Rocket Arena Preview: A lot of bang for a lot of bucks

Rocket Arena was announced way back in May 2019 by First Strikes Games, a team of developers comprised of minds previously behind multiplayer offerings in such titles as Halo, Call of Duty, Gears of War and more. A rocket-shooter where death doesn’t exist — think Super Smash Bros.-style knockouts instead — it was tied to publisher Nexon before a later declaration that it and First Strike had parted ways.

Fast-forward to today and Rocket Arena has found a new home at EA, part of the EA Originals program that’s launched franchises like Unravel. Ahead of today’s announcement, Stevivor was able to take part in a preview opportunity that allowed us to test six playable characters, a handful of maps and three of four PvP multiplayer modes: Knockout, Rocketball and Treasure Chest. At release, four new characters and a final PvP mode, Mega Rocket, will also be available.

No matter the mode, titular rockets are key. Characters have different varieties of projectiles, but that’s you’ll be able to access in terms of main-fire weaponry. From there, characters have abilities as unique as their personas — we’ve previewed each in a post here (and in the video below). My favourite of the six was Amphora, a magical underwater princess that has a tri-shot homing rocket as a special and a Splatoon-like traversal mode and knockback ability as an ultimate.

Amphora’s combination of skills can be chained to strike and push opponents high into the air and out of bounds, and each rocket strike weakens those hit, increasing the chance they’ll be K.O.ed. Tying your skills together with those of your two teammates is a surefire recipe for success.

No matter the mode, matches seem to run for around five minutes each, though their objectives are quite different. Knockout is a standard-style deathmatch mode (though there’s no such thing as death), while Rocketball patterns itself on Halo‘s Grifball, though using Overwatch-style personalities and character abilities to liven up the whole ‘shoot the ball in the net’ objective.

Treasure Hunt was the strangest of the bunch, a mode that tasks you to collect a treasure chest then protect it and the player carrying it. At the end of mini-rounds, the chest disappears only to spawn coins all around the map. With a Super Mario Bros rip-off tune accompanying it, your objective there is to collect as many coins as you can until the next chest appears. While you can check out a video of different modes and maps below, we didn’t have the chance to preview Mega Rocket, a game mode that will task you to capture a single point. Also included in-game are a solo trainer and co-op PvE mode against battle bots.

While that’s a decent launch offering, Rocket Arena may seem like a tough sell when its asking price is considered. Available from 14 July, the 3v3 shooter will be available for $39.95 AUD, or $49.95 AUD for a Mythic edition that bundles enough currency to purchase the title’s first Blast Past (aka Season Pass). While this content will be bolstered by Rocket Arena‘s first season on 28 July — adding in a single new character, multiple new maps and more — it’s hard for this new entry to compare to an equally feature-heavy and free-to-play shooter like EA’s own Apex Legends or Riot’s Valorant.

While those two examples are free-to-play, they admittedly do offer purchases in the form of Season Passes and cosmetics that can be purchased by real-world money rather than earned currency. Rocket Arena takes that same tact, though after charging a customer for the privilege of playing in the first place. In a highly competitve hero shooter space, it’s that model that may make or break it.

Neither Nexon nor First Strike wanted to speak directly to why their partnership had ended, but in a statement from July 2019, Nexon said that it “and Final Strike Games ultimately shared different visions for the future of the game.” In the preview session, First Strike co-founder Kevin Franklin told Stevivor that “with EA’s support, we’ve really grown this from an on-paper concept… [to a] premium offering — we’re going to have many seasons’ worth of content that we’re already playtesting internally.” While Rocket Arena has also shifted from first- to third-person view and added a (useful) dodge mechanic since a showing at E3 2019 and in a handful of betas, I’d be willing to bet additional avenues for monetisation were on the mind of the game’s two partners in its post-Nexon lifecycle.

That aside, Rocket Arena was undeniable fun, offering simple pick up and play modes, colourful characters and a unique identifier in a genre that seems to be ever-increasing. You’ll be able to check it out for yourself — and play with and against friends on all available platforms — from 14 July. I know I’ll be rocket jumping back in.

About the author

Steve Wright

Steve's the owner of this very site and an active games journalist for the past ten years. He's a Canadian-Australian gay gaming geek, ice hockey player and fan. Husband to Matt and cat dad to Wally and Quinn.