If you think that the point of Epic Games' Fortnite is fighting out a battle royale to win at the end, think again. Yes, you can focus on winning that sweet Victory Royale if you want. But for space nerds, the game's current season is filled with ancient astronauts, spaceships and more.
Fortnite is a third-person shooter that you can play either on your own, or with friends. You pick up gear and participate in challenges, which on the space side lately, included launching two secret missions. As you level up, you earn outfits, swag and dance moves — and yes, there are astronauts and planet-themed stuff here as well.
The game, which is now battling Apple and Google over direct payments for mobile apps, is most famous for its player-on-player combat, but in recent years it has added on experiences to appeal to a wider audience. These include (but are not limited to) concerts, movies, talks and even a creative mode where you can just explore the map and chill.
Fortnite's latest season, Chapter 2: Season 3, launched June 17 and saw the player map almost completely flooded by water, which then gradually receded week by week to reveal a transformed landscape.
So where's the space content in a season that is focused on water, and aquatic beings such as Aquaman and his archrival Black Manta? Surprisingly, space is just about everywhere.
Let's start with Siona.
Described as "a wanderer in a lost world," this female astronaut outfit becomes available to players when they get to Level 80. Siona allows you to play the game as an astronaut — in different outfit colors, yet — which is awesome enough. But she also may be key to figuring out what is happening in the next season of Fortnite, which is currently scheduled to drop Aug. 27.
This month, the receding Fortnite map revealed a crashed spaceship with another "ancient astronaut" inside. For a while it was underwater, but regular Fortnite Twitter leaker @FortTory spotted the ship lurking near Craggy Cliffs and examined it up close when the ship emerged from the water.
Blast off and begin your journey towards the stars.Complete the Ancient Voyagers Set on the Item Shop now! pic.twitter.com/HIojUlUg4SAugust 17, 2020
On Sunday (Aug. 16), the astronaut (his name is Deo), landed in Fortnite's item shop for players to buy with Epic's in-game currency V-bucks. He also has a backbling called Lunar Sim, a glider called Starcross and moon-themed wrap called Homescape for his gear.
Numerous players pointed out the ancient astronaut's spacesuit resembled Siona's. The spaceship became available to players as a secret challenge on Aug. 1. Players needed to pick up three parts (a thruster, battery pack and the always vital heat shield) and install them on the spaceship for a launch.
Where the astronaut goes next is … unclear, although the spaceship obviously flies into the clouds. The launch also opens space "rifts" that allow you to warp up into the sky for a few seconds, before you fall back towards the ground. But experienced gamers suggest that this space content could point us to what is going to happen in the next season.
"Fortnite hasn't really gone to space yet — though it has received space-themed cosmetics — but would it involve taking all the players to a new map altogether? Or is it heralding something alien-related? If the spaceship is ancient, is that implying it came from the past and time-travel is involved? At this point, all fans can do is speculate," GameRant wrote late last month, before the ancient astronaut challenge launched.
There is also a team of Marauders in each Battle Royale match who emerge from a rift in the sky, land their space capsule and proceed to attack players.
There's more fuel for a space-themed season embedded in recent challenges. Another secret quest had players helping a group of mini-islanders known as the Coral Buddies. The goal is to help these cute creatures — who are isolated on islands at the top-left side of the map — progress through the wood, stone, modern and nuclear ages.
For a water-themed season, Fortnite surprisingly has a lot of space skins and content available in its levels. The "Battle Pass" (available for 1,000 V-bucks or $7.99 USD) is advertised as including Levels 1 to 100, although more content unlocks well into the 100s.
The most obvious-space related content is quite high up in the levels, with a "Comet Crasher" glider coming in at Level 90, a "Planetary Vibe" dance unlocking at Level 84, Mini-Moon back bling at Level 77, and of course Siona at Level 80. There are also a couple of space-y contrails that are available, with Stardrop available at Level 43 and the Photon at Level 66.
This week, Epic Games gave all active players a cosmic harvesting tool, the Shooting Starstaff Pickaxe, for free. The tool looks like a small meteorite crammed onto a staff and powered by strange blue energy, with a color scheme that matches Siona's default outfit colors.
Fortnite also dropped a mid-season space event called the "Galaxy Cup", on July 26 and 27. Top-tier android players could compete for a Galaxy Scout outfit and other gear, while all participants received a basic galactic "wrap" for weapons after doing some of the tournament. A few weeks later, Fortnite made the Galaxy Scout outfit, glider, harvesting tools and wrap available in the store for two days. It's unknown when the set will be back, but keep checking daily when the content refreshes.
Historically, Fortnite has been known to drop space-y updates. This spring, "Star Wars Day" (May 4) featured lightsabers as weapons, as well as buyable outfits featuring Rey, Kylo Ren and a Sith Trooper. An in-game concert dubbed "Astronomical" ran from April 23 to 25, featuring rapper Travis Scott. While Scott's in-game avatar sang, players got to fly above Earth, to see auroras shining in the sky, and to look at cool astronaut outfits; happily, Scott uploaded the entire experience on YouTube if you missed the show.
You'll also see periodic entries into the Fortnite store with space themes. An example is the Astra constellation outfit and associated constellation wrap, which have appeared twice in recent weeks. At least one other astronaut-themed outfit popped up in the store earlier this season, too. The actual name of Fortnite's Battle Royale island, according to game files, is apparently Apollo — mostly likely a reference to mythology, however, and not NASA's moon landing program. (The Chapter 1 island was called Athena.)
Long-time players may remember that space themes have been around a while. A Millennium Falcon-shaped glider was available to all gamers for free, during last December's Winterfest. Astronauts debuted in 2018 during the Chapter 1 Season 3 Battle Pass. Live events in the game have also included a comet, asteroid impacts and even a huge black hole that swallowed the Fortnite map whole at the end of Chapter 1, in October 2019.
The game has been working hard to bring in more newbie and casual players like me, including introducing cars in early August and embedding humorous "Easter eggs" as you wander around. One of my early sessions with friends this spring had us stumbling upon, of all things, a King Arthur-like sword embedded in a rock. More recently, Fortnite placed an in-game soccer/football experience on the map where teammates can kick balls into the goals and see who is winning on the scoreboard.
A space-themed season would be the ultimate experience for space nerds like ourselves. In the meantime, though, remember to look up whenever Fortnite's map falls into darkness. I regularly see auroras shining amid the stars, which reminds me how space touches all of us — even in a virtual world.
Editor's note: This story, originally posted Aug. 15, was updated on Aug. 17 to include the official release of the Deo astronaut character in Fortnite.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace