My introduction to Rocket League was quite chaotic. A friend secured access to the beta by setting up 4v4 matches with six other people on two TVs. We played for hours. Between the unlikely goals, amazing assists and questionable demolition tactics, I loved every moment. There is no game that captures the “one more round” mentality better than Rocket League. It’s currently my most played game of all time, every explosive match calls for another, and I wasn’t the only one hooked. Knowing it was going to be a hit, Psyonix teamed up with Sony to make it a “free” PS Plus game at launch, sealing the deal for many. Seven years later, Rocket League remains a winner.
Rocket League divides players into teams and asks them to score goals – using rocket-propelled cars instead of feet, and with a ball that is absolutely above them on the field. Competing to score the most points before time runs out – if you sign after 5 minutes, say hello to overtime and sudden death – you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Boost pads are evenly spread across the field to provide a speed advantage, for example by letting us shoot at pace or wreck an opponent’s vehicle if we collide at maximum speed. If you feel like trying something a little more technical, hop on and use that boost for an aerial shot.
As you may have understood, Rocket League is mainly multiplayer oriented with a lot of emphasis on team strategy and player rotation. You won’t find fixed positions like in a football game, although giving assists from midfield or being left behind as a goalkeeper often feels natural. Coordinating with teammates is key and victory always feels better together.
Speaking of winning, scoring goals is a real pleasure and I maintain 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 it. You calculated the jump, determined the angle, hit the ball at the right moment and not long after? Back of the net.
Because of its immediacy and easy fun, Rocket League’s fundamentals have remained largely untouched since 2015. Make no mistake though, the last seven years have made it a competitive game with a high skill ceiling. It was therefore no surprise that Psyonix formed the Rocket League Championship Series in 2016. While the esports scene cannot be compared to the likes of League of Legends, RLCS remains strong. In fact, Rocket League is also a perfectly accessible experience for newcomers, enhanced by post-launch updates such as crossplay and cross-platform progression. It’s busy too. Thanks to Rocket League’s innate friendliness and free-to-play shift two years ago, I’ve never had a hard time finding an online match.
Despite the success, this was not always the smoothest journey. Mac and Linux support was discontinued two years ago, but much earlier, in 2016, Psyonix introduced a loot box system known as crates. Offering random exclusives was poorly received, and eventually crates were removed, replaced with a blueprint system that tells you exactly what you’re getting. But the prices for using blueprints vary. Providing cosmetics of all kinds, the cost goes as low as 50 credits, but with rarer options I’ve seen them up to 2500 credits. (For context, credits are mainly obtained in fixed bundles, and 3000 credits comes in at £18.75. Meanwhile, a Rocket Pass costs 1000 credits.)
Monetization has become more common since it went free-to-play, which is both unfortunate and totally to be expected. However, it is still treated very subtly. Buying a Rocket Pass will of course give you an EXP boost and items, but Rocket League steer clear of pay-to-win. All these new cosmetic cars, decals and other items are just that: cosmetic. Nobody gets an advantage by using a Batmobile over Octane, and while it might not be the friendliest approach for players who bought Rocket League at launch – or for those like me, who bought it on PC, Switch, and physical (Look, the came with the DLC packs) – Psyonix has, to its credit, provided “legacy rewards” to existing owners during the free-to-play shift. It has also never persuaded its players to buy this cosmetic.
Outside of Rocket Pass, we’ve seen some significant post-launch updates that introduced new stadiums and new modes that kept me coming back. Mutators let us players mess around with the finer aspects 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 for a puck, we’ve got Mario Kart-esque shenanigans with the item-filled 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 because the ball moves automatically, and those times my team scored without landing a single hit were really funny.
We also still get new cars regularly. Initially, Rocket League opted for more traditional DLC packs, but later implemented a revamped Item Shop with rotating vehicles, player banners, target explosions, and more. These are bought with credits, which can be earned with the Rocket Pass, but that’s almost never enough without 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 (and no longer available) crossovers like Back To The Future’s DeLorean in the beginning, licensed playable vehicles still appear between seasons, and I haven’t stopped racing F1 cars since that pack went live – I’m a big fan of the 2021 Alfa Romeo/Williams combo.
My only major issue is that recent updates haven’t been all that exciting, with Rocket League being a bit stagnant at some points. I love seeing a shiny new McLaren as much as the next racing fan, but we haven’t seen any new modes in a while and I can’t remember the last big update that didn’t include the Halloween event or a new season used to be. Cosmetics alone are not enough to entice former players to return. All this, of course, does not detract from the main experience. Keep in mind that it can affect how long you hang out.
This is not to say that Psyonix hasn’t tried. Gotham City Rumble was a fun limited-time variant on Rumble last March, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S players got improvements through backwards compatibility, including 120Hz support, and we’ve also seen a new mobile entry, Rocket League Sideswipe. But curiously, there’s still no word on native versions for the latest hardware from Sony and Microsoft nearly two years after they launched, and it doesn’t feel quite clear what the next big step is, which makes me wonder what exactly Psyonix is about. plan. Maybe a Rocket League 2 in a new engine, similar to Activision’s Warzone 2 approach? Who can honestly say.
Anyway, I’m excited to see what the future holds for Psyonix’s incredible hit. Seven years later, Rocket League is no longer in the spotlight, but it still retains everything that made it special in 2015. Plus, thanks to the move to the free-to-play model, there are no more barriers to entry, and Rocket League retains its sizable user base, which means that there has probably never been a better time to jump in. I would recommend giving it a try. Now if you’ll excuse me, I inevitably have to lose a Hoops game.
This piece is part of our State of the Game series where we take a look at some of the biggest service games to see how it goes. You can find many more such pieces in our State of the Game hub.