STAFF REVIEW of Rocket Arena (Xbox One)

Friday, August 28, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Rocket Arena Box art Are you a fan of Overwatch? How about Smash Bros? What if I told you there’s now a game that essentially combined these two, would that excite you? On paper this sounds like an amazing combination, and you’d think throwing in some rocket based gameplay would make it even cooler. The result is a little more muddled than that though. A 3v3 online shooter, Rocket Arena aims to gain its audience with its bright visuals, flashy gameplay, and if you happen to love rockets, even better.

What makes Rocket Arena stand out against the competition is mainly with its gameplay. The main twist is that instead of a standard health bar that needs to be depleted to kill someone, instead, you need to fill their meter and get a finishing shot or blow on them, much like Smash Bros, to knock them out of the arena. And just like said game, you can also recover if your enemies are unable to finish the job. This Blast Meter makes the gameplay unique, as you don’t necessarily have to be low on health either, simply reach out of bounds of the play area and you can get knocked out.

As for the shooting itself, it’s functional, but something feels lacking overall. Every character shoots, well, rockets, so if you were a fan of playing Soldier in Team Fortress 2 or Pharah in Overwatch, you’ll have an idea what to expect. The shooting is quite hard to get the hang of, as you need to lead your shots, but after a few hours you’ll start to get a feel for it. Not only will you need to learn the intricacies of combat, you’ll have to master dodging and using items as well. You can not only use your rockets to rocket jump, but using them along walls or pillars to ‘climb’ upwards. It takes some getting used to but you can easily maneuver around the handful of maps quickly in no time once you've got the skills down.

To be honest, I wasn’t utilizing the dodge much at first, but came to learn that it’s quite important, for more than the obvious reason. I tend to play slightly aggressive, so I usually forgo defense for more brute force. This wasn’t working too well, as I was constantly getting eliminated but unsure how to defend against it. Dodging not only allows you to, well, dodge incoming rockets, but it also is how you can free yourself from a stun and get back into the fight, provided you’re not knocked out of the arena first.

Scattered throughout the arena’s you’ll find items and gift boxes. These will give you bonus one-time usable items like a bomb that can be tossed, a ninja headband that enhances your dodging for a short time or a rocket magnet that traps any rockets that pass nearby. These can be useful and give a slight edge, but generally nothing that will change the tide of a match drastically.

Currently with eleven different characters to choose from, each with their own shot types and abilities, you’re bound to find one that suits your playstyle, though this took me a handful of hours to find the two or three I enjoyed more than others. Each character is unique in their playstyle, not just because of their shot types, but how they control and perform. You’ve got slower types of characters, ones that can snipe, some that are weak but has more rockets, and others. It will take some time to not only master the physics based shots, having to lead your rockets, but learn when best to use your abilities to earn those KO’s.

What I did enjoy was that each character leveled the more you used them, unlocking new skins to customize their look, banners, totems and more. You’ll also unlock artifacts. Think of these like specialized passive perks, and these can level up as well, becoming more powerful the more you equip them in matches. While I never found a character I fell in love with, as I usually find one I enjoy and main them 100% of the time, there were a few that stood out.

Amphora has a special ability that allows her turn into a water puddle that has quick movement then can launch them high out of the arena for massive damage or KO’s. Flux is entertaining because her rockets look like kitten rainbows and she can also warp into another dimension for a brief time to get out of danger quickly. Plink is fun as he has a large amount of rockets before needing to reload, but they don’t do much damage, so he’s a great support character or someone that can get that last KO hit in before enemies can recover since he can shoot so many before needing to reload. Izell is whom I’ve gravitated towards for my main though, as she is great at pressuring, is quite mobile, and can even load a charged dash to knock back or out enemies. Every character has their own unique quirk and style, so make sure to try out each to find what one works best for you.

Season One is now live, adding a new hero that will come in each (Flux was this season’s), new map, events, challenges and more. For those that really like Rocket Arena and want to get the most out of their time with it, there’s also a Blast Pass that can be purchased, much like a battlepass from other games. Of course, the Blast Pass is only purchased with real money, and while you’ll earn a few bonuses for leveling and such without it, you obviously earn many more items and unlocks if you purchase the pass.

Since there’s no campaign and this is strictly an online shooter, you can choose from Social or Ranked matches, and given that everything is Rocket Themed, so are the different modes. Knockout is 3v3 and basically your Team Deathmatch, scoring points for every enemy you knock out of the arena and finish. The King of the Hill mode is called Mega Rocket, but the more unique modes come from Treasure Hunt and Rocketball.

Treasure Hunt has you picking up a chest and keeping possession to earn points, but you can also collect random coins around the map as well. Rocketball is essentially basketball where you get points for scoring in the opponent’s goal. The problem though with Treasure Hunt and Rocketball is that some of the characters are so overpowered because the gameplay is more about speed and agility rather than shooting or KO’s, so a bad team makeup can spell disaster and a sure loss. I personally prefer RocketBot Attack which is a PvE mode of 3 players versus 3 bots.

Now this is where things become messy and awkward; Microtransactions. Now, I have no problem with microtransactions when they are done right, offering no gameplay advantage like skins, but sometimes you don’t hit the mark. Naturally, every character in Rocket Arena has a ton of different skins, unfortunately, many are gated with very high level progression or Rocket Fuel, the currency you purchase with real money. Factor in that Rocket Arena is NOT free to play, they try and tempt you with a Blast Pass when possible AND want to sell you skins as well, and it starts to put a bad taste in your mouth. Do you NEED the skins? Obviously not, and sadly there’s not even that many amazing special ones, as most are just slight variations or palette swaps. I never once felt compelled to purchase any of them but that’s also due to their high cost and general blandness of offerings.

Rocket Arena has an interesting concept and a great art direction with its Overwatch/Fortnite aesthetic and character design, but with a change to free-to-play, I could see Rocket Arena garnering a stronger following given that players are already being asked to purchase premium currency for skins and a Blast Pass to get the most out of it. While fun in short bursts, it took me quite a while to settle on a main, as many characters never clicked with my playstyle, and the poor matchmaking balancing was quite demoralizing as a new player, though bonus points for incorporating crossplay.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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