The previous season of Fortnite hosted a massive crossover with Marvel Comics, featuring a number of the most popular Marvel heroes including Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, and far more to list.
Many franchises and mediums have been attempting, with varying degrees of success, to establish their own Shared Universe - something which Fortnite has been able to navigate fairly well. Shared universes allow for franchises to reinforce their brands and boost their public presence, but can often fall apart when not entirely thought through.
Fortnite creates a shared universe, holds it together, and lets players run wild
While there are plenty of parts of the Fortnite Shared Universe that are questionable at best, Fortnite overall does a very good job of keeping their world sensible. This is, in part, thanks to the fact that what counts as “sensible” for Fortnite is very different than what it would be for something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Indeed, one thing that must be acknowledged is the fact that the narrative in Fortnite is very basic and can usually be summarized in a few sentences or less.
For the Marvel Season, various Marvel characters were transported to Fortnite and had to defend it against Galactus. For the Bounty Hunter Season, various well-known hunters from cinema and gaming are being brought to the island by Agent Jonesy, who has gained the technology to traverse worlds.
This is partly because Fortnite simply isn’t trying to tell a complex story. The narrative serves more as a shoestring justification of the gameplay, and the gameplay is what players really care about. Few players care why the Mandalorian is in Fortnite, only that the Mandalorian is in Fortnite.
But other shared universes don’t have the luxury of having a sandbox narrative
Fortnite is certainly a special case when it comes to shared universes. It can circumvent the shared universe problem by making the story little more than a basic justification behind why all these different characters are in one location.
With Marvel, the actual buildup of its shared universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is almost as famous as the payoff. This buildup is why fans accept that these characters appear in each other’s movies so readily.
But even the beloved MCU has had its fair share of quirkiness ever since The Avengers released, as every standalone film that follows has had to answer the question “Why don’t the Avengers just show up?”
This level of awkwardness is almost unavoidable in long-running shared universes, with superhero movies getting it the worst due to their size and scale. This especially gets confusing when the viewer accounts for the Marvel spin-off series as well.
Why can the Punisher run around New York murdering people without having to deal with any one of the dozens of heroes that live in the city stopping him on a whim? How is Kingpin able to function as a famous crime lord without Captain America knocking him out with a shield and leaving him in the dirt?
The answer seems to be a simple “don’t think about it,” as various entries into the MCU now feature crossovers.
Marvel struggles where DC suffers
To this end, DC has it much worse by having the single most powerful and righteous hero in its cast, Superman. While Superman is a beloved hero, his character has a certain degree of linearity in his stories.
Because he’s basically indestructible, lightning fast, and devoted to his own ideas of justice, any story that even shares a world with him will have to answer the question “seriously, why can’t the guy who can solve this problem in half a second do it?”
Some of Superman’s stories directly address this point, but overall, DC has to put in a lot of extra work just to tell a believable story that can get around this dilemma. This is likely why many of the DC films of late have either had plots that specifically wouldn’t concern Superman (Aquaman), take place in the past (Wonder Woman), or are completely standalone and separate entries outside of the DC Extended Universe (Joker).
But even these entries have had their own fair share of problems. As Marcus Turner for The Cosmonaut Variety Hour pointed out, Wonder Woman 1984 has a plot so dramatic and attention-getting that it raises questions about why Batman only found out about her in 2016.
Risk and Reward for the shared universe
Establishing these kinds of shared universes are risky, in that they can easily double the normal workload required when it comes to telling any kind of story. Now, instead of considering how a story interacts within itself, writers need to consider how that story affects all other stories within the shared universe both past and future.
Once these universes get big enough, they’ll tend to either trend towards a single unified narrative, or collapse and split apart again. But the risk seems to be worth it, especially considering that of the 25 highest grossing movies ever, eight of them belong to the MCU.
Fortnite, on the other hand, is in a position to feature as many crossovers as they want without having to worry too much about the shared universe problem. Crossover characters come and go without much to worry about, and even Galactus nearly destroying the island in Fortnite Season 4 was barely a narrative blip for Fortnite Season 5.
While the creation of a sprawling shared universe is less risky for Fortnite, it’s likely that it won’t be quite as rewarding either. Crossovers have become a point of contention for some Fortnite fans, especially those who believe that these crossovers are taking away development time from other aspects of the game.
Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see whether or not Fortnite decides to continue engaging in such heavy crossover-driven seasons or if they’d prefer to further develop their own world.