State of the Game: Rocket League: There’s Still Grip in These Tires

State of the Game: Rocket League: There’s Still Grip in These Tires

State of the Game: Rocket League: There’s Still Grip in These Tires

My introduction to Rocket League was suitably chaotic. A friend had secured beta access, setting up 4v4 matches with six other people on two TVs. We played for hours. Between the unlikely goals, great assists, and questionable demolition tactics, I enjoyed every moment of it. There’s no game that better encapsulates the “just one more round” mentality than Rocket League. It’s currently my most played game of all time, each explosive match beckons another, and I wasn’t the only one who got hooked. Psyonix knew it was successful and teamed up with Sony to make it a “free” PS Plus game at launch, sealing the deal for many. Seven years later, Rocket League is still a winner.

Rocket League divides players into teams and asks them to score goals, using rocket-powered cars instead of feet, and employing a ball that absolutely towers over them on the field. Compete to get the most points before time runs out – if you tie after 5 minutes, say hello to extra time and sudden death, you have a few tricks at your disposal. Boost pads are spread evenly across the field to provide a speed advantage, for example allowing you to shoot on pace or demolish an opponent’s vehicle if you crash at top speed. If you feel like trying something more technical, jump up and use that boost for an aerial shot.

As you may have noticed, Rocket League focuses heavily on multiplayer, putting a heavy emphasis on team strategy and player rotation. You won’t find set positions like in a football game, although setting up assists from midfield or falling behind as goalkeeper often feels natural. Coordination with teammates is key and victory always feels better together.

Rocket League announcement trailer.

Speaking of victory, scoring goals is an absolute joy and I contend that few things in gaming are more satisfying than landing that perfect antenna. If there’s one thing that explains Rocket League’s longevity, it’s this. Have you timed the jump, judged the angle, hit the ball at the right time and in a short amount of time? Behind the net.

Due to its immediacy and easy enjoyment, the fundamentals of Rocket League remain largely intact since 2015. Make no mistake though, the last seven years have ensured that it is a competitive game with a high skill ceiling. So it’s no surprise that Psyonix formed the Rocket League Championship Series in 2016. While its esports scene doesn’t compare to, say, League of Legends, RLCS is still going strong. Better yet, Rocket League is also a perfectly accessible experience for newcomers, enhanced with post-launch updates like cross-play and cross-platform progression. He’s busy too. Thanks to their innate friendliness and Rocket League’s free switch two years ago, I’ve never had a problem finding a match online.

It is a beautiful game in its own way.

Despite the success, this has not always been the easiest journey. Mac and Linux support was dropped two years ago, but much earlier, in 2016, Psyonix introduced a loot box system known as crates. Offering random exclusive items, this was poorly received and the crates were eventually removed, replaced with a blueprint system that tells you exactly what you’re getting. But prices for using flats vary. When providing all kinds of cosmetics, the costs are as low as 50 credits, but with rarer options I’ve seen them as high as 2500 credits. (For context, Credits are mostly earned in fixed packs, and 3,000 Credits equals £18.75. A Rocket Pass, meanwhile, costs 1,000 Credits.)

Monetization has become more prevalent since it became free to play, which is unfortunate and completely expected. However, it is still handled quite delicately. Buying a Rocket Pass provides an EXP and item boost, sure, but Rocket League steers clear of any pay-to-win. All of these new cosmetic cars, decals, and other items are just that: cosmetics. Nobody gets an advantage using a Batmobile over Octane, and while it might not be the friendliest approach for players who bought Rocket League at launch, or those like me, who bought it on PC, Switch, and physically (look, came with the DLC packs): Psyonix has, to its credit, provided “legacy rewards” for existing owners in the free game switch. He has also not tricked his players into buying these cosmetics.

rocket league blueprints

Blueprints can be expensive.

Beyond Rocket Pass, we’ve seen some big post-launch updates that introduced new arenas and new modes, which kept me coming back. Mutators allow us players to play with the finer points of Rocket League, like setting unlimited boost or reduced gravity, and there are additional online playlists. Snow Day introduced an ice hockey-inspired variant that replaces the ball with a puck, we got Mario Kart-esque shenanigans with the item-packed Rumble mode, and I can’t forget the basketball-inspired Hoops, either. There’s more, but my personal favorite is Heatseeker, which is basically Rocket League Pong. It’s a refreshing change as the ball moves automatically, and those moments when my team scored without landing a shot were a lot of fun.

We are still getting a regular list of new cars as well. Initially opting for more traditional DLC packs, Rocket League later implemented a revamped item shop with spinning vehicles, player banners, goal explosions, and more. These are purchased through credits, which can be obtained through the Rocket Pass, but that’s almost never enough without you having to spend real money. For the more competitive, you’ll also find a separate esports store, which uses an alternate in-game currency. While there were some fun crossovers in the early days (that are no longer available) like the DeLorean from Back to the Future, playable licensed vehicles still appear between seasons, and I haven’t stopped racing F1 cars since that pack was released. : I am a big fan of the 2021 Alfa Romeo/Williams combo.

rocket league season 7

Season 7.

My one major complaint is that the recent updates haven’t been that exciting, with Rocket League feeling a bit stagnant in spots. I like seeing a shiny new McLaren as much as the next racing fan, but we haven’t seen any new modes for a while, and I can’t remember the last major update that wasn’t the Halloween event or a new season. Cosmetics alone are not enough to lure former players back. Of course, none of this diminishes the core experience. Just be aware that it can affect how long you stay.

This is not to say that Psyonix hasn’t tried. Gotham City Rumble was a fun limited-time twist on Rumble last March, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S players received improvements through backwards compatibility, including 120Hz support, and we’ve also seen a new mobile entry, Rocket League Sideswipe. But, interestingly, there’s still no word on native versions of the latest hardware from Sony and Microsoft, almost two years after its release, and it doesn’t seem entirely clear what the next big thing is, which makes me wonder what exactly he’s planning. Psyonix. Perhaps a Rocket League 2 with a new engine, similar to Activision’s Warzone 2 approach? Who can honestly say.

Either way, I’m excited to see what the future holds for Psyonix’s incredible success. Seven years later, Rocket League is no longer in the spotlight, but it still retains everything that made it special back in 2015. Plus, thanks to the move to free-to-play, there are no longer any barriers to entry and Rocket League maintains its large user base, which means there has possibly never been a better time to get involved. I recommend giving it a try. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a game of Hoops that I will inevitably lose.

This article is part of our State of the Game series, in which we review some of the biggest running service games to see how they’re faring. You can find many more pieces like this in our State of the Game hub.

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