One of the realities of 2020 is that if you’re a gamer, live service multiplayer games have become a dime a dozen. Games like Overwatch and Fortnite have come to dominate the marketplace both in sales and popularity. Go on Twitch today and most of the top games are live service games. With Rocket Arena, Electronic Arts and Final Strike Games are trying to carve out their own slice of this pie. The result is a fast paced, frenetic shooter that is a lot deeper than it looks and more fun than it has a right to be.
Rocket Arena takes place on Planet Crater, filled with locales that offer both breathtaking scenery and convenient layouts for multiplayer matches. Heroes from each region of Planet Crater have converged to take part in the Rocket Championship Tour. That’s the story. The rest is largely up to you as the player to define.
Everything in Rocket Arena is rocket based. Aside from making the title conveniently fitting, this dynamic helps set Rocket Arena apart from other games in a good way. Rockets are not only the primary ammunition used in combat, but they are integral to mastering movement around the maps. Firing a rocket at the ground will give you a boosted jump. Firing them at walls will assist you in climbing them. You can chain these actions together to traverse the world in a way that will give you a competitive advantage.
Choose Your Combatants and Travel the World
At launch, Rocket Arena features ten playable characters, each with their distinct features. Each character has a backstory created by Len Uhley, the creator of Talespin, in conjunction with Final Strike Games. While this might not seem important to those who just want to jump in and play, knowing things about the characters can help with immersion. In some cases, knowing that your character once won the Rocket Championship Tour but lost his trophy and is trying to replace it makes you want to stick with that player longer. If nothing else, the back stories are good for a laugh and give Rocket Arena more personality.
Fun back stories are great, but characters need to differentiate themselves in actual combat or there’s no point to having ten characters. Final Strike Games delivers on this, as each character plays differently in the world of Rocket Arena. Regardless of your play style, there is a character that will fit how you play. If you like to play from range, Boone offers a more ranged weapon and abilities. Punk, the newest competitor in the Rocket Championship Tour, has fast-firing weapons that play well in close combat. Finally, if you’re like me and want to Rambo your way in and try to wreck everything for everyone on the other team, Blastbeard’s rocket cannonballs will serve you well. You will likely find multiple characters that you enjoy playing with in Rocket Arena.
Now that you’ve settled on your champion, it’s time to head out into the world of Crater. While there, you will attempt to win eternal glory on one of ten maps included at launch. Some maps, such as Apogee Acres and The Golden Zepher, favor players that employ the rocket jump regularly. Others, like Star of Crater, offer good cover for players that enjoy more grounded combat. The maps in Rocket Arena give the game more personality and actually tie in to the skills and abilities needed to be successful. Where else can you be hit by a train and blasted across the map? Only in Megadon Junction, that’s where.
Level Up the Fun
As with most live service games, Rocket Arena offers rewards for leveling up as you play. Players can also collect artifacts and equip them through the menu screens to give their character additional in-game abilities. Artifacts, unlike cosmetics, will enhance a character’s performance, and they can be upgraded by using them in matches. Artifacts will do things like increase movement speed, move faster after returning to the arena, jumping, and more. Additionally, some artifacts will decrease damage taken, shorten the time before health regeneration begins, or other more defensive buffs. You get 3 different artifact slots and you can combine them to make a more defensive, offensive, or speed build.
Cosmetics are available in Rocket Arena, and there is a good amount of customization to choose from at launch. Each character levels up individually as you play with them, and leveling up will unlock various cosmetic items. These items range from uncommon to mythic, and include a variety of items. The following items can be customized in Rocket Arena:
- Hero Outfits – both unique outfits and bronze, silver, and gold outfits
- Totem Parts – both for the hero and the hero’s home world
- VFX Trails – these represent the hero’s color, and are applicable in Megablast and Return trails
Players can also earn rocket parts by leveling up that they can use in the Rocket Arena marketplace to purchase cosmetic items. Of course, you can also use actual money to purchase these items if you so choose.
It’s All About the Game, and How You Play It
The real star of Rocket Arena is the gameplay. Controls are simple for new players to grasp and still give plenty of options for more experienced players. The left stick will move your hero around the map. Right stick has them look around and aim. Right trigger fires the primary rocket, while the left will trigger your secondary ability. A jumps, B uses items, and clicking in on the right stick will have your hero dodge incoming rockets. Use that last one strategically – it has to cool down after every use.
After a quick tutorial, you’re thrown into a match against AI-controlled players before jumping right into the chaos yourself. You’ll quickly find that the action is incredibly fast-paced and fun. There is seemingly nowhere to hide on any map, and the key to success is to keep moving and keep firing.
