Rocket Arena is a competitive 3rd person 3v3 hero shooter that is, quite literally, explosive. This is the debut title from Final Strike Games which launches July 14th and brings a lot of interesting gameplay mechanics you wouldn’t expect from a hero shooter. It’s going to be a fully-released game at launch, so here’s a preview into what Rocket Arena is all about.
We’re welcomed to the World of Crater where rockets are everything. You’ve entered into the Rocket Championship Tour where you face off against other teams of 3 in various competitions. There are 10 characters, 10 maps, and 5 game modes that will be available at launch. This is a hero shooter, so each character has different abilities but the game also has items players can find and pick up during each match. In addition to unique hero abilities, each character’s primary rockets all fire differently. For example, Boone’s primary fire acts like a sniper rifle with more direct shots (which turns into a shotgun up close) versus a character like Blastbeard who has slower firing cannon shots that have a slight distance drop off.
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My first thoughts on Rocket Arena were “Not another hero shooter” but there are quite a few gameplay mechanics that really grabbed me. Instead of using health bars and killing other players, Rocket Arena uses something called Blast Meters. So rather than straight up rocketing your enemy to death, you have to use your weapons and items to blast your enemy out of the ring. Think Super Smash Brothers but in a 3rd person fps form. It was a really weird concept to understand that when I’d see an enemy’s blast meter above their heads and see it was low, it didn’t mean they were low health. The higher their meter was, the closer they were to getting eliminated. Again, think Super Smash Bros. You can push your opponents out of the ring by hitting them until they drop off the edge and can’t fight their way to the map. Additionally, you can hit them until their blast meter reaches its limits and they’ll get flown outside the ring automatically, no matter where they are.
Unless your blast meter exceeds its threshold, you can actually fight your way back onto the platform. Rocket Arena implements a skill called “rocket jumping” that allows you to jump using your rockets or special abilities. There is no splash damage in the game from your own weapons so you can rocket jump all you want as long as you have the ammo for it. For example, if I get stuck dropping outside the platform, I can shoot against the wall to boost myself up and climb back into the arena. Not only can you save yourself from getting knocked out, but you can also use this to your advantage to climb walls and get above everyone else during fights. Rocket Arena encourages players to really get creative with movement.
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During fights, you can hit your opponents consistently and build up your combos.When you hit consecutive shots and build a combo, a melody plays that sounds like the Fortnite harvesting notes when you hit all the right spots. However, there’s a dodge mechanic that all heroes have that allows them to break their opponents’ combos if timed correctly. There’s a 6 second cooldown timer on your dodge, so you have to really think it through if you’re in a particularly sticky situation. My one complaint about this system is that I thought if I were to time a dodge perfectly, my cooldown time would be significantly shorter as a reward. But the cooldown timer remains the same whether you nail your dodge or not. On the other hand, Rocket Arena allows you to triple jump so there’s still a lot of mobility in the game. Blastbeard’s special ability actually resets his jumps which can definitely be used for if you’re outside the ring.
The 5 game modes available at launch consist of 4 PVP matches and 1 PVE. All of these modes consist of teams of 3. The four PVP modes consist of Knockout (the standard game where you knock out your opponents), Rocketball (where the goal of the game is to run and throw or blast a ball into your opponent’s goal), Treasure Hunt (where you hold a treasure chest that spawns in the middle of the map to collect coins), and Megarocket (a capture the point objective). Most of those game modes were pretty self-explanatory, especially with Rocketball basically being hero Rocket League. But Treasure Hunt was the most unique mode I got to participate in. A treasure chest spawns in the middle of the map and once someone picks it up, their team needs to defend that player holding the treasure chest otherwise it can be stolen off the knocked out player. It’s important to know that you can’t use your special ability when holding the chest. Once the treasure round is over, coins spawn all over the map that your team needs to collect before the other team can grab them all. The PVE mode is called Rocketbot Attack where you can work with a team of 3 to fight waves of bots.
ABOVE: Watch the original reveal trailer for Rocket Arena from last year.
For more competitive players, the developers at Final Strike Games ensured us that Ranked PVP would be available at launch as well. During the demo event, I got to play Knockout, Rocketball, and Treasure Hunt. My favorite game mode out of those three was probably Knockout since it was pretty cut and dry and I could engage in the rocket mayhem without having to worry about other objectives. The items you can pick up around the map come in very useful during fights, since you might be able to pick up a Ninja headband that lets you dodge without a cooldown for a short amount of time, a rocket magnet that acts as a small rocket force field, a speed boost, a mine you can plant anywhere, or a bomb. The Ninja Headband felt most useful for me during fights, since the dodge mechanic can save your blast meter from filling up too quickly. All the maps are fairly small but it feels pretty balanced since players can’t run and camp in different spots. However, for Rocketball, there was one particular map, Temple of Jaaqua, that felt entirely too small and cramped. It was incredibly hard to tell who had the ball, where the ball currently was, and what exactly was going on from the map space available.
For each hero, there are a set of Artifacts that you can unlock as you play matches and “discover” them. Artifacts are like little boosts that help increase your stats to a small percentage. For example, there is an Artifact named the Axial Fan that, at Level 1, will increase your Rocket Jump strength by 20% and increases by 5% for the next two levels. You can have three artifacts equipped on your character which allow you to personalize your stats to best match your playstyle. My demo experience with Rocket Arena was pretty limited given the play time we were allotted, but I got to experiment enough with the game to get a basic understanding of what I liked and what my playstyle was. I felt my best characters were Izell and Rev who allowed me to get up close and personal and both have rush attacks that can smack my opponents into the sky. Rev’s primary weapon is a machine gun, but I always felt like she never had enough ammo in it to feel like a proper machine gun. I found myself running out of ammo right as my last combo would hit and the reload would take a second too long, letting my enemy get away.
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However, the weapon and character balancing actually felt really good for the demo I got to play. No character felt overpowered, especially since each character’s skill sets were built to accommodate for a wide range of playstyles. It took me a few rounds of changing characters between matches to figure out who I felt most comfortable with, but once I did, I started to feel more on even ground with everyone. Each match I played lasted for about 6 minutes or so which felt like a good amount of time for such fast-paced matches. There’s a lot of action and explosions happening throughout each match and sometimes it would get too visually busy to follow everything happening, but I still found myself enjoying smacking people with Rev’s board and blasting people into the sky.
Rocket Arena is coming as a live service game to the Xbox One, PS4, and PC and is also the first EA game to have complete crossplay at launch. The base game will be sold for $29.99 and the premium bundle will be $39.99 that includes the first battlepass. Season 1 of Rocket Arena will begin two weeks after launch, on July 28th. When I asked about what the pricepoint of cosmetics and the battlepass would be, Ray Almeda (Global Public Relations for EA), said, “We believe in fairness to all of our players so there aren’t any pay to win mechanics in Rocket Arena. There aren’t any loot boxes either.” All players will also receive a free new character during each of the upcoming seasons.
Overall, I’m very cautiously optimistic about Rocket Arena. Its unique gameplay mechanics stand out from other third-person hero shooters and the arena of 3v3 fights is actually quite fun. My one concern is how the game will stay engaging and fresh after a few weeks after launch. While there are several game modes to choose from, including Ranked, a lot of the matches felt slightly repetitive like it was just a rinse-and-repeat cycle. But, regardless, from the time I got to spend with Rocket Arena’s demo, I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos and explosions and will be keeping an eye on the game’s launch and future.