Over the weekend Fortnite players were treated to the Rift Tour concert, a musical event headlined by the one-and-only Ariana Grande. Following 2020’s Astronomical performance from Travis Scott, and at a time when most people won’t have had the chance to see a live event in at least a year, it's safe to assume expectations were high.
Unfortunately, Epic's efforts to raise the bar for its Rift Tour concert resulted in an incoherent mess that felt more like doomscrolling through TikTok than a spectacular music event.
The concert was over before it really got going, and as we wait for the next star to grace the island we can only hope their performance is one that we’ll want to remember.
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What went wrong?
When Marshmello visited the Fortnite island back in 2019, his concert was just that: a concert. While there was the odd moment of ‘oh wait, this is a video game event’ (such as when players were briefly lifted into the air), the freedom granted by the virtual world was mostly underused.
Thankfully, much of this was rectified when Travis Scott came to town with his Astronomical concert – as a giant version of the rapper demolished the virtual stage and our expectations for what an in-game concert could be. Scott turned the island into his own personal fairground, and brought all us players into a 10-minute music video.
While his music raged, fire rained down from the sky, we were dragged underwater and finally taken on a trip through the void until the planet-sized theme park imploded and fired us back to where it all began.
All the while, the audio mixing and scene transitions acted to keep the setlist as one coherent performance, even if tracks ended more quickly than their usual length. The experience was unlike anything we’d been treated to before, and in part thanks to Covid-19 canceling many live events for 2020, Astronomical quickly became the concert of the year for many.
Love me harder next time
When it was announced that pop superstar Arian Grande would be headlining the Rift Tour this year, many suspected her appearance could once again raise the bar for Fortnite performances. Unfortunately, the concert quickly devolved into a show that we’ll be quick to forget.
The opening moments were promising, as a large portal dragged players past visions of what was to come until dropping the beat – and our avatars – into a paint slide surrounded by giant dancers.
The race down the track implied Fortnite was finally delivering on the promise of a concert in a video game; though despite Juice WRLD & Marshmello promising they “don't wanna ruin this one” in the chorus of ‘Come & Go’ that blared in the foreground, it seems like that motto wasn’t adopted by everyone behind the event.
The furry landscape we visited next was an enjoyable, if forgettable interlude that led into an out-of-nowhere battle against Fortnite’s Storm King (an antagonist from Halloween 2019). While this could have been a stand-out scene, the handbrake turn required to make the exit gave me whiplash, and the experience wasn’t helped by the poor audio mixing either.
Players' gunfire pushed ‘Victorious’ by Wolfmother into the background at a concert where music should presumably be the most important thing coming out of our speakers.
For a brief moment, it seemed like Grande’s introduction could save everything. A slow piano melody played over a touching moment of players reviving each other following the fight, with Grande’s ‘raindrops’ adding to the emotion before perfectly transitioning into the more upbeat ‘7 Rings’.
Several more slick scene changes added to this section's cohesion and it finally felt like the concert event that was promised. And then it was over. Just seven minutes – and six songs – after Grande made her entrance she shattered the dance floor and disappeared back off into the Rift.
Given that I’d arrived well ahead of time to ensure I got a seat at the Rift Tour, I ended up waiting for more than twice as long as the 12-minute concert lasted. I’m sure that Grande was paid a considerable fee for the use of her music, but I wish Epic Games (the multi-billion dollar corporation behind Fortnite) had shelled out a little more to keep her in-game avatar around for longer.
The countdown has now begun for the next mega concert to be held in Fortnite, which should appear in roughly a year given their previous release schedules. Hopefully, when the clock reaches zero we’ll be greeted to more of a bang than the whimper players had to make do with this time around.