Mastering (or at least becoming proficient at) the rocket jump and wall jumps will help you A LOT. as you navigate through the combat. Moving well around the map is critical because there is always the feeling that rockets are flying everywhere and that your hero is always being fired upon. Being able to quickly escape pressure and turn the tide back on your opponent will result in success every time.
Using the secondary and special abilities is critical, and each hero has different ones. This both encourages players to play with multiple heroes and makes every match different because of the different strategies being used. For each hero, the secondary and special abilities complement the primary weapon nicely. Most players will be able to find at least one hero that fits their play style nicely.
Don’t Get Knocked Out
Once a match begins, the best way to describe Rocket Arena is that it is beautiful chaos. Rockets are flying everywhere, and it takes a bit for a new player to feel like the game slows down enough for them to be effective. When you are using all of your abilities, moving with ease, and taking out enemy after enemy, the game is insanely fun.
As you are hit with enemy rockets, your Megablast meter will fill up. The higher it gets, the farther your hero will be able to be pushed in the air. This can result in being pushed right off the map for a knockout. Once a player’s Megablast meter is filled, being hit again will result in a Megablast and K.O., where the hero is skyrocketed off the map only to land (respawn) in a more quiet corner of the map. Scoring knockouts will help your team win in every game mode Rocket Arena has.
Rocket Arena has launched with four PvP modes and one PvE mode. PvP modes include Knockout, Rocketball, Treasure Hunt, and Mega Rocket. Each of these modes offers a unique play experience for heroes everywhere.
Knockout is exactly what it sounds like – achieve the target amount of knockouts against the other team, and your team wins. These matches prove to be very quick and chaotic because everyone is trying to do the same thing: eliminate enemy players.
Treasure Hunt is point based, with two ways to score. First, holding the treasure chest and carrying it around will score points for your team. Second, collecting coins in that part of the match will also add to your team’s score. To keep everyone engaged, the mode is set up so that collecting coins adds more to the score than holding the chest does.
Rocketball is similar to modes we’ve seen in many other multiplayer shooters. Secure the ball, move through the map, and put it in the goal to score a point for your team. It sounds easy minus the part where everyone is firing rockets at you. This mode offers something for support style players too by allowing them to protect the hero carrying the ball.
Mega Rocket is all about defending and capturing zones on the map where a giant rocket struck. Capture zones to score points, and the team with the most points when the timer runs out wins. Finally, the PvE mode pits your team against Rocketbots. The goal is to eliminate them all before the timer runs out.
In any mode, the key to success as a team is sticking together on the map. Isolating yourself from your team will result in quick knockouts much more often than not.
Great, But Will I Still Like It Months From Now?
One of the criticisms of Rocket Arena has been the perceived lack of content at launch. Ten heroes to choose from and ten maps to play is a pretty reasonable amount at launch. The goal of a live service game is to keep players coming back, and the best way to do that is to keep making the game feel new and refreshed.
To that end, Electronic Arts and Final Strike Games have announced seasons for Rocket Arena, starting on July 28. Each season will offer ranked competition for players. Every new season will bring new rewards to be earned. Most importantly, each new season will bring new maps and heroes to Rocket Arena, starting with Season 1 on July 28.
Season 1 will bring Lagoon of Doom, Grand Harbor, and Kayo Kanyon as new maps, with Flux joining the fray as a new hero. The season will include limited-time events, new game mode playlists, and dozens of new cosmetics for players to earn, as well as a new ranked season. If the seasons are executed well, Rocket Arena could have plenty of life for years.
Rocket Arena isn’t perfect, but it’s awfully fun. It is the type of game that is easy to pick up and play for newcomers, but complex enough that hardcore players can master it and dominate. The key here is that both of those types of players will still have fun with Rocket Arena. Matches are quick and chaotic. Playing this game won’t require the time commitment in a sitting many other multiplayer shooters do, but it will be a great time with your friends that you will want to keep coming back to.
At the friendly price point of $30, it’s easy to recommend Rocket Arena if you like competitive shooters at all. Yes there is an online store, and yes you can spend real money. However, you can dominate at Rocket Arena even if you never spend a dime. The items you can purchase are all cosmetic, and they can all be earned in-game too. Rocket Arena defies the odds and provides a fun, unique experience that sets itself apart in the saturated live service game landscape.
Purchase Rocket Arena on Xbox One here.
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Note: Electronic Arts provided a copy of Rocket Arena for the purposes of this review.