Today, developer Epic published some details about what’s contained in Fortnite’s latest 11.20 patch. Epic calls the notes a “battle royale update” rather than the usual “patch notes,” which have been notably absent since the game’s Chapter 2 started in mid-October.
The notes for patch 11.20 are sparse compared to past seasons’ patches. Daily challenges are back, and you can search your locker by season. There are some bug fixes and the addition of DirectX12 support. The contents of the new notes are less important than the fact that Epic is saying something about what they’re adding to the game.
Chapter 2, which launched following Fortnite’s game-destroying black hole event, has been a reboot for the game. It brought a new map, an overhaul to the XP system, and very few public details about new items and mechanics. Epic didn’t include patch notes with Chapter 2’s release, encouraging players to discover the game’s changes on their own, but it kept to this tack as the season went on, rather than including the extensive notes that have been present since the game’s early seasons. The Fortnite status Twitter and the game’s public Trello board have provided some information about changes, but players have mostly been piecing things together themselves.
This hasn’t been a popular choice. Content creators have found it harder to make videos and streams about Fortnite changes without patch notes. Competitive players have struggled to adapt to changes they don’t even know are there; as one wrote on the competitive subreddit, “The integrity of the sport is fucking destroyed when you make changes and do not inform the fucking competitors of the changes being made!” General players have been crowdsourcing notes and starting petitions to have them brought back. While some mysteries, like players finally catching the Mythic Goldfish, were exciting without patch notes, some players found other changes tedious and unnecessary to sift through. As one player wrote on the battle royale subreddit, “I just find it tough to figure out how to play with the new things when there are new things every week/every other week. If they had a slower update schedule it would be a more doable thing but things change so fast in this game it helps to know what is changing.”
There’s been plenty of speculation as to why the patch notes are gone. Patch notes were often contentious, with some players raging about changes as soon as they were released. In a recent stream, Fortnite streamer Ninja theorised that patch notes made people play less: “People saw the patch notes, and if they didn’t like something, they wouldn’t even play,” he speculated. Now, to find out if things have changed, people have to “get in there and play.” Some players see it as Epic hiding from player ire over unpopular changes, a theory that gained a little bit of traction when Epic deleted a selection of previous seasons’ patch notes from the Fortnite website. It seems unlikely the lack of patch notes is some big conspiracy to avoid player outrage or cover mistakes; more likely, it’s part of the mystery and discovery the developer is hyping this season. Fortnite definitely needed the disruption, as Season 10 ended with a lot of solidifying resentment over changes and which parts of the community players felt Epic was giving its attention to. Removing patch notes obliterates one of the sites of friction between players and the developer, but it also makes Epic seem uncommunicative to a fanbase that’s not shy about demanding answers. (Epic did not respond to a request for comment about their handling of patch notes in time for publication.)
For myself as a journalist, patch notes helped me report on Fortnite’s development and plan my coverage accordingly, so I’d like to see them come back largely for my own convenience. Most games get patch notes when they update, but most games also don’t change as much as Fortnite does, nor do they have so many eyes on every tweak and alteration. Unravelling the mysteries of Chapter 2’s early launch was definitely fun, but with Chapter 2’s first season now extended through February, some of the dust needs to settle.