I don’t build for the first five or so minutes of Fortnite matches anymore. After the recent Fortnite Chapter 2 Season 2 update, you’ll catch me crouching in a vent doing my best Agent 47 impression, holding incapacitated thugs up to retinal scanners at the bottom level of a massive subterranean base, or dressing up like one of those very thugs, trying to catch another player off guard with a surprise shotgun round to the face.
I’m not even thinking about the encroaching storm or how terrible I still am at constructing elaborate staircases into the sky. This isn’t exactly Fortnite, it’s an urgent stealth game about intel and deception inside of Fortnite.
The update adds some elaborate new locations with spy bases, intricate and dense new areas littered with secret passages, sprawling ventilation shafts, locked doors, and AI-controlled henchmen patrolling it all. Cameras and turrets are everywhere too, forcing stealthy play from the get-go. Unless you’re making a late-game detour, it’s unlikely you’ll have the weapons and ammo to take them all down.
So you’ll want to try and sneak by, at least. Each base houses a vault packed with enough loot to keep you set for the rest of the match. Thing is, you need a master keycard to open the big vault. Finding it requires shaking down the right henchman to find the location of a unique area ‘boss’, essentially a henchman with extra health and shields, wielding powerful mythic weapons.
You can technically find and take down the boss immediately, but skulking around to thin out the henchman army and other players while gathering loot is the best bet. Besides, if other players are in the area, taking on the boss immediately is a great way to tell everyone exactly where you are.
Another problem: the best loot is behind locked doors, and locked doors require a henchman’s eyes to open. My favorite tactic is using phone booths to disguise myself as one of the goons, which lets you open most doors and avoid the suspicion of cameras and guards, at which point Fortnite becomes Hitman-lite. Blending into the scene and deceiving other players by role-playing a robotic NPC is a great joy. You may be able to build, little Jimmy, but I’m a great liar.
You can also shoot a guard to incapacitate them and shake them down for intel, which briefly shows the locations of all henchmen and the keycard location on the HUD, or carry them around and hold them up to retinal scanners like the big meaty keys they are. I’m not used to having this many options in Fortnite. Build and shoot and run were it until now.
The best battle royale design has always orbited the classic high risk for high rewards equation, but Fortnite’s new spy zones make that high risk incredibly appealing rather than daunting. I typically avoid popular arenas and favor slower, more tactical play, but the new spy zones let me keep that playstyle in a big crowd.
If I successfully navigate the perils of a spy zone, either killing everyone onboard, including henchmen and other players, or infiltrate without a soul catching sight of me and get out with the kind of kit you typically only get 10 minutes into a match, I already feel like a winner. Even if some building master constructs a skyscraper and eliminates me the second I hit the mainland, I won’t be too upset. Most spy-base landings are tense, complete experiences on their own.
In one particularly crowded match, I thought I’d put my Metal Gear skills to use and hid in a cardboard box right next to the entrance of the vault on the yacht spy base. I sat and waited and listened as all the other players eliminated one another and every henchmen until the victor rolled up to the door, ready to claim their spoils. But I spoiled it. Popped out and juiced ’em with an SMG. Took it all. No regrets. It’s really easy to get the jump on other players too, whether you’re in a box or not. Vents and secret passages run through each dense, layered zone, perfect for improvised ambushes and getaways.
In another, I had no guns and no clear way through the base defenses, so I thought I’d ride the edge of the storm. It came in, destroyed all the henchman and turrets while I applied a few bandages and medpacks to stay alive. Even the boss bit the dust, so I took her infinite-use, zero-cooldown golden grappler gun, used a porta-potty which flushed me out of another on the mainland (yes, there are toilet portals in Fortnite now) and grappled to safety, escaping the storm with a sliver of health. Now that’s a heist, baby.
I love these spy movie flavored pockets of excitement at the beginning of every match. Gone are the dog days of landing in an unpopulated corner of the map, looting and farming and rotating without seeing another player for half the match, all because it’s a dependable tactic. Not a particularly fun one, though.
With every new Fortnite season, I’m always asking myself where the hell it can possibly go next. Battle royale feels like a played out genre these days, a known entity gradually moving from its status as phenomenon and into normalcy. But Epic doesn’t want to settle. This chapter isn’t about new items and weapons and traversal, it’s about playful experimentation with the entire genre. Shifts in the item pool and meta were losing me by Season 7 or so, but I’ll keep coming back every couple months to play the new game inside the game.