Fortnite Wilds
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, Jim returns to Fortnite to celebrate the Switch port's fifth anniversary, and he's not sure what he's dropped into...

When Fortnite first made the jump to Switch five years ago, I couldn't get enough. The online shooter had gone portable in early 2018 with the mobile version, but my chunky thumbs and out-of-date phone meant that was never going to cut the mustard. The Switch version, however, hit the sweet spot — portable enough to play it on the go, but just large enough that I could pour a good few hours into it without hand cramp setting in. And I really did pour those hours in.

I haven't played Fortnite for four years now, yet a brief look at my Switch playtime displays a triple-digit figure (which, for my own safety, I'd rather keep to myself). But with the game's fifth anniversary on Switch rolling around, I thought that it might be a good time to hop onto the Battle Bus once more and see what had gone down during my extended break.

After booting up the game once again, I can honestly say that, even with my hundreds of hours of previous playtime, I had no idea what was going on.

Right now, we're at the beginning of the game's latest season, 'Fortnite Wilds' — you might remember the footage from Summer Game Fest that comically received a near-silent response from the audience.

"Perhaps this will be the perfect time to dive back in," I thought, "everyone will be on a level playing field with all of the new additions". I was very wrong. I should have known this from the second that I made it into a lobby and realised that I had no idea how to get into a game.

The 'Game Mode' box that contained the likes of 'Solo', 'Duos', 'Squads' and the odd special event back in the day was just an empty rectangle, with none of the aforementioned options sitting there. After around five minutes of searching the menus (remember that the font is particularly tiny on Switch) I eventually found the option to select a game mode. I could not believe what I saw.

Fortnite Switch
This is just one page of options. One. Page.Image: Nintendo Life

If, like me, you have also been on a Battle Bus hiatus for the past few years, you might not have seen the game mode screen for a while, so have a look at the screenshot above. I was looking for something that vaguely resembled a 'Solo' match and I was met with a wash of words I didn't understand, celebrity faces I didn't recognise and more tie-ins than a phase-ending MCU movie could dream up.

I do vaguely remember the announcement that you would be able to make your own islands in Fortnite, but I was not expecting the sheer amount of options that are now present. I eventually managed to find the 'Battle Royale' mode in the 'Popular' section of the Browse screen. Goodness knows how long I would have been looking if I had just started aimlessly scrolling through the sensory overload that hit me upon arrival.

With that first hurdle out of the way, I got myself into a game (after a pretty lengthy load time) and started some actual playing. On the surface, this is thankfully the same old Fortnite — you drop onto an island with 100 other poor souls, frantically collect the best weapons that you can and then set about dispatching your competition to be the last man standing. But it didn't take me long to realise that almost everything else has changed.

Fortnite Wilds
There are Bomb Flowers now. What is this, Zelda? — Image: Epic Games

In Fortnite's defence, I haven't been keeping up with the in-game storyline (yep, there's a plot) over the past four years, so I did have to do a brief online refresher course after I realised that I knew precisely none of the map's locations. The likes of Dusty Depot, Tomato Town, and Fatal Fields are all gone, replaced by similarly alliterative drop spots like Lazy Lagoon, Coney Crossroads, and Rocky Reels. And the Battle Royal map is now absolutely massive.

As it turns out, the original map — known as the Athena Map or Athena Royale — has been blown up and put together again a handful of times since I last played. The island as we currently find it is an amalgamation of several different worlds all pulled together (I think) and is known as Asteria (maybe?).

Either way, I went about my first few games as I always used to: Find a relatively remote spot, clear out anyone who chose to land near me, and then spend the rest of the game just edging the storm boundary while attempting to avoid as much combat as possible. I had no idea where I was most of the time, but getting down to the final few survivors is still a pretty heart-racing experience.

What took me a while to get my head around is just how packed with stuff the game has become. Back in the day, there was the odd quest or mission for you to perhaps stumble across while playing a match, but now the world is full of XP bonuses, weapon modifiers, 'Capture Points', gold bars, job offers, NPCs, bounties, etc. I could keep listing them, but the important thing is, most of these things I had absolutely no idea what to do with.

Even the things that I assumed to be basic have changed. Think you know what chests are? Some of them require keys now. Know how to drive a car? You'll have to keep it topped up with petrol, apparently. It is still a very fun time, but I can't help but think that the simplicity of the original "100 players start, one remains" format has been slightly lost.

But perhaps that's the point. From my brief return to the game, it is apparent that Battle Royale isn't the be-all and end-all of Fortnite anymore. The other game modes, while overwhelming in number, have managed to create a platform for just about any kind of play experience imaginable. These range from standard game modes with a twist like the 'No Build' battles where it's the same game but (you guessed it) you can't build to other, less combat-based objectives that feel closer to Fall Guys than any semblance of the online shooter that I played all those years ago.

Spider-Man Miles Morales Fortnite
Miles seems happy, at least. — Image: Epic Games

Has Fortnite really become a platform for gaming rather than a game in and of itself? Maybe. Am I no longer sure what is happening in 90% of my Battle Royale matches? Definitely. But it did still bring me a good time, albeit one where I watched Ariana Grande pull a shotgun on Spider-Man before viciously dabbing over his dematerialising corpse...

Are you still playing Fortnite or did you also stop a while ago? Tempted to dive back in? You can fill out the following polls and then hop off the bus in the comments to let us know.

When did you last play Fortnite?
Do you want to give Fortnite another go now that 'Wilds' is out?