Last night's Fortnite live event, The Device, was a predictably explosive end to the game's current season - whether you were in-game or watching online due to its server capacity issues. But, perhaps more importantly, it was also a major staging ground for the game's immediate and longterm future.
Fortnite's storm is gone, a new curtain of water now menaces the island instead, and Fortnite's story has suddenly gotten a lot more complicated, as players were briefly allowed outside of its reality-bending simulation for the first time.
Let's recap the event, including its Easter eggs, and then delve into what it all may mean.
In the lead up to last night, island spy boss Midas was shown preparing his storm-defeating device with help from an unnamed character - a woman with tattoos who also appears on a photograph in his room. This character, dubbed the Engineer, is expected to become one of next season's skins.
As the timer above The Agency hit zero, Midas' device activated, intentionally detonating much of his headquarters. The device extended into the sky and linked with pylons that rose from the mysterious hatches seen bubbling away for several weeks. When energised, the device appeared to drive back Fortnite's storm for good.
It was then we got our first, very brief first-person visit to another location - a small white office, with a frosted glass window. Huh.
Back on Fortnite's island, it now felt like there was something pushing back against Midas' device. As it began to lose power, the storm returned, torrential rain and thunder bearing down. But Midas was ready for round two, and with a heroic version of this season's theme playing, the device reignited, sending the storm off the map completely. The device retracted and the island was beset by calm. It was a rainbow effect last seen after Kevin the Cube's detonation: birds singing, butterflies flying past. But of course, it still wasn't over.
Zapped back into the white office, a panicked voice outside can be heard telling someone that things are unstable. Players are afforded a little more time in the room here, and may notice files on the office desk with pictures of Midas and the Engineer on them. There are also family pictures on the wall, with nods to characters from Fortnite's Save the World portion. A nameplate on the desk states that it belongs to a "John Jones".
"Hold on, it's not just a storm?" the voice says. "It must be connected to the loop, but there's no way we could have predicted that it would react THIS way."
And so players are returned to Fortnite's island to find - mic drop - the storm has been replaced by a towering tsunami around the edges of the play space, Meowscles' poor yacht teetering on the brink of the wave, at least one shark visible within the curtain of water.
One final visit to the white office. "And that worked?!" the voice says. "How long do you think it will hold?" And then the office door opens, and it's Fortnite's default character Jonesy, who reacts in shock to seeing you there. "How are you even... wait, can you... can you hear me?" he says, as the event ends, and players are transported back onto the battle bus, the storm replaced with water for the foreseeable future.
Fortnite's next season arrives tomorrow, and its underwater theme does not come as a huge surprise. There were various leaks, no pun intended, to suggest as such. The introduction of water instead of the storm adds new gameplay - you can currently build over it, but not within it. Heading into the water lets you swim through it but take damage. You can't use vehicles in it, although fans suspect a new one may be introduced to let you do so.
Teases from Epic Games released since last night include a teaser with sharks swimming through tropical water on Tiktok, comments from employees of fictional insurance company No Sweat Insurance on reddit, and image teases via Twitter including one of a golden trident. This picture chimes with a persistent fan rumour that next season will incorporate Aquaman (as Deadpool was this season) - something clearly Jason Momoa's publicist is aware of, as he's been roped into sharing teasers for it via his Instagram.
As for the event's sequences set outside Fortnite's island - these feel like Epic Games building on the overall lore of the game for the long-term, and finally picking up some of the mysterious comments made by The Visitor, the black hole-causing spaceman and one of the game's mysterious Seven, at the end of the game's first chapter.
Jones references "the loop" - a term previously used by The Visitor and understood by fans to mean the looping moment in time in which Fortnite matches take place. In Fortnite's lore, the old island map was destroyed in a bid to finally end the loop once and for all - only for the game to be rebooted in a new reality instead.
It feels like Epic is breaking the fourth wall in addressing the fact that Fortnite is a simulation - and certainly its first-person white office area feels very much like Assassin's Creed: Black Flag's modern day, where you explored the offices of the company supposedly making the game. But just as Black Flag set its modern day in a fictionalised version of Ubisoft, we are seeing a fictionalised version of the company behind the Fortnite simulation. It's not Epic Games, it is something else - something at least some of the game's characters seem to be aware of. But for what purpose the simulation is being run - as yet, we still don't know.
Here's The Device event in full to watch with no commentary while we wait for Fortnite's new season to begin: