Fortnite’s giant hand event was a return to the game’s uniqueness of old

This weekend, Fortnite simultaneously did something it had never done before, and something it hadn’t done in ages. On the game’s storied battle royale Island, players looked on as a giant hand made out of rapidly-cooling lava burst out of the ground, clasping an enormous treasure box that then lay, danging, high up in the air.

The hand’s appearance had been much anticipated. Rhythmic rumblings had been tracked by fans to a spot outside Ruined Reels – a sort-of Greek amphitheature turned open-air cinema – and a slowly widening crack in the ground nearby. A new character, the aptly-named Odyssey, had already appeared nearby to dole out some much-needed exposition and teasing for Fortnite’s incoming Ancient Greek-themed new season. And outside the game, dataminers quickly discovered what was about to happen and posted it all on social media. The stage was set.

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So when the hand emerged, people knew what to do. That big box? It could be opened, if the chains around it were broken. And so players got to work. Some ignored Fortnite’s normal battle royale rules completely, sticking instead to simply landing on the Island and shooting/pickaxing the chest’s restraints, breaking them over the course of several hours, one-by-one. Others, predictably, decided to capitalise on all this by setting up camp nearby and sniping those trying to open the box. Debate raged about player etiquette – something which took me back to the outrage at people who wiped out upwards of 50-players at once as they settled in to watch Fortnite’s first ever in-game event, the rocket launch, back in 2018.

Cover image for YouTube videoFortnite The Hand Cinematic Event

The hand emerges.

So yes, for the first time ever, Fortnite had a giant molten hand sticking out of its Island. And for the first time in what felt like a very long time, Fortnite had a proper interactable event going on its main Island. Fortnite live events have, more recently, been consigned to their own mini modes. They have also, notably, felt fewer in number and farther between. The game’s past two major events took place a year apart in successive Novembers, as the battle royale rebooted its Island map on what has now become something of a predictable schedule.

The emergence of the hand – while on a smaller scale – was a welcome change to all that, and the kind of uniquely Fortnite-y moment I hope we’ll see more of once again. The game’s battle royale mode has long been home to one-off must-see moments, but also to long-running, daily tweaks that encourage players to revisit and see what is different on the Island each day. The best of these – the slow build-up to Tony Stark’s base appearing during the Marvel season, the gradual construction of the mech ahead of the brilliant monster kaiju live event, the rumbling of paths of the many Cubes – make Fortnite’s map feel alive in a way no other game manages.

Cover image for YouTube videoThe Box Has Opened…

The box opens.

Being able to watch all this happen provides that sense of having been there for a moment that won’t be repeated – something which then sticks in the memory as a result. But allowing for player interaction as well adds a feeling of authorship in Fortnite’s story: in this case, that there was a struggle to open the box, and that some players – for good reasons or bad – chose not to take part. I saw some saying it shouldn’t be opened. And maybe they were right? Because when that box did open – as it did, after a day of player effort – well, what was inside doesn’t look so great. A huge fiery column is now spiralling outwards, visible from across the map, heralding whatever is due to be unleashed later this week.

The cynical might see this all as a smart bit of viral marketing to ensure players are aware a big seasonal change is coming and that their V-Bucks are appropriately topped up. But as someone who has followed Fortnite’s labyrinthine lore closely over the years – and decried the dirth of narrative over much of the past 12 months – it is still thrilling to watch unfold.

As ever with Fortnite, it’s hard to guess what comes next. More mini-events? More of a story for next season? For a game worked upon by hundreds if not thousands of people, so much is left to the game itself to reveal – or not. Was it a coincidence that last year’s departure of Donald Mustard marked Fortnite’s quiestest year yet for new live events and story? Or was Epic Games just too busy launching a bunch of other modes to do more? Whatever’s the case, it now feels like a proper start to Fortnite’s new era (led by former Marvel and PlayStation creative Charlie Wen) has now properly begun.

What’s in the box? Fortnite’s new season kicks off on Friday morning, UK time.

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