Multiplayer online games are as popular as ever, especially while people largely remain at home and trying to stay in touch with friends. That makes for a market that’s crowded with titles and mashups of what’s found considerable footing in the industry. The latest of those is Rocket Arena, a game from EA that launched last month promising a frenetic combat system where the ammo you fire helps you blast opponents away as much as it helps you move around the board.
It’s a fascinating concept, full of characters and promising a compelling story to boot while you grind your main’s abilities and learn the ropes of its 3 v. 3 combat system. Because Rocket Arena is inherently a three-player game — and the squad you pick is as important as your character pick — we decided the best way to cover the game was to team up. So we got three Uproxx Gaming writers — Bill DiFilippo, Chris Barnewall and Ryan Nagelhout — together to play some matches and give some first impressions. The result was a general consensus: there’s potential here, but we weren’t blown away at first glance.
One word kept coming to mind as I played Rocket Arena: potential.
EA Sports’ newest release — which came out for PlayStation 4, Windows, and Xbox One on July 14 — is such a fun game in concept. The best way to describe it, as I did to my colleagues with whom I got a feel for the game, was a game at the intersection of Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. At the bare minimum, that sounds like an incredibly fun idea, right?
Well, not quite. There is plenty to like about Rocket Arena. The concept, as you can guess, is quite fun. Primary and secondary attacks being specific to characters gives you plenty to learn, the ability to jump (or double jump, or triple jump) and dodge can make combat fun once you get a handle on it, and there are items you can receive during games that add a fun twist. The best thing about Rocket Arena is that it’s a really beautiful video game. The characters and levels both look fantastic, and the game’s hyper-frenetic nature means you’re oftentimes flying around and exploring, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the look of it all.
My issue with it comes from two things: the speed of the whole thing, and the amount of space afforded to those who play it. Rocket Arena is a comically fast game. Like, haphazardly so. The character you control zips around in the space given in an attempt to play one of several 3 v. 3 games. All of these games happen, though, in a confined amount of space. You can probably see where the inherent flaw in this is. The game is so fast, but the amount of room you have to explore and operate within that space is limited — this is where the comparison to Overwatch, an incredibly well-paced game in perfectly-calibrated amounts of space, fall apart.
If I had to make a prediction, this is a game that is going to really benefit from patches and upgrades over the coming weeks and months. It doesn’t feel like a finished product right now, which is fine! It’s a new idea, and new ideas take time to hammer out. There’s still a ton to like, and with games getting second chances left and right, Rocket Arena‘s final form seems both exciting and inevitable.
Can a game be too slow but too fast at the same time? Yes, and it’s called Rocket Arena. For a game that took the namesake of one of the most popular Quake mods ever, it fails to live up to any of the pedigree before it. It’s a game with varying influences but unfortunately lacks the interesting personalities of an Overwatch or the brand familiarity of a Super Smash Bros. What you get instead is a chaotic arrangement of characters that you don’t really have an attachment to knocking each other out of the arena.
A video game is more than personality, though, and if Rocket Arena had compelling gameplay at its core, the rest could follow later. Yet you rarely feel cool doing anything or that you are making game-changing plays. That might be because the objective-based game modes just lack the depth necessary to feel like this game is anything more than a simple brawler where whoever happens to have slightly better aim will win most encounters. Every character has a different kind of rocket gun with different abilities, but at no point did I feel like switching to a different character would have made a difference in a fight.
This doesn’t mean this game is hopeless. I personally love the movement abilities. Shooting rockets off of walls and the ground to help create momentum made for some fun moments where I really felt like I was flying across the map. Unfortunately, since the terrain is built with this kind of movement in mind it would often force me to actually slow down instead. Fights are hectic, chaotic, but that speed always made me feel like I was somehow moving too slow.
A lot of this is theoretically fixable, but the game will have to undergo some pretty dramatic patches, but with those changes there may need to be more thorough overhauls of different game modes. Having King of The Hill-style control points is a multiplayer shooter staple, for example, but the area that you have to stand in to capture those points was far too small. The chest keep away and coin collecting game mode is fun, but it felt unbalanced. More often than not the team that got the first chest would win the entire game. The football like ball scoring mode can be exploited and was never at any point fun.
I really wanted to like Rocket Arena. I tried to like Rocket Arena, but the way it fought me every step of the way left me ultimately disappointed.
There are few games that I’ve liked less the more I’ve played it, but the launch version of Rocket Arena is certainly on that list. I say “launch version” because I agree with my teammates when they tout the game’s potential for fun. I just didn’t have it right away, and the more I dug into the game modes and characters the more frustrated I became.
One worry, though, is that the gamer pool for Rocket Arena will dry up before the game’s kinks and tweaks can make it into something sticky enough to keep players coming back. They’ve already had one free-to-play weekend to get players a look at the rapid-fire combat and various game modes the game offers. Most of those, however, seemed lopsided at best and at worst completely unplayable. It’s not just a case of maybe not being good enough at this kind of game, either: The skills needed to thrive can certainly be developed, but almost immediately it became clear that it wouldn’t be worth the effort.
It didn’t feel like there was much to do right away, and if grinding doesn’t have a meaningful reward there’s an entire backlog of other games waiting that you could be playing otherwise. It’s a tough market to crack and the good news is the EA title has an established roadmap and is likely to get plenty support. Those that stick with the game will find tweaks that have rewarded their patience and hopefully an audience will follow. A game like Rocket Arena needs a huge swath of people playing to keep it free flowing and make it feel alive. I just don’t know if I’ll be heading back into the arena anytime soon.