Rocket League first launched in 2015 and launched to rave reviews and excitement. Its unique gameplay – a mashup of football (‘soccer’ if we must) and racing – was a breath of fresh air to a competitive gaming scene dominated by FPSs and MOBAs, and it hooked me almost immediately. I initially sunk hundreds of hours into it, before playing a more modest amount on and off over its subsequent years.
Over that time, the game has changed remarkably little, despite changing ownership and moving to the Epic Store in 2019. Yes it’s seen limited-time game modes come and go, and new skins and cosmetics are launched at high frequency, but deep down it’s the same old game that I fell in love with 7 years ago.
In an attempt to wean myself off Call of Duty Warzone, I’ve been playing it with a friend who is completely new to the game. Of course, some game sessions are more enjoyable than others (if we win, I’m happy) but overall I’m absolutely loving the game, and am having a huge amount of fun trying to climb the 2v2 rankings. In short, it’s got me excited about gaming for the first time in a while.
But why? Shouldn’t I be bored of a game I’ve already put hundreds of hours into and whose core formula hasn’t changed since launch? Read on to find out why I’m not.
It’s balanced and fair
Rocket League is not a complex game to understand or play. In its simplest form, it’s a game about driving a car into a giant ball and hoping it goes into the opposition’s goal at the end of a walled arena. Your car can jump and fly, and you compete with the opposition (and teammates…) for the boost powerups to enable this to happen. Knowing this tells you 95% of what you need to know about the game.
And this has always been what you do. New arenas have launched, but as far as I’m aware they are identical in size and shape (and there are no unique features to each that impact gameplay). The cosmetics (cars, decals, trails, goal celebrations) are just that – cosmetic, having no impact whatsoever on gameplay. Everyone is playing the exact same game they were at the game’s initial launch.
This is incredibly refreshing to me. Unlike in Warzone, there is no need to keep up with the meta, no need to grind guns or change load-outs to have any chance of competing. There is no complaining about unfairness or pay-to-win. All the cars have the same hitbox, handle in the same way, have the same speed. If you’re beaten by someone in Rocket League, it’s because they deserved to win in that match, not because they had the latest thing and you didn’t.
Randomness is just not a factor
I’m not inherently opposed to randomness in competitive gaming – do it right and it can keep each match fresh and exciting. But with strengths come weaknesses. In Warzone you are at the behest of the RNG gods a large amount of the time. There is randomness in what can be found in each crate, the contracts that spawn (and whose squad they target) and of course the way the zone moves. At its worst, the game can put you in positions where you simply can’t win.
There is practically no randomness in Rocket League. The kick-off positions are randomised (but symmetrical so neither team has an advantage), and when your car is destroyed you spawn in one of two positions at random. And that’s about it. Again, the onus to success is on you, meaning you rarely leave a session feeling defeated by lady luck.
Its core gameplay loop feels incredible
Whilst it’s a simple game to describe and begin to learn, the adrenaline it can create is remarkable. I doubt there are many better feelings in gameplay than an on-the-goalline aerial save, followed by an immediate counter-attack to win the game in the final second. That will never not feel incredible, and a 5-minute match can feature many of these moments. Big aerials, important challenges, correctly judging bounces, dribbles, fakes – it all feels great.
It’s also a game where you recognise the skill of the opposition rather than deriding it as ‘sweaty’. High-skill plays like aerial dribbles or Breezi flicks don’t feel exploitative and can be admired, and then learned. There is depth to Rocket League, to the extent that the game the pros appear to be playing is very different to that played at my modest Platinum-2 level.
The matchups are very equal
How do you balance a match of 150 different players? With great difficulty, it turns out. How do you balance a competitive 2v2 match? Quite easily as long as enough players are queuing.
I’ve never understood the arguments against skill-based matchmaking in competitive gaming as it makes so much sense to me. And Rocket League is the evidence. Of course the exact skills vary, but most of my matches in a given evening are very nicely balanced, in an otherwise well-balanced and equal game. Sometimes I have to try harder to stand a chance of winning, and sometimes I can reign it in a bit more, but broadly I know that each match is winnable if I play well. And as the season progresses, and everyone tends towards the rank they truly belong at, things just get fairer and fairer.
It requires so little time
Each match is 5-minutes long (plus time for goal replays), and at certain times of day it can take less than 15 seconds to get into a match and start playing (this might even be too fast!). This means I can dip in when I’ve got spare minute, but also that I don’t need to be playing for hours to have a good time. With each moment feeling so satisfying, I can get my fix quite quickly.
Compare this to Warzone; it can take 3-5 minutes before a match even starts, and then each match lasts around 30 minutes (or 5 minutes if you’re as skilled as me). It can take many matches before I’ve done anything satisfying which can quickly leave a whole evening feeling wasted.
On top of this, there is no need to spend time researching the meta or watching YouTubers or streamers to keep up with the goings on. Quick in and out when I want it, easy.
It isn’t buggy or full of cheaters
Unsurprisingly, if you don’t really change your game’s core gameplay, you can get it to a stable place very quickly. Whilst I’m sure bugs have existed or do currently exist, they tend to be related to cosmetics or the matchmaking/server systems, rather than introducing mechanics that can be exploited (I’m looking at you again, Warzone).
On top of this, I can, hand on heart, say I’ve never seen a cheater. I don’t even know what this would look like in Rocket League. And if someone were cheating, the ranked mode would quickly take them out of my scrubby tier and make them a Grand Champion’s problem before long (and who cares about those guys).
Trolling feels amusing rather than vindictive
I’m putting this one last because really I shouldn’t be condoning trolling of any kind. But in Rocket League there is a certain charm to it, because of how players do it. On PC you can type out messages to the opposition, but most rely on quick chat commands that are controlled via the D-Pad (if using an Xbox controller like I do). Unsurprisingly, the developers haven’t set any of these up to be offensive, but they can be leveraged sarcastically to get the same point across.
For example, if you score an own goal it’s fair enough if the opposition, or your teammate, start spamming out the ‘Nice shot’ chat. Or ‘What a save’ if you fluff your lines at the back, or ‘Calculated’ for just about everything. Yes this might make some people cross, but many players just find this funny, reminding them they are fallible and preventing them from taking themselves too seriously.
So just start playing it!
Rocket League is now free-to-play and can be found on the Epic Store. It has an incredibly low barrier to entry, and if you haven’t played it before you’ll find a game unlike anything else that’s available.
Give it a go, and when you want to thank me for the recommendation, you can do so via Twitter or in the comments below. In the meantime, find a lot more ways to rediscover your love of gaming.