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Fortnite Festival is Rock Band without the plastic instruments

What that means is you’ll be hitting notes along to popular songs, but instead of doing that on a toy guitar or drum set, you’re using a game controller or mouse and keyboard. The basic flow is identical, though: notes move down a lane, and you have to hit (or hold) the corresponding button in time to the beat. I played a few songs earlier this week, along with other members of the press, and it felt like a streamlined version of Harmonix’s most popular games. Naturally, there were some added Fortnite twists: you choose an avatar like Peely the banana and can emote during certain sections of the songs.

According to Harmonix’s Alex Rigopulos, the plan is to treat Fortnite Festival like a live-service game, one that could potentially grow very large over time.

“The modes that we’re launching this week — you can think of it as the opening act of Festival, there’s more to come — they take familiar and beloved elements from our previous games, but are presenting them to the world in this social context of Fortnite, which has never really been done before,” he told me. “And in particular, Festival will be the first time that a full-blown, AAA music experience is offered in a free-to-play format. So just the sheer reach and the total absence of social friction is really unprecedented, and we couldn’t do it anywhere other than Fortnite.”

The game also has its own battle pass-like system, called the Festival Pass, where players can pay to unlock songs and cosmetics — including a Weeknd skin.

The addition of Fortnite Festival makes a lot of sense, given how much of a focus music has been in Fortnite. There are the emotes, big in-game concerts — the most recent featuring Eminem — and the ability for players to listen to radio stations while they drive around the battle royale map. For Rigopulos, the ultimate goal is to “have musical experiences permeate the ecosystem.” And, as part of that, this update extends beyond the launch of Festival.

If you’ve ever played Harmonix games like Fuser or Dropmix, the other addition will seem familiar. Those games broke songs into pieces and let players fit them together to create something new — say, the vocals from a Weeknd song with the guitar from Fall Out Boy. Fortnite is getting something similar alongside Festival. It’s called the jam system, and it lets players get close (virtually) together and start laying down elements of a track inside of a circle. If you choose the drums, for instance, your character will start doing an emote in front of a drum kit. The same goes for vocals and other instruments. When a squad does it, it looks like a little jam session with Fortnite characters.

The sessions are also not just part of Fortnite Festival. “It’s playable in battle royale, and it will soon be playable throughout the ecosystem,” Rigopulos says. “That’s something we’ll double down on and expand over time.”

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