Do you think the Epic Games employee who got the job of modeling a bathroom stall in Fortnite ever envisioned it as a stepping stone? A mundane environmental detail that could actually be a platform facilitating a path to salvation? I can't say for certain - but what I do know is that Fortnite player Henwy had the vision to see such a strange opportunity, and seized it with gusto in their Skyscraper Escape map.
Such ingenuity runs rampant in Fortnite Creative mode, particularly in its ever-growing collection of parkour maps. These player-made playgrounds put 3D platforming and spatial puzzle solving on a pedestal, ignoring core Fortnite skills like precision aim and speedy building. And these maps have pulled me into the Fortnite fold in a way I never thought possible, with every portal opened by Fortnite Creative codes feeling like a journey into another fledgling level designer's dream creation.
Lowering the stakes
I've long felt like a contrarian curmudgeon watching Fortnite's rise to mind-boggling popularity from the sidelines, unable to enjoy myself like everyone else. If you're like me, Fortnite's Battle Royale mode is a little bit like torture. As a disciple of arena shooters, the long stretches of uneventful scavenging make my skin crawl, as does fighting the urge to engage at the first sight of an enemy. But those are minor annoyances compared to my fatal flaw: a desperate desire to end any multiplayer gaming sessions on a win, coupled with the fact that I suck at Fortnite. It's a recipe for disappointment, ensuring that I always come from Battle Royale feeling, perhaps deservingly, like a failure.
But the parkour maps are something else entirely. There are no enemies to fear, no reason to constantly watch my back or frantically change my trajectory to avoid a quick death as soon as I drop onto the map. You won't have to grit your teeth while your killer does some manner of lawsuit-sparking meme dance atop your fresh corpse. There's just you, the level, and the challenge of making it all the way to the end. You can invite friends along if you like, but so far I've enjoyed dabbling in Fortnite Creative mode solo, as if each play session is a private moment of meditation as I commune with the spirit of the level creator. It's also the perfect time to queue up some ambient listening in the background, as sound cues aren't a matter of life and death; I recommend chilling to some Lakey Inspired.
You can see the care that went into every facet of the very best parkour-based Creative stages. Perfectly spaced jumps that make you tense up with every leap of faith, eager to retry should you come up short. Obstacles that briefly seem impossible until you take a moment, and suddenly the solution jumps out at you. Objects placed thoughtfully for no other reason than to add atmosphere apart from the critical path. Puzzles are often used to provide a pleasant break in the pacing, giving your fingers a rest while your brain does some heavy lifting.
Some levels will push your understanding of Fortnite's geometry in ways you would've never imagined, or force you to think outside the conventions of Epic Games' own environment design. If you don't mind a minor spoiler for brilliant Creative map The Great Wizard's Lair, take a look at the 4:32 mark in the video above (with apologies for the obnoxious thumbnail). Manipulating the directions of two seemingly unrelated doors to open up the way forward is utterly inspired - and yes, I'll admit to looking up the answer. Without giving anything anyway, the map's creator BluePumpkin7 even found an ingenious way to inspire discovery beyond the boundaries of the Fortnite client.
Finally joining the Fortnite conversation
Parkour custom maps are nothing new - you'll find them in every game that gives its players powerful tools to bring their own levels to life. Minecraft parkour is all the rage, and I'll never forget nights spent trying to cross the finish line in platforming gauntlets built for Team Fortress 2 and Counter-Strike. Klei Entertainment's Hot Lava is an entire game dedicated to recreating that sensation of speedrunning obstacle courses in the Source engine. But running and jumping around parkour maps has taken on special importance in Fortnite, at least for me: it's a nonviolent, uncompetitive way to connect with a game that's become a cultural touchstone.
Now I suddenly have an interest in checking Fortnite's Item Shop on a semi-regular basis, fully prepared to drop some V-Bucks if I see a skin I like - because why shouldn't I look good while nimbly hopping from one platform to the next? After months of admiring Fortnite's vibrant, cartoony art style from afar, I can soak it all in as I bounce around such wildly unique levels. I can say I took part in the social experiment / marketing masterstroke that is Weezer World. I've even busted out an emote dance or two just for the fun of it after conquering a particularly tricky obstacle course.
Of course, Creative mode is so much more than just parkour - you can make your way through tricky mazes, admire in-game sculptures and dioramas (like Compact Combat) worthy of a museum, race around go-kart tracks, or join a shootout with alternative rulesets (like a complete lack of building). Parkour maps just happen to scratch a particular itch for me: games that weren't designed to be platformers suddenly asking players to make precision jumps. I always got a kick out of completing Guild Wars 2's jumping puzzles, and Maple Story's Jump Quests before that. There's just a certain charm to conquering challenges and controls that might feel janky in a dedicated platforming game, but are totally serviceable when they're not the main focus. It's also amazing how quickly players can bring out the very best in a level creator; for proof, just look at the best Trials Rising custom tracks.
"Fortnite has gone way past simply being a battle royale game," we wrote in our Fortnite review. The ever-expanding bounty of amazing Creative mode maps is the proof, and they're getting better all the time. With the great work Epic Games is doing to highlight new projects on a daily basis, Fortnite level designers can get their creations in front of thousands, if not millions, of intrigued players. Some people might see Creative mode as a nice distraction - a way to unwind between Battle Royale matches. But for me, Fortnite Creative mode is the entire reason I play the game.
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