Some video game genres enjoy extreme popularity for a time, then fall into relative obscurity later on. That’s the case with arena shooters, which are one of the least-known subgenres of shooter games these days.
But what actually is an arena shooter? Let’s define this genre to figure out what it is and isn’t, plus look at what happened to it over time.
What Is an Arena Shooter?
An arena shooter is a type of multiplayer shooter game that has a few key attributes. These are:
- Players start with a basic loadout and pick up new weapons, health, and damage boosts from certain spots around the stage.
- Fast movement speed, with plenty of movement mechanics that allow for skillful gameplay.
- Maps built to foster interesting engagements between players, such as allowing them to control item pickup locations to gain an advantage.
Arena shooters are typically first-person, but they can be third-person in some cases, too.
There are other elements typical to arena shooters, but these aren’t present in every single title. We’ll look at some of these as we dive into the above more closely.
Element 1: Upgrades Come From Pickups
One of the core elements of an arena shooter is that you spawn with a basic weapon set. You then need to collect power-ups from specific locations around the map to have a better chance at killing your opponents. You can find more weapons, increases to your maximum health, boosts that let you deal more damage, and similar in various parts of the stage.
Once you die, you lose all the benefits that you’ve picked up. You must start again from the base kit, so dying is a huge setback in arena shooters. Additionally, most arena shooters do not limit the number of weapons you can pick up. As long as you stay alive, you can carry and use as many weapons as you find.
This is important, as arena shooters usually offer a variety of weapons that are useful in different situations. You might whip out a shotgun to take out someone who comes around the corner, then quickly switch to a rifle to shoot at a target further away. Rarely is any weapon made obsolete by another one.
These elements contrast with many modern shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield. In those games, you create a loadout before joining a match, and have that loadout available every time you die. There aren’t predetermined spots where new items spawn for you to pick up. And in most modern FPS titles, you can only carry two weapons (typically one primary gun and a sidearm).
Element 2: Fast-Paced Movement With a High Skill Ceiling
Compared to more realistic shooters, arena shooters feature quick movement. Because you can move rapidly and have many options for getting around, gunfights become more interesting.
But it’s not simply how fast your character runs that affects this. Arena shooters also offer complex movement options for players willing to master advanced mechanics. Tricks like using rockets from a rocket launcher to jump higher, strafe jumping to avoid shots, using a grappