Fortnite is the one theme park we can all attend in 2020

It’s all but impossible to go to theme parks at the moment (especially here in the U.S.). For those of us that miss that kind of immersive escapism, however, we do have an alternative: Fortnite.

That might sound like a weird comparison, but over the years, the popular multiplayer game has expanded beyond the battle royale genre. Case in point: It recently ended Season 4 with a live event against Galactus, one of the largest foes in the Marvel universe. The Devourer of Worlds appeared as a menacing silhouette on the horizon, one that grew in size as he approached players aboard the Helicarrier. With a swipe of his enormous hand, he destroyed the ship, thus beginning a short but wild finale.

Instead of fighting Galactus with shotguns and pickaxes, players piloted a Tony Stark-ified version of the Battle Bus. It was a very unusual Fortnite experience, as it briefly turned the game into an on-rails space shooter. I shot down hostile drones with laser cannons, flew through Galactus’s arm in a Death Star-like trench run, and then, with a big smile on my face, watched a fun cutscene where heroes like Iron Man and Wolverine jumped in to help get rid of the insatiable villain.

The Season 4 event was a great way to kill 10 minutes on an otherwise boring afternoon (just one of many in this pandemic). And playing it reminded me of all the times I went on motion-based simulator rides like Star Tours or The Simpsons Ride. While the physical sensation of being in a moving ship or cart is obviously missing, the Fortnite event had all the hallmarks of a licensed theme park attraction with its exciting hero cameos and the sheer sensory overload of facing Galactus.

Up until recently, I didn’t touch Fortnite that much. But in 2020, it’s become the only place for me to participate in huge communal events, which is one of the things I miss about visiting theme parks in real life. Gaming is the best medium to replicate that kind of shared social experience, and so far, no one has done it better than Epic Games.

Not Just Battle Royale Anymore

Live events aren’t new to Fortnite. Epic started doing them in 2018 as a clever way to implement big changes to the battle royale gameplay. The limited-time nature of these events (happening only once or several times over the course of a few days) made them a huge hit with players. As the popularity of Fortnite grew, Epic also began working with big licenses like Marvel (with skins and other content that tied into Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame), the National Football League, and Star Wars.

These partnerships kicked into high gear in 2019 in terms of both variety and density. But this year, Epic demonstrated how flexible Fortnite can be as an entertainment platform. In April, the studio premiered a new kind of concert with mega rapper Travis Scott. Instead of having players watch him on a 2D screen, however, the entire map transformed into an interactive music video.

I’d never seen anything like it in a game before. A giant avatar of Travis Scott rapped to “Sicko Mode” and other songs while the environment changed dramatically around him. It was a trippy experience!

Then in May, Epic released Party Royale, a new mode where Fortnite players could hang with their friends without the pressure of fighting other people. This area has since been used to showcase big musical acts (like Steve Aoki and Diplo), trailer premieres, and even full movies.

Given how packed Fortnite’s extracurricular schedule has been, it’s easy to think that battle royale might just be an afterthought now. However, the latest season of content clearly shows that’s not the case.

A Celebration Of Pop Culture

One of the biggest selling points of the bounty hunter-themed Season 5 is the inclusion of characters from The Mandalorian. As you level up the battle pass, you can go on quests to obtain Beskar armor pieces (similar to the way Din Djarin upgrades his armor in the Disney Plus show). On top of that, Season 5 also features Kratos from Sony’s God of War, and if the rumors are to be believed, Halo’s Master Chief will soon join the universe-crossing mayhem as well.

It doesn’t seem like there are any limits to what can or can’t be in the game — that sense of mystery is what makes Fortnite so unique in this industry. For some, it’s a giant toy box filled with the world’s most popular characters. There aren’t many games where you can have a Ghostbuster fly alongside Iron Man, or have the Joker fight Captain America while a sentient banana tries to snipe them.

Fortnite is also a space for entertainers to reach both old and new fans alike, whether it’s through lavishly produced concerts or just a two-hour DJ set. It’s also a place for people to just hang out and talk to each other when there’s nothing better to do.

For me, playing Fortnite is like walking into a virtual theme park, one that celebrates all things pop culture. I can head into Battle Royale Land to check out the new map and polish up my (nonexistent) building skills. Or if I’m in the mood for a show, I can visit Party Royale Island to see if there’s a performance going on. And every once in a while, I might be lucky enough to catch a live event that everyone will still be talking about the day after.

With many around the world still living in various states of quarantine and starving for some kind of social interaction, it’s great that games like Fortnite can offer that brief respite from reality. It almost feels normal.