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‘Fortnite’ x Star Wars was a big technical mess, but oh so cool

On the one hand, Fortnite x Star Wars is such an outlandish and untested idea, you have to admire the sheer chutzpah of Epic Games. On the other, the actual technical experience sucked for an awful lot of people.

First, the good: J.J. Abrams debuted a new Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker clip inside Fortnite on Saturday. The reveal was preceded by an epic sky battle between the Millennium Falcon and some pursuing TIE Fighters. All the while, a whole, entire fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers sat higher up in the sky watching everything unfold.

After the Falcon fended off its attackers and landed, Abrams popped out of the ship – literally, a Fortnite avatar of the famed filmmaker – to vamp for a little while before revealing the clip. Geoff Keighley was there, too, dressed in a Stormtrooper skin. 

You can watch the whole thing below, including the (short, not terribly exciting) clip. And while that clip was probably the day’s lowlight, the whole concept of revealing a clip like that and the execution inside the game was super cool. See for yourself. (Skip to around the 33:40 mark to get to the good stuff.)

Unfortunately, lots and lots of people faced one of the most frustrating everyday tech challenges of the modern era: issues outside of their control that left them on the outside looking in.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that I fired up my Fortnite client a full half hour before the 1:30 p.m. ET “doors open” start time. I clicked play to jump into the game a minute or so after doors supposedly opened and was promptly transported to a lobby filled with other players. After about a minute in there, we were all whisked off to a Battle Bus flying high above the Fortnite map, with a blue beacon of light shooting out of the Risky Reels location where all the Star Wars festivities were set to unfold.

That’s when things took a turn. I pressed the space bar to jump out of the bus and parachute down to land, but instead of that happening the game simply crashed straight to desktop. When I tried to get back in by reopening the Epic Games Launcher on my PC, new problems arose.

First, the launcher just wouldn’t load and instead spit out “bad gateway” errors. Then, a few minutes later, it asked me to sign in (even though my credentials are stored). Then, when I signed in, it told me I was trying to sign in too often (huh?). Eventually, it sent a two-factor code to my email so I could verify my “new” sign-in location (not a new sign-in location at all). But entering in that code also got me a “too many sign-in attempts” error.

Meanwhile, inside the game, Epic delayed the event’s start time. Officially, it was pushed back for 10 minutes. Unofficially, it started about 15-20 minutes late. That whole time, I was trying – entirely unsuccessfully – to restart the launcher just so I could try to restart the game.

There was a brief flicker of hope when the launcher did work just a few minutes before the clip premiered. But when I loaded up Fortnite, I got an error about it not being able to connect to the server. I clicked a “re-launch” button that subsequently appeared, but that sent me back to the desktop and closed the Epic launcher. And so the whole process of trying to get back in started all over again.

It wasn’t just me.

As cool and exciting as it is to be on the ground for one of these events, the inverse also needs to be considered. Getting shut out of an event you want to attend, and indeed set yourself up in advance to avoid login issues like what I described above, only to then be shut out is seriously frustrating.

Epic Games Launcher is of course tied up with Epic Games Store (EGS), the Fortnite-maker’s Steam competitor. That store launched just a year ago, and it’s still facing all sorts of growing pains and calls for features that Steam users take for granted. 

I want to be clear: EGS is great considering how young it is. There are miles to go before its features can really compete with Steam on the level, but the progress Epic has made in just the past few months is impressive. Still, having that added layer present in front of Fortnite – the launcher has to be running in order to start the game – almost certainly contributed to the issues, at least for players on PC.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened, either. When all of Fortnite got sucked into a black hole in mid-October, marking the end of the game’s first chapter, there were similar EGS issues. I wasn’t able to log into the launcher or play any of the games I own there for at least an hour, and from the outside the issues looked very similar to how they did here.

Some of those headaches are PC-specific, of course. But even on consoles, the Fortnite server issues kept willing participants stuck on the outside. The Star Wars of it all probably exacerbated any problem as well, since Star Wars is freaking huge. But that also makes the frustration of being shut out even more acute. This was a big event! People wanted to play it themselves rather than watch it on a stream.

It’s something that Epic will need to work on as more “living” games like Fortnite bring some competitive pressure with their own twists on live in-game events. It’s safe to say that Fortnite established some new rules for service-based games in 2019, but it’s likely that it won’t be the only game in town doing this kind of high-profile branded event in 2020.

For now, Fortnite remains unbeatable. Just watch this event. For all the troubles people had getting in, the actual execution was outrageously impressive. The Falcon air battle served as a nice intro and the fanfare around the subsequent clip reveal, which included a live conversation with Abrams, was riveting.

Then, when it was all over, players got to crack open a chest that granted everyone lightsabers. Now, lightsabers and blaster rifles will apparently appear in Battle Royale matches for anyone to find.

It’s clear that Epic has live events pretty well figured out from a creative execution standpoint. I just hope the technical troubles will be a little more under control by the time another must-attend event rolls around.