Rocket League's Dropshot mode is by far its best alternative mode yet

Since Rocket League's launch nearly two years ago, Psyonix has added a steady stream of new cars, cosmetics, and game modes. Those modes range from simple alterations to the field shape, to changing the ball into a hockey puck, to giving everyone goofy power-up abilities. But on March 22, Rocket League will be getting a free update with a new mode called Dropshot that's not only its most inventive game mode to date, but also its best.

Instead of a rectangular field, Dropshot takes place in a large octagonal arena. The floor is made up of hexagons and split down the middle so each team has their own side, but there are no goals on any of the walls. Players will instead have to open up the opponent's goal themselves by knocking the ball onto the other team's floor. If your team was the last to touch the ball and it lands on a hex on the opposing side, that hex starts to glow. If a glowing hex is hit again that part of the floor drops out entirely, leaving a gap the ball can fall through to score a point but that cars can drive over normally. 

It sort of feels like the Rocket League version of PvP Breakout, and Psyonix told me it actually found the concept for Dropshot after being dissatisfied with a more standard volleyball mode it was testing after frequent fan requests. The ball will also charge up energy the longer it goes without hitting a hex, which will cause it to not only activate the hex it eventually lands on, but nearby hexes as well. So while the arena floor starts blank and solid, large areas of it inevitably open up throughout the match, making goals more likely the longer you go without a point scored. 

I got to play Dropshot at PAX East this weekend, and while it still feels like Rocket League, the strategy and techniques aren't the same. Instead of hitting the ball sideways or forward toward the goal, you generally need to get good at juggling it in the air or getting above it and swatting it downward with the bottom of your car. Sometimes knocking the ball far away from an opening isn't as important as simply tipping it slightly so that the possession switches to your team before it touches the ground. And goalkeeping can be done, but not until you see where your floor is starting to weaken.

But Dropshot really shines because it adds something a typical Rocket League match doesn't really have: tiny mid-match victories that aren't goals. Landing a charged ball on your opponent's side or breaking open a large segment of their floor feels like a big win even if the scoreboard stays the same. A regular match can have exciting moments in the form of clutch saves or amazing plays, but it doesn't really feel like a win if that amazing play doesn't then score you a point, and a save isn't really a victory for you as much as it's preventing your opponent from having one. In contrast, a Dropshot match is packed full of ups, downs, and tiny victories despite neither team ever scoring more than two points in any of the matches I played.

An interesting balance choice in Dropshot is that the field resets after a goal is scored, but only for the side that was scored upon. So if your team manages to score, you are left with all the damage your opponent already did to your floor while they get a clean slate. In a comparison I never thought I'd make, this actually made the pacing feel a bit like a Super Smash Bros. match, where scoring a goal means your focus shifts from scoring again to seeing how much damage you can do to your opponent's side before they can score on you.

I was seriously amazed at how much fun Dropshot could be. It doesn't feel like a just-for-fun game mode like the hockey or basketball options—it feels like a balanced, competitive way to play Rocket League. Psyonix is pumping $2.5 million into Rocket League esports this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if the competitive community ends up rallying around Dropshot as another way to play the game. And even if that's a bit of wishful thinking on my part, at the very least it's a seriously fun way to shake things up.