How Epic’s Fortnite rose from the ashes of Paragon’s failure

deserved better. Epic Games’ recently shuttered title looked like a third-person shooter, but it was all MOBA under the hood. That might not seem like an argument in its favor, as conventional wisdom says the MOBA genre is oversaturated and already behind the multiplayer curve. This gorgeous contender was a bit different, however.

It learned from the mistakes of similar abandoned projects and constantly shot for something just a little bit different from mainstays like and . That drive to find its own niche should have been ’s greatest strength, but it might have ended up as the game’s greatest weakness.

Now Epic has moved onto bigger, more profitable, and arguably better things with , the biggest thing in the gaming world since the last biggest thing in the gaming world. The 100-player slugfest is certainly more popular than Paragon’s relatively staid five-on-five battles—especially based on rumors that few people were still playing by the end.

The more I play , though, the more I see a lot of ’s DNA.

A MOBA out of time

set a development tempo few other live games can match, save Epic’s own . For a chunk of its life cycle, the MOBA introduced a new playable hero every three weeks. That frequency dwarfs ’ average of about four heroes per year and, to a longtime obsessive like myself, that sounds like the payoff to some awful blood magic. It’s even more impressive considering that many of ’s new heroes were more fun and interesting than the somewhat bland original cast—like a support class ogre who healed allies by literally playing the drum solo of life.

That march of progress didn’t stop with just heroes. Epic was remarkably open to rebuilding ’s foundation all throughout its permanent beta phase. When fans complained about sluggish matches that could average an hour or more, Epic tossed the game’s single map overboard in 2016 and redrew the battle lines from scratch.

This new arena, “Monolith,” cut the usual game time to 30 minutes or so, undercutting your and your . The very same update also completely reworked the game’s “card” system. It retained the -like deck building that let players tweak how players played, but it sawed the system’s complexity in half.

Through constant updates, quickly morphed into a MOBA that real human beings with real responsibilities could enjoy. That its shooting and slashing had a satisfying, slightly languid “pop” to it wasn’t just icing, either. The game managed to tap into that intrinsically satisfying MOBA feeling of turning AI-controlled enemies into pinatas without requiring esports-level reflexes fueled by Monster Energy. The sound effect for scoring the last hit on a minion was gratifying.

Despite all the industriousness that helped steadily distinguish itself from its concrete competition, the game couldn’t quite overcome the weight of its genre. No matter how much tried to suss out and blend together what similar games were offering (shorter match times, more direct action), it was still a MOBA and seen as such.

Perhaps there was a time people genuinely believed , , or even just could be dethroned from one of those top spots. missed even window of plausibility by at least two years. These days, MOBA fans are almost monastically locked into their own chosen game and won’t budge to even try a competitor. By the time Epic could seize on what the genre was missing, the whole scene had already become synonymous with impenetrability and disingenuous copycats.

Learning from the past

doesn’t have that same problem, even as it inherits most of ’s strengths.

When first announced its hard pivot from cooperative base-building game to a Battle Royale competition, many industry watchers initially dismissed it as an obvious cash grab. But the major difference compared to  was that, this time, Epic was actually ahead of the genre lifecycle curve.

didn’t just beat its closest competitor (the explosively popular ) to consoles, but it did so for the low price of “free-to-play,” with faster pacing and the -like construction intact. Then it did the same thing on those ubiquitous smartphones that seem to be all the rage for gaming these days.

That combination of development speed, price, and platform availability made ’s Battle Royale mode a viral hit with its intended teen audience, well before EA, Activision, Ubisoft, and every other major publisher under the sun started to trip over themselves to crank out their own Battle Royale genre cash-in.

But despite not being a teen and being personal ambivalent toward , I’m happy to see Epic has tried to match ’s frantic update cadence for its new hit. Just a few weeks ago, got remote-controlled missiles that players could fire and surf themselves. Then, when it was clear the weapon wasn’t working as intended, Epic removed it just as quickly as it had been added. Likewise, the studio has addressed player complaints of slow building speeds by adding a grenade that explodes into prefab forts.

Just as ’s new heroes altered the potential flow of every match, these items dictate the rhythm of a game that is entirely built on randomly discovered loot. And just as once threw out its map to make for a tighter experience, is now going through its own major map change. Weeks of teases, courtesy of a comet just barely visible in the in-game sky, recently culminated in an impact that changed one-time ghost town of Dusty Depot into Dusty Divot—now a hotbed of unique items and player activity.

Oh, and now Thanos is in the game. Because why not?

And that’s just the question that seems to drive the development of both and behind the scenes. Why not? There’s a sense of constant change to that should be familiar to ’s longtime fans. One week it’s a goofy new skin. The next, everyone is sure aliens are invading. They aren’t at all the same of game (unless you count the similarly squishy shooting), but many of the very same elements that made me appreciate over time are there.

That constant willingness to evolve should have earned something more than its fate as yet another be abandoned and forgotten MOBA. I’m glad, then, that parts of its spirit seem to live on in , a game that’s very much here to stay.

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