There are four people left, and one of them is an all-powerful celestial being with the power to crush the universe. A deadly storm continues to push in, inch by inch, moving the four of us closer together. There’s nowhere to hide, but I try anyway. I don’t know where the other players are, but I know where he—Thanos, the Mad Titan himself, the villain from Avengers: Infinity War—is. I can hear his feet stomping nearby. I can practically taste the singed wood left behind by his laser blast. And just when I feel safe around a corner, he launches into the air, hundreds of feet above...hovering. Waiting. Watching. Maybe he’ll spot another player.
When he crashes back to the surface, at a speed powerful enough to destroy any shelter one dares call home, I breathe a sigh of relief. For now, he hasn’t found me, and I can sneak around the corner. A trail hugs the mountain I’ve been not-so-patiently hiding behind, and I begin to descend. All the while, there’s more smashing, more jumping, more stomping. I hold my breath, eyes darting nervously darting the screen, and I put one foot in front of the other.
Part of the trick to any Battle Royale game, Fortnite or otherwise, is never being sure where other players are. You might hear the sound of bullets in the distance, or items and bridges left behind after a skirmish, but beyond that, you’re on your own. In this mode, however, you always know where Thanos is. His location is marked on the map in real-time, and glancing at the interface always reveals in which direction, though not distance, he’s causing havoc.
Even when Thanos isn’t hunting you, his presence is felt. He’s a purple Jason Voorhees.
There are still four people left, but no one’s fired a shot. In a game where you can hardly go a few feet without encountering players getting into it, Fortnite has gone silent. Thanos is hardly invincible—Epic Games nerfed his powers hours after this mode launched—but in the right hands, he’s hard to stop. But no one wants to be the person to take him on. Instead, you hope someone else takes the bait, while you wait in the shadows, and reap the rewards. The most tantalizing reward, of course, is his Infinity Gauntlet, letting you become Thanos.
This is the first time I’ve been so close to Thanos, and I choose cowardice. Tucked against a mountain, safely within the circle, I build a house and hide. After willing walls into existence, I begin to consider my next move, only to sense a familiar shiver down my spine. When you die in Fortnite, you know it’s coming. It may not be exactly clear where or why, but there’s always a tiny fraction of a second, a chance to mutter and swear to yourself, before it all falls apart. Here, as I huddled in the darkness from the Mad Titan, I hear the familiar crackle of someone pulling the trigger on a rifle, and my player quickly crumbles to the ground. Snap.
Fortunately, that same player would go on to win the match—and defeat Thanos himself. You can watch this all play out below:
In traditional Fortnite, it’s every player (or squad) for themselves, with the game constantly pressing conflict. Here, there’s a shiny, powerful toy to get distracted by, one that’s floating into the sky and heading to wildly different parts of the map. At the same time, the mode opens with players entering a circle that restricts huge parts of the map, and if you make the mistake of getting caught in the storm, chances are you’re going to die. In traditional Fortnite, you can survive for a little while. You have no chance here, which leads to 100 players squeezed into a very tiny zone, death by storm pressing in, and the moment Thanos arrives, it produces two outcomes: Players scattered to the winds and others fighting for their lives.
But even if you end up near Thanos, what then?
Do you choose to aim your sights on Thanos, or the player waiting by a nearby hill? If you take on Thanos, will that player choose to help you out, or watch you die? Maybe they’ll wait until you put in the hard work to kill Thanos, only to snipe you as you head for the goods. (The game tries to buffer for these all-in scenarios by rocketing new Thanos players into the sky as soon as they equip the Infinity Gauntlet, giving them a chance to rest and acclimate.)
I had one glorious moment where two players were sizing up Thanos’ in the distance, believing they were safely crouched behind a wall. I rolled up and took them both out, as Thanos leapt into the sky and moved on. By giving players competing interests, set within a game where teamwork between rivals is rarely encouraged, it produces surprising outcomes. It forces players to re-examine how they usually play the game, applying skillets differently.
And while some of Fortnite is rooted in luck of the loot, it’s not often the difference between victory and defeat. But with Thanos, Epic complicates player motivations through sheer jealousy. You might try this mode and never play as Thanos because he’s not randomly assigned. Instead, the Infinity Gauntlet spawns after two minutes, when it crashes from the sky. You can increase your chances of stumbling upon it, but it’s largely luck. One match, though, I heard a loud sound, and decided to take a look. There it was, glowing proud.
I literally gasped, ran over to the Infinity Gauntlet, and screamed in anxious terror when nothing happened after running over the item. (I had to equip it.) Cackling as I was tossed into the sky, I came charging down, ready to unleash fresh hell. Instead, four players aimed their guns on your boy, and because I didn’t know how Thanos worked, I quickly died. Snap.
For a brief moment, though, I was Thanos. And you might never be.
There’s definitely something here, and hopefully Epic is taking notes for the future. While part of Fortnite’s appeal is having every player on equal footing, there’s clearly something to the idea of giving certain players, under certain circumstances, something unique. It’s easy to imagine a non-Marvel version of this mode that went even further, giving multiple players upgraded powers, allowing them to drive chaos and force players into bizarre scenarios.
I didn’t expect much from Fortnite’s crossover with Marvel, other than gimmicks. But time and time again, Epic has demonstrated how much care they put into every detail in Fortnite, to the point that I’m now going to be legitimately bummed when this eventually goes away.
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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kzked3/thanos-transforms-fortnite-into-a-cartoonish-horror-game