player battle royale launched on Switch years ago. The game has traded in iconic points of interest like Tilted Towers and Salty Springs for new vistas. Rather than a skin vaguely resembling John Wick in the most copyright-abiding way possible, John Wick is actually in the game — along with a ton of other pop culture staples ranging from My Hero Academia’s Deku to Geralt from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The loot pool has featured lightsabers from Star Wars, the Kamehameha from Dragon Ball, and Spider-Man’s web shooters.

Modern Fortnite is a hodge-podge of wacky mechanics and even wackier crossovers, to the point where some OG players — like our very own Jim — have no idea what to make of the game anymore. But while it may have become the video game equivalent of mixing every single soda from the burger shop drink dispenser, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fortnite has managed to stay relevant for all this time because it constantly refreshes itself, tossing out the old in favor of shiny new features.

That’s what made it such a shock when, near the end of Chapter 4, Season 4, Epic Games announced that the new season of Fortnite would constitute an abbreviated return to several of the title’s original seasons, with the state of the game reverting back to how it was a mere month after its Switch launch.

the way that I perceive the game has shifted radically

Like many longtime players, I’ve had my peaks and valleys with Fortnite. I played the game to death during its 2018 heyday, only to fall off in the Chapter 2 era. Chapter 3 brought me back with all of its zany additions, and I’ve been playing regularly again ever since. While I’ve learned to embrace the chaos of the title’s ever-changing state, I’ll admit that I have longed to revisit those simpler days.

I was, therefore, thrilled by the news that the game would be temporarily returning to its original format, but a kernel of doubt flared within me. Was I only wishing for a return to early Fortnite due to rose-tinted sentiment? Could that old version even hold up today?

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.

Fortnite OG isn’t just a nostalgic blast from the past, it’s simply a blast to play. Moreover, it has alerted me to something about the game I had long forgotten and something its modern iteration ostensibly tries its best to obscure: the fact that I’m playing a battle royale shooter — and a darn good one, at that.

Of course, Fortnite never stopped being a battle royale. As outside-the-box as they get, modern seasons of the game still hew to that classic last-player-standing loop. Nonetheless, the way that I perceive the game has shifted radically. When I drop into a match, I’m not thinking about the 99 players dropping elsewhere. I’m thinking about searching enough chests to find two keys in order to get a mythic SMG, or spending gold bars to reroll for the perfect ability augment, or infiltrating an NPC’s hideout in order to get one of the prized vaulted weapons. By the time I’ve geared up and gone through my usual routine, I’m shocked to find that I’ve made it down to the final few players without much thought.

There are far fewer distractions in Fortnite OG. For the first time in years, I feel like an actual survivalist pitted against a heaping Battle Bus-full of players vying for that coveted Victory Royale. Watching the number of remaining players tick down is nerve-wracking. The game’s weapon pool is far more reserved, turning the occasional find of a legendary gun into an event. The drop rate of healing items has been drastically reduced, making fights more intense than ever while simultaneously forcing me to scrounge around for Shield Potions like my life depends on it... because it does. Even the simple act of traversing the map is once again a tense affair, as a reduced amount of mobility items ensures that players need to be more aware of their positioning (and potential enemies) than ever.

By returning its gameplay to a more grounded and limited structure, Fortnite is once again encouraging a certain quality of strategy, creativity, and inventiveness from its players in terms of how to beat out the competition. I’ve noticed a profound uptick in playstyle variety since the season started, whether it’s seeing players actually build tall, intricate bases in the endgame or finding someone quietly hiding in a building’s bathroom — the first camper I’ve encountered in years.

The nail-biting fights, the hunt for loot, the grounded map — all of these are what make a battle royale for me, but they’re qualities I didn’t even realize I was missing with modern Fortnite. When I do well in Fortnite OG, it feels like I’m actually winning against the odds — and that’s what made the game’s original 99v1 format so compelling to me years ago. When things come down to the wire in a match’s endgame, I’m transported back to those early days with sweaty palms and shaky fingers as I desperately try to fire the winning shot at my opponent.

Fortnite is once again encouraging a certain quality of strategy, creativity, and inventiveness

So, what happens now? Fortnite can’t stay this way forever, nor is it going to. At the end of this month-long season, the game will carve out yet another new identity for itself, and there’s no guarantee that any of this special OG season is going to be a part of that future. At the very least, I hope that the game’s developers have noticed how a trip back to its roots has reinvigorated the community. As for me, even if I must once again leave the past behind, I’m content just having the chance to make some new memories with an old favorite.

My standout match of the season thus far ended with my friend and I pitted against a single other duo. I defeated one of our opponents, only to be knocked out by their teammate, leaving my buddy in a 1v1 face-off for the crown. The tension was so palpable in those final moments that both of us went non-verbal as he and the enemy stalked each other in a pit full of shipping containers. When the final shotgun blast rang out, we roared in defeat and cursed our loss, going over our strategy and what we could have done better. Of course, it didn’t take long for that commiseration to turn into determination.

“Next time, for sure. Wanna go again?”

“Where we droppin’?”

Fortnite OG
Image: Nintendo Life