“It definitely looks like an Overwatch rip-off,” my cousin said, when I sent him a text about Rocket Arena.
It’s tough to avoid making a comparison between Blizzard’s megahit and EA’s new entry into the competitive genre. After all, both are colorful hero-based shooters and each member of their respective casts have unique weapons and abilities on the battlefield. However, while they might seem to have much in common at first glance, Rocket Arena’s gameplay is not only enjoyable, it’s wildly different.
Players control one of ten available heroes, each equipped with rocket launchers. Teams are broken up into threes to compete in different game modes, but the general idea is to knock enemy players out of the arena, Super Smash Bros.-style by filling up a knockout meter. The more the meter is filled, the easier it is to knock them out.
This meter/knockout system is what sets Rocket Arena apart from other shooters. Instead of feeling like any one of a dozen others, it feels like a weird, aerial sumo match between six different people. Players are not only trying to attack, though — they have to play defensively by making good use of a dodge mechanic and the ability to triple jump as one way of potentially recovering from being knocked out. Players can also save themselves by using their rockets as explosive vertical boosts if targeting the ground or walls.
Every character has two modes of fire, a basic and an alt-fire mode. The basic functions as a standard attack, but the alt requires a cooldown. They also have a special ability that can inflict serious damage to enemies.The roster of heroes is exciting, with my personal favorite being Izell. She uses a spear that launches short-range rockets, though she can also pull enemies towards her with her secondary firing mode.
While the characters have brief backstories and interesting designs ranging from pirates, wizards, big game hunters and even aquatic creatures, there isn’t much to make players care about them. There aren’t any lavish CG cutscenes to introduce them, nor is there any effort to build lore. While some might be disappointed, this is fine with me since Rocket Arena is built on gameplay that was more addicting than I expected.
Of the five modes included at launch, my favorites were Mega Rocket and RocketBot Attack.
The former tasks players with capturing large rockets and defending them from the enemy team. Improvising tactics and juggling between defending and capturing points never got old, and matches being about 6-7 minutes helped, thanks to how fast everything felt — I was never dreading overlong matches like other competitive games might offer.
The latter is a co-op horde mode in which players must defeat a certain number of robots before time runs out. Fairly standard stuff, but the cooperation required made it a favorite among my squad.
Rocket Arena is probably my biggest surprise of 2020. It’s a different kind of shooter with an interesting gameplay loop, but I’ve got to be honest in saying that I’m worried about its future. In a medium where dozens of live experiences including Overwatch, Fortnite,Apex Legends and the newly released Valorant are all competing for everyone’s time, EA needs to put serious work into making sure it stays afloat. Cross-play between different platforms is a good start in keeping games populated straight out of the gate, but a lack of content at launch and no concrete plan beyond new maps and a new character is a bit concerning. I know I’ll keep returning to Rocket Arena, but will others? Time will tell.
The first season of competitive play begins on July 28th, 2020.
Rocket Arena is developed by Final Strike Games and published by Electronic Arts. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game’s standard edition is $29.99 while the Mythic Edition is $39.99 and includes cosmetic items.
— CJ Salcedo
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