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 improbable goals, great assists and questionable demolition tactics, I loved every moment. There isn’t a game that encapsulates the “just one more round” mentality better than Rocket League. It’s currently my most played game of all time, each explosive battle begging for another, and I wasn’t alone in being hooked. Knowing it had a hit, Psyonix partnered 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 using a ball that absolutely towers over them on the pitch. Competing to get the most points before time runs out – if you pull after 5 minutes, say hello to overtime and sudden death – you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve. Boost pads are evenly distributed across the field to give a speed advantage, for example allowing us to fire at pace or demolish an opponent’s vehicle if we collide at maximum speed. If you feel like trying something more technical, jump up and use that boost for an aerial shot.
As you may have gathered, Rocket League is primarily multiplayer-focused, placing a heavy emphasis on team strategy and player rotation. You won’t find fixed positions like in a football match, although it often feels natural to set up assists from midfield or stay behind as a goalkeeper. Coordination with teammates is key and victory always feels better together.
Speaking of winning, scoring goals is a great joy, and I believe few things in gaming are more satisfying than landing the perfect aerial. If anything explains Rocket League’s longevity, this is it. You have calculated the jump, judged the angle, hit the ball at the right moment and before long? The back of the web.
Because of its immediacy and simple joy, Rocket League’s fundamentals have remained largely untouched since 2015. Make no mistake, but the past seven years have ensured that it is a competitive, high-skill game. Small surprise then that Psyonix formed the Rocket League Championship Series in 2016. Although the esports scene can’t be compared to, say, League of Legends, the RLCS is still going strong. Even better, Rocket League is a perfectly accessible experience even for newcomers, enhanced by post-launch updates like cross-play and cross-platform progression. It’s busy too. Thanks to its innate friendliness and Rocket League’s free-to-play shift two years ago, I’ve never struggled to find an online match.
Despite its success, it hasn’t always been the smoothest journey. Mac and Linux support was pulled two years ago, but much earlier, back in 2016, Psyonix introduced a loot box system known as crates. Offering random exclusives was poorly received and crates were eventually removed, replaced by a blueprint system that tells you exactly what you’re getting. But the prices for using drawings vary. Offering all kinds of cosmetics costs go as low as 50 credits, but with rarer options I’ve seen them as high as 2500 credits. (For context, credits are primarily earned in fixed packages, and 3,000 credits cost £18.75. Meanwhile, a Rocket Pass costs 1,000 credits.)
Monetization has become more prevalent since going free-to-play, which is both unfortunate and entirely expected. It’s still pretty delicately handled, though. Buying a Rocket Pass gives an EXP boost and items, of course, but Rocket League eschews pay to win. All these new cosmetic cars, decals and other items are just that: cosmetic. No one 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 physical (look, it came with the DLC packs) – Psyonix has, to its credit, provided “legacy rewards” for existing owners on the free-to-play switch. It also never tracked its players to buy these cosmetics either.
Beyond Rocket Pass, we’ve seen some hefty post-launch updates that introduced new stadiums and new modes, which have kept me coming back. Mutators allow us players to mess around with Rocket League’s finer aspects – like putting in unlimited boost or reduced gravity – and there are more 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-filled Rumble mode, and I can’t forget the basketball-inspired Hoops either. There are more, but my personal favorite is Heatseeker, which is basically Rocket League Pong. It’s a refreshing change as the ball moves automatically and the times my team scored without landing a single hit was really fun.
We still get a regular list of new cars too. Rocket League initially opted for more traditional DLC packs, later implementing a revamped item shop with rotating vehicles, player banners, target explosions, and more. These are bought through credits, which can be earned through Rocket Pass, but it’s almost never enough without having to use real currency. For the more competitive, you will also find a separate e-sports shop, which uses an alternative currency in the game. While the early days saw some fun (and no longer available) crossovers like Back To The Future’s DeLorean, playable, licensed 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 combination.
My only major criticism is that recent updates haven’t been all that exciting, with the Rocket League feel just a little stagnant at times. I like 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 major update that wasn’t the Halloween event or a new season. Cosmetics alone are not enough to entice former players to return. Of course, none of this detracts from the main experience. Just be aware that it can affect how long you hang around.
This doesn’t mean that Psyonix hasn’t tried. Gotham City Rumble was a fun limited-time twist on last March’s Rumble, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S players got improvements via backwards compatibility, including 120hz support, and we’ve also seen a new mobile entry, Rocket League Sideswipe. But strangely, there’s still no word on native versions for Sony and Microsoft’s latest hardware, almost two years after they launched, and it doesn’t feel entirely clear what the next big step is, which makes me wonder what exactly what Psyonix is planning. Perhaps a Rocket League 2 in a new engine, similar to Activision’s Warzone 2 approach? Who can honestly say.
Regardless, 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 maintains everything that made it special back in 2015. In addition, thanks to the transition to the free-to-play model, there are no longer any barriers to entry and Rocket League maintains its hefty user base, which means there’s never been a better time to jump in. I’d recommend giving it a try. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Hoops game unavoidably to lose.
This piece is part of our State of the Game series, where we check in on some of the biggest service games running to see how they’re doing. You can find many more similar parts in our State of the Game hub.