All signs were pointing to the end of the hero-based shooter craze. After the success of Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege, the gruelling developmental gulag chewed up and spat out any competitors, seeing the likes of Paladins, Battleborn and Gigantic crumble from within. However, a few months ago Riot came out of the woodwork dropping their hero-based shooter, Valorant on the gaming world and belief returned. Now EA is joining the party with a brand spanking new multiplayer title from developer Final Strike Games. Meet Rocket Arena.
Based on the bizarre planet of Crater, Rocket Arena follows the wild Rocket Championship Tour - a tough event where competitorsfrom each of the planet's regions are sent to represent them in combat. Taking place across the entire scope of Crater, the tour challenges players to face off in Rocket fuelled warfare, where there is no killing, only knockouts. This season of the tour sees Crater searching for a new champion after young prodigy, Jayto rose through adversity and claimed the title for his region last year. The question remains, can he defend his claim on greatness?
Rocket Arena is a multiplayer, hero-based, projectile shooter. It features light violence so there's no killing and no gore. Built with easy mechanics and a stunning audio-visual design to accompany it, Rocket Arena is a brilliant example on how simplicity can be great, and with its diverse cast of loveable, unique 'competitors', it's a lot of fun to play. The art style and animations really capture the 'Pixar' look with eye-catching environmental and character designs. The soundtrack accompanies this by giving every location its own music, from mystical chimes to country strings.
The mechanics are simple, you have a rocket launcher that can damage enemies and propel you to new heights. You have a unique competitor with specialised abilities who can engage and face combat differently. By combining the two, you have to work as a team to either capture the objective or KO the opposing team by hitting an enemy enough times to make their health bars critical, launching them out of the arena (similar to the Super Smash Bros. KO effect). The intricacies built into the title come when you utilise your dodge ability and use each competitor's specially designed rocket launcher and kit to your advantage during an engagement.
The competitors are the playable characters, each representing their home region with a visual look to accompany it. On launch, there will be ten in total with each character having special abilities and a unique rocket launcher that can fire in different ways. This level of design is not to the degree of Overwatch, where every character has a whole set of abilities to use to their advantage, instead every competitor has only a few unique tools. Aside from their weapon's firing pattern, they each have a single special ability, a slightly different jumping style and an exclusive alternate fire to their launcher. A level of variety such as this allows gameplay to feel consistently fresh and accessible, yet also protects the competitive integrity of the game without giving competitors too much of an edge over one another.
As an example, Rez excels in close quarters with her faster firing, lower damage, less accurate weapons. This combined with her ability to use her hoverboard to make a quick exit makes her a great assassin type combatant with high damage-per-second. Amphora, on the other hand, is great at range since her rockets do not have as much of an arcing pattern and travel quickly in a straight line. By matching this up with her ability to fire larger charged shots, she can be a huge nuisance at distance and likewise a threat up close if engaged without the right tactics. Blastbeard is a fantastic tanky presence and excels in being an objective-based figure. His shots have the harshest arcing effect, making him ineffective at range, yet his larger hitbox, resistance to hits before being KO'd and high-damage rockets make him great for capturing/defending a point.
The real beauty of Rocket Arena comes with how each of these competitors interacts and plays off the others. Since teamwork is of the utmost importance, working as a unit and using your character's skills to your team's advantage can be the deal-breaker when it comes to winning or losing a game. Drawing a comparison back to Overwatch: when tanks were prevalent, mobile Heroes such as Genji fell out of favour due to his inability to slice through the larger health pools. In Rocket Arena, picking Plink and using him as a ranged fighter with little focus on the objective can be hugely detrimental, since he has such a close-ranged, high-damage gun, with an ability that makes him extremely mobile.
On the topic of game modes (all of which are based around three-player teams), currently in Rocket Arena, there are five-six including Ranked pre-season. The player vs player varieties include: Knockout (team deathmatch), Rocket Ball (capture the flag), Mega Rocket (king of the hill) and Treasure Hunt (a combination of kill confirmed mixed with some flag holding mechanics). Each of the game modes brings something new to fight over, but the core mechanic always comes back to KOing opponents. Out of the four PvP modes, Mega Rocket was my personal favourite. By having a control point to fight over, as well as enemy players to deal with, it's consistently engaging and a joy to play.
As for the player vs enemies mode, that is known as Rocketbot Attack and tasks players with defeating a number of AI robots with a limited number of lives. If anything, this mode is lacking right now because the AI difficulty is too low and the challenge is limited, but it could be seen as a great warm-up or as a way to introduce new/younger players.
Aside from character design and game variation, Rocket Arena also has some beautifully well-designed maps that are both visually stunning to play on, and unique in their design. Launching with ten maps such as the underwater, bubble world of Shimmering Depths and the regal, airborne zeppelin of the Golden Zephyr, each arena offers new ways to play and environmental hazards to watch out for. In Shimmering Depths, the map boundaries encompass the playing area, but it is hard to fall to your doom. On the other hand, in Golden Zephyr, falling off is one of the more common hazards. The great thing, however, is how maps are lively and will sometimes have events that can cause serious problems for players. For example, Megadon Junction has a passing train of which can completely annihilate you should you get in its way.
To keep the game feeling new at all points, Rocket Arena offers two main areas of customisation for players. There are cosmetic changes that can all be acquired with either levelling up a competitor (each has 100 levels to progress through) or bought at the store with in-game or premium currency. These range from skins to blast trails and can show off your skill when using the bronze, silver and gold mastery skins acquired when reaching specific ranks. It should also be noted here that every cosmetic that comes to the store can be acquired without spending any real money.
Furthermore, Rocket Arena will also have a battle pass to give players another opportunity to acquire some interesting cosmetics. The Blast Pass, as its cheekily titled, will launch on July 28th, costing 950 Rocket Fuel (the premium currency). It has been confirmed as well that the Blast Pass will contain enough Rocket Fuel to purchase the next pass, with some extra currency to spare, so in effect and with the right playtime, it is a one-time purchase. Rocket Arena is also dropping two editions of the game at launch, a $29.99 standard edition with the base game and everything in between, or alternatively the slightly pricier Mythic edition, which contains a few unique cosmetics and enough Rocket Fuel to easily acquire the first Blast Pass, costing $39.99.
Another customisation feature is the Artifact system, which works very similarly to a rudimentary create-a-class mechanic. You can equip three per competitor and each Artifact can assist in your gameplay slightly with either extra ground movement speed, better recovery after dodging, or even gaining an item upon being KO'd as just a few examples. All the artifacts are found through playing; however, the catch is they are randomly dropped meaning you will have to sink in a fair few hours of gameplay to acquire them all. Personally, it is kind of hard to grasp why this is the case instead of just having them unlock at specific competitor ranks for example. Artifacts can also be upgraded by fusing them together with other ones to increase their potency, you will just have to be lucky enough to get a duplicate first.
One often overlooked area in this genre is accessibility features, and in Rocket Arena they really are great. There is the usual button mapping, which is elevated even further by the simple to play mechanics, there's the ability to use text to speech, customise subtitles so they are large and standout, and the cream of the crop, day-one crossplay. Essentially, combining all of these together make a game that can be enjoyed by any age and many abilities, across whichever system you intend to play on.
Rocket Arena is a lot of fun, designed to be enjoyed in a light-hearted, casual manner but at the same time, it features enough depth to promote skill among talented players. The combination of its eye-catching visuals, fantastic soundtrack, unique characters, accessibility options and fresh game modes make for an experience that is hard not to love. As the game develops with new content, it looks like the only way for Rocket Arena is up.
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