Like most popular Fortnite streamers, Nicholas "Nick Eh 30" Amyoony spent the wee hours of Tuesday morning staring into the void. Fortnite was gone, consumed by a black hole whose static nothingness was streamed live before millions of transfixed fans, all of whom wondered when their game would return for Season 11.
Nick Eh 30 was so excited that he couldn't sleep. Instead, he spent hours chatting with his Twitch viewers until, around 4 a.m. in Nova Scotia, the game's client began to update. Suddenly, Nick Eh 30 was sucked back through the vortex, and after a short teaser, he dropped off the Battle Bus into the Fortnite Island's clear blue sky. As Nick Eh 30's default avatar fell through the air into a match he hadn't queued for, questions spilled out of his ear-to-ear smile.
"Wait, what? This is me?" he said. "Dude, why is my health bar on the left? I have a level on the bottom of my screen? Who's marking? What is going on right now? Am I in a game? What happened to my keybinds ... WHAT?"
Ten seconds later, Nick Eh 30 was back in the lobby, quickly eliminated in a Holly Hedges storefront due to the game's resetting his keybindings. After one glimpse of a changed island, complete with new points of interest, loot and mechanics, Nick Eh 30 readied back up in no time -- once his settings were fixed, of course. Fortnite's Chapter 2 had begun.
"There's still so much to explore, bro, I haven't even seen anything," Nick Eh 30 said as he scavenged near Weeping Woods. "Where do I go? Oh man, there's butterflies over there. Wow, Epic did a great job with this update. Look at the environment ... listen to the sound. I feel like I'm playing Destiny or something, and that's a compliment.
"I'm gonna see what I can get when I'm fishing."
While Season 11 introduced plenty of new Fortnite elements, what's striking at the outset is how nostalgic it all feels. The winter and desert biomes that bracketed Season 10's map have vanished, replaced by green plains and blue rivers that recalled Fortnite's earliest iterations. The loot table has been stripped to the essentials, vaulting dozens of items and vehicles that ranged from iconic (R.I.P. Chug Jug) to esoteric (Explosive Batarang, we hardly knew ye). Epic Games did not release standard patch notes and greyed all locations on the new map until visited in-game, infusing early matches with a sense of wonder and exploration.
While some older locations such as Pleasant Park and Salty Springs survived the reset -- albeit with their coordinates changed -- most did not, including the popular Neo Tilted. New POIs (points of interest) have risen in their places, two of which have massive competitive implications. Steamy Stacks' eponymous nuclear smoke stacks are powered by purple energy that fuels updrafts for players to ride, creating rotation and mobility options for those who drop there. On the opposite side of the island, Slurpy Swamp is a waste plant that seems to be poorly disposing of slurp juice. Axing the many steel barrels and tanks there will cover nearby players in the rejuvenating liquid, providing effective health. Hot tip: Crouching at the lip of the drain where bioluminescent slurp product spills into the swamp will grant full health and shield in seconds, all without revealing your position.
Locations such as Sweaty Shores, Dirty Docks and Weeping Woods are dominated by water features that players can swim through, leaping like dolphins and building on without a connection to the shore. Rivers cover the new map, which is perfect for the season's signature vehicle: a missile-loaded speedboat with enough boost to travel over land when necessary. Fishing poles are new toys that can reel in healing fish, useful weapons, useless junk and other players.
Speaking of loot, some points of interest contain workbenches players can use to upgrade the rarity of their weapons in exchange for resources. It's a welcome addition that indirectly addresses the major competitive complaint of random loot hampering consistent results. Because all pro players studiously farm, they now have a better shot to enter the late game with epic and legendary weapon variants.
On the technical side, Epic introduced noticeable visual and audio upgrades in Season 11, but at the cost of noticeable frame-rate drops in some instances. One setting that has caught the community's eye is the "release to confirm edit" option, which makes one of Fortnite's signature mechanical skills easier to perform. Instead of clicking to confirm an edit, the player can choose to simply release the command when the edit is chosen. Although talented players such as World Cup solos champion Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf can already do this in the blink of an eye, other players now have the chance to catch up.
As Tuesday wore on, Nick Eh 30 joined three other streamers for hours of squad matches. Fortnite is always best played with friends, and Season 11 doubles down on that. The Bandage Bazooka is a new item that, reminiscent of Team Fortress 2's Medi Gun, heals players with bandage ammo that constantly replenishes at the expense of two item slots. In the spirit of supportive gameplay, you can now fireman-carry knocked out teammates to safety before reviving them or take fallen opponents as hostages the same way. This introduces a comic element of griefing your enemies -- Nick Eh 30 and his crew alternatively passed foes around like footballs, tossed them into spike traps and launched them off tall buildings -- but the subject can always exit the game if it becomes too humiliating.
Near the end of his stream, Nick Eh 30 rode in the back of the speedboat with his friends as they raced toward the zone. Smiling, he used the high-five emote that allows players to actually slap hands with other avatars. Soon, the backseat was full of dancing technicolor gunmen riding to adventures unknown.
"Don't leave me hanging, guys," Nick Eh 30 said with a laugh. "Dude, this is Fortnite in a nutshell. This is Fortnite."