This far in, I think we can officially say: Fortnite is weird. The game that originally launched offered a brilliant suite of construction tools, but the game's pretty but rather brainless PvE meant there was little reason to build anything that fancy. The fact that any and all buildings would disappear at the end of a single Horde-style level meant that you felt you were wasting your time if you tried to experiment or make something elaborate and interesting. Form definitely followed function here.
And then Battle Royale came along and the game just got weirder. A neat lift from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds brought plenty of us back to Fortnite, as well as showcasing the oddly appealing Fortnite art style and its pleasantly vivid weaponry. I spent many happy hours lurking in bushes and discovering my favourite routes through the game's snug but wonderfully cluttered island. I even won a game, although, spoilers, it was because I went AFK in some shrubbery while chatting with a colleague and came back in time to watch my only remaining rival make a terrible mistake with a rocket launcher. Battle Royale is fun, but again, I didn't build much. And from the games I watched through to their conclusions, nobody else built much either. There would be a sudden blitz of construction towards the final act, and now and then someone would throw up a quick ramp to get to a treasure chest that was out of reach in an attic, but this was still a game that was mostly about shooting, a game in which the building could still be ignored most of the time.
Now 50v50 is here and all of this is starting to change. Maybe. I've only had one game so far, but Fortnite's sleepy meta seems to have woken up in a very good mood. Is this the tweak to the formula that brings the original Fortnite dream - a game about destruction and creation working hand-in-hand - back to life?
Again: maybe. 50v50 is admirably clear-headed from the off. Two teams spreading out across the same landscape, leaping from the same battlebus, landing to find the same randomised loot, the same weapons, the same crafting material. Voice chat is squad only and friendly fire is turned off. Regardless of whether you die or not - I did, naturally - everyone on the surviving team wins.
The first thing that feels arrestingly different about 50v50 is that your team-mates appear on the mini-map, bright little green arrows wandering over the landscape, converging, sticking together, breaking up and going alone. I didn't realise how much I am attuned to distant sounds while I play. I started my first 50v50 game by bailing out towards the three warehouses, as I often do. I landed on the roof of a family house just behind the 1950s diner, and I dug down into the attic: no treasure chest, alas, and by this point in a traditional Battle Royale game I had probably done much of my axe-wielding for the first two acts of the match.
But this was not a traditional game. Upon heading downstairs in the house, I heard the front door open. I froze. No weapon beyond the axe (or whatever it is, I guess it's a pick, isn't it?), no place to hide. Then I remembered this was 50v50. I looked at the map. A green arrow. I was inside a house with one of my own team.
Five minutes later and I had a handful of decent weapons and bandages and was happy to start exploring. The storm was shrinking to a position that I was still comfortably within. I wandered around with my new friend for a bit and then headed out across the river to try and find the big red shotgun that I like.
This is where stuff got really interesting, I think. Or at least really different. Up ahead I noticed a cluster of green arrows on the map. I crested a hill and there were my team-mates, at least a dozen of them, and they were all felling trees, smashing rocks, and putting together...some kind of building. It was completely fascinating to watch: they started with a long upwards ramp and then built a wide platform on top, and then they ramped-in the edges. It looked odd but brilliant: a radar dish made of wicker. What was truly amazing was seeing the way it came together, the design evolving as players, working side by side, came to realise what everyone else was doing. You could almost see the design starting to cohere over time until suddenly everyone decided it was done.
And then we all climbed aboard and started scanning the horizon. Gunfire in Battle Royale has a very distinct pattern. A single shot rings out: sniper. A quick patter of SMG fire will last for a few seconds, but it will never last much longer than that: it meant that someone got surprised, and then someone probably got killed. But here, on top of our wicker radar platform, sustained gunfire was being exchanged as my team spotted people in the distance and took them out. People working together, protecting something they had made because it in turn would protect them. Is this Fortnite?
Brilliantly, it's still Battle Royale, anyway. The storm shrunk and shrunk and we had to abandon our platform. We took off as one, headed towards the final battle. I'll admit, I was basically taking in the sights at this point so it was almost a relief when I climbed the mountain above the underground tunnel and someone popped my head off from a distance. But what I had seen was something I had never really seen in Fortnite before: an orgy of construction. Ramps leading up into the sky so people could get a lay of the land, ramps creating shortcuts up mountains that avoided the traditional paths. Screens. Mini-bunkers. Finally, a game about building as well as shooting, a game that properly balances destruction and creation.
Is it going to last? I have no idea. But after weeks of enjoying Fortnite's Battle Royale and feeling slightly guilty about it - because it is a clone, because it is developers turning their back on their own ambitions, their own hopes to create something fresh - I don't think I feel as guilty anymore. 50v50 genuinely feels like its own thing - and maybe that thing could be called Fortnite.