Rocket League's First Rocket Pass Feels a Little Aimless

By Rich Stanton on at

I play Rocket League almost daily, definitely weekly. Whenever there's a chance for a late night session, I line up one of my music playlists, and happily boost away 'til the witching hour. The game's huge success has led to developer Psyonix becoming almost a Rocket League studio, with huge amounts of post-launch content ranging from new modes and maps to a crate-and-key loot system for cosmetics.

The latter has been around for years now, and is pretty standard as far as these things go. It's not being removed either, despite the arrival of a new monetisation method which arrives hot on the coat-tails of the Fortnite phenomenon: a battle pass. In this case, a Rocket Pass. The idea is that all players, free of charge, get access to a basic rocket pass for each three-month season of Rocket League. However! The 'premium' player can choose to pay, in this case, £7.58 for increased XP and a much bigger list of unlocks... which they then have to unlock, before the next pass comes around.

I know right, when you put it like that...

Nevertheless I've been reasonably pleased with the various Fortnite battle passes I've bought, both because the game is free in the first place (not the case with Rocket League) and the challenges make the basic modes more fun. I don't in any way get full value from them, I just don't play enough before each one ends, but that's not really Epic's fault and, during each season, the shared squad boost in particular makes it feel a worthwhile investment.

I like Fortnite a lot, but I love Rocket League. So buying the premium rocket pass was a no-brainer: it came out around a month ago, but I wanted the experience of properly living with this thing before opining on whether it works well or otherwise. Unfortunately, it's really hard to get excited about.

To be clear, Psyonix looking for new ways to make money from Rocket League is not a problem. I've paid my £20, sure. But the enjoyment I've had from this game over the subsequent years makes me more than happy to spend more and, for those that don't, this side of the game doesn't encroach onto the pitch. This is a game I'm happy to support and, whatever my feelings about the rocket pass, I'll probably buy the next one just on principle. And if you don't want to pay there's a free version which, y'know, is a price that's hard to criticise.

Ironically enough it's probably the purity of Rocket League that makes the 'premium pass' business model an uneasy fit. The core of the game can't be touched at all and, beyond some early experiments with map shapes (later rolled back), Psyonix has never messed with it. This is a different situation than that faced by Fortnite (which can theme its own passes to follow each season's events), and has an outcome with serious consequences: the rocket pass has no challenges.

At once it's possible to understand why Psyonix couldn't do this, because players trying to get particular challenges would affect competitive play, and see that one of the biggest benefits of a pass is lost. In Fortnite's case the battle pass arguably makes the core play a little more engaging. Rocket League can't tap into that without ruining Rocket League.

What Psyonix chose to do instead was reboot the game's levelling system (purely a cosmetic metric), and build the pass around combining increased XP gains with a tiered system of rewards. Essentially every time you level up, the pass also levels up, and there are 70 tiers to get through, each with a reward. These rewards vary wildly from desirable car decals to an extra 5% XP for the remainder of the season or player titles, basically anything and everything the game has managed to make into a cosmetic.

Perhaps it's that variance, tied to the slowly plodding nature of this progression system, that makes it pretty hard to get excited about. As mentioned I play Rocket League a lot but, after a month-and-a-half of playing with the rocket pass, I'm at level 32 (of a possible 100) and the rewards... yeah they're fine. The car body you get automatically with the premium pass looks great, there are some nice cosmetics to be had, but all of the good stuff is padded-in by a load of player banners and titles and engine sounds that are incredibly hard to care about.

So much so that, when combined with the game's standard drop system which is still running in the background, you quickly reach the stage of auto-clicking through every pop-up after a match, and then going back to the pass later to see if there was anything worthwhile.

It's not that I especially dislike the rocket pass. It just doesn't feel like it adds much to Rocket League and, in the way the progression system's been balanced, layers a tonne of grind atop the core game. You're free to ignore it but I can't help thinking I'd enjoy the game more with the XP stuff stripped-back next season: unlike the crates, you can't turn off these notifications.

I'm sure the rocket pass will remain a feature of Rocket League now for as long as the game's a viable platform. But hopefully future iterations might try and engage a little more with the game it's being grafted onto. Psyonix can't touch the core of Rocket League. But there's a whole lot more to this game than the central competitive modes, and it's not beyond imagination that some of the wackier stuff could be tied into challenges, nevermind the fact the game already has an incredibly customisable training mode built for challenges.

Rocket League is a game where you have to be switched-on at all times. It takes place over five-minute matches, but you've got to be engaged and at your best for that full length. This first rocket pass is a passive addition, happy to lie across the bonnet rather than get under the hood. It's fine as far as it goes, and I'm happy to buy stuff in a game I adore. But really, forking out for a premium pass should make the player feel a bit special. Monotonously levelling up this one feels mundane.