Fortnite: Battle Royale is getting a makeover. Or rather, its map is getting a makeover. Later this week, the game’s popular island arena that players know and love will be looking quite a bit different, as Epic Games revamps old locations, throws in new environmental aesthetics, and adds no less than five major points of interest to its North Western corner, from the skyscrapers of Tilted Towers to the underground caverns of Shifty Shafts (stop giggling).
“Map Update”, as it’s being called, is the largest patch in part of Epic’s continual efforts to make Battle Royale an ever evolving experience. With the game having just reached another important milestone of 40 million registered players (with a concurrent user peak of two million), the ambitious changes brought in by this patch feel like a major landmark for Fortnite, as well as a mission statement from Epic on its commitment to the game’s long term future.
“I hear people saying stuff like we’re the biggest Battle Royale game in the world and potentially the biggest game in the Western world,” says Systems Lead Eric Williamson, “so we’re humbled, but at the same time we see it as a challenge to keep improving the game and keep things fresh.”
Map Update is the latest example of Epic living up to that challenge. Any regular Fortnite players will immediately be able to notice the visual differences to the island almost as soon as they’ve jumped off the battle bus, as the entire terrain has been diversified with more detailed biomes, richer colours, and a suite of new assets.
But Map Update’s piece de resistance, so to speak, is the aforementioned Tilty Towers, more colloquially known as “the city.” Previously, most pre-existing buildings on the map have been three stories tall at most, but Tilty Towers is a mini metropolis of high-rise buildings brimming with loot, making it destined to become a popular drop off location for those seeking firefights and fortune.
“Tilty Towers introduces a lot of verticality to Battle Royale.” explains Lead Level Designer Sidney Rauchberger. “It’s got a good mix of long, medium, and close range spaces with a lot of complex links between them, so we’re expecting a lot of crazy stuff to go on down there.”
Then there’s Shifty Shafts (I said stop giggling); a subterranean network of caverns which Rauchberger excitedly describes as a “super tight and claustrophobic underground mine, with lots of tight corners. It’s going to be dark, scary, and a contrasting flavour to everything we’ve added so far.”
Beyond that, there’s Haunted Hills, Snobby Snores, and Junk Junction, but these are merely the big hitters in an update which has given the entire island a redecoration to varying degrees of significance.
If you’re a regular Battle Royale player, you’re probably wondering whether all of these additional points of interest means more opportunities for finding rare and valuable loot. The answer, Williamson tells me, is a firm yes.
“We’ve added a substantial new amount of treasure chests and loot locations, which means there will be more loot available in the game as a whole, but finding that loot comes with the risk of entering these new high density locations where you’ll have to fight more players, so there’s now a greater element of strategy in choosing where you’re going to land."
Aside from the new locales, Epic has also brushed up existing areas of the map as part of its wider overhaul to give the island a more distinctive identity, most notably by colouring in the landscape with more unique and interesting biomes.
“We have mountains, farms, grasslands, and a swamp region, and those different biomes allows players to orient themselves more effectively from the very start of the match.” says Rauchberger, who points to the Epic’s new and improved streaming technology as the reason the studio has been able to create this wealth of new content in such a short space of time.
This tech essentially allows the studio to load assets in and out of the game dynamically, which opens up more opportunities for customization and tinkering. Or, to put it as simply as Williamson does, “it allows us to do more stuff [...] more skins, more pickaxes, more items, improved gameplay, and so on.”
With its constant rollout of updates to Fortnite: Battle Royale, Epic has already proved that it’s keenly in touch with the desires and concerns of its snowballing player base, and Rauchberger assures me that the upcoming map changes are no different.
“We spend a lot of time playing with the community, reading our forums, listening online, and we’re always making changes based on that, from small things like ammo placement to bigger stuff like the demand for a new city [Tilted Towers].”
And finally… Moisty Mires, Wailing Woods, and now Shifty Shafts?! Just where on earth does Epic come up with these names? Williamson sneakily gestures towards Rauchberger, who admits that Moisty Mires was partly his idea.
“We toss ideas around and try to see what sticks. We want to keep it playful, but it’s awesome to see people reacting to a name like Moisty!”