Fortnite has begun its new season with a one-off single-player sequence, Zero Crisis Finale. The 10-minute mission acts as a coda to last season's shenanigans, as well as a leap forward in Fortnite's storytelling ability overall.
In the past, Fortnite has nudged its plot along through season-ending live events that bring buckets of spectacle and typically doom swathes of its map. But avenues for more intricate storytelling have been limited, with players typically left as a distant audience to the events unfolding around them. More recent events have added in a smattering of dialogue and player interaction, but this has been few and far between.
All of that changes with the playable Zero Crisis Finale and its three minute introduction cinematic, below, that sets the scene:
In short, Agent Jones is trying to save the Zero Point - the orb which acts as both the Fortnite reality's power source and pathway between dimensions. When the Zero Point gets destroyed, things like black holes happen.
Jones' plan is to break bad and call upon The Seven, Fortnite's mysterious collective which helped usher in the game's black hole and reality rebirth last time around. This plan sounds very bad to Jones' boss (who through subtitles we now know is named Doctor Slone). Jones and Slone work for a group of suited agents whose job is to keep the Fortnite reality running smoothly - a mission which seems at odds to The Seven, who have other ideas.
Using his Rift Gun, Jones summons a new member of The Seven named The Foundation. As is customary, he arrives via an asteroid. As perhaps expected, he doesn't seem pleased to see Jones:
"Genō! I can get you to Genō!" Jones frantically says to save himself.
"And the sisters?" The Foundation replies. (Nope, we have no idea yet who Genō and the sisters are.)
"I can get you all of them. But I need your help to fix that," Jones says, gesturing to the broken Zero Point. The Foundation agrees to the deal.
So begins the Zero Crisis Finale mission proper, which sees The Foundation attempt to stabilise the Zero Point while you quickly seal up portals. This involves aiming your Rift Gun at portals to close them up "like a zipper", while zapping around the island as it changes in real-time. You're guided by Jones, who is temporarily transformed into a Navi-like butterfly - a reference Fortnite fans will surely love.
A benefit to the mission coming at the start of the new season, as opposed to the end of it, is that all of the new characters and locations are here to be revealed. As reality shifts beneath your feet, you tour the island as some of the new battle pass characters and watch as numerous locations are transformed around you.
Fortnite has become masterful at this scene-changing stuff now, hiding complex real-time feats behind visual fireworks. It's technically ambitious, and the mission's on-the-ground viewpoint would just never work with a lobby full of other people alongside you. It is also a very clever way of introducing new map locations, the arrival of animals, and a teasing glance at battle pass skins such as Lara Croft you might like to sign up for.
The mission concludes with the creation of the Spire, a towering new crystalline structure in the centre of the map meant to cocoon the exploding Zero Point inside. The blooming orb cannot be fixed, The Foundation says, but its blast can be contained. Flying to the top, you'll hover in front of the action as Jones says his goodbyes.
"We'll both have to fight our way back," The Foundation says, as the two characters part. "No matter what happens, do not give up. I will find you. And you will tell me everything." See you again at the end of the season, I guess!
And that's it, for now. The action then shifts to this season's battle pass trailer, below, which reveals more new locations, survival gameplay and the ability to glide around like Link while holding a chicken.
Fortnite fans have been left with plenty more questions to puzzle over - who or what is Genō? - but a satisfying helping of storytelling to chew through over the weeks and months to come. In particular, fans had been calling for an appearance by The Seven, and there are sighs of relief that Agent Jones pulled through okay. (Butter Barn RIP, though.)
As a real narrative experiment for Fortnite, Zero Crisis Finale certainly justified its ditching of the live event model though it did, in exchange, lack some of the anticipation and build-up of being in a lobby full of people awaiting a big end of season fireworks display. Still, I expect we will get more live events in the future, and this time around there were no server caps, queues or connection wobbles.
Whether a live event or not, Zero Crisis Finale is another unique moment in Fortnite's history. What's next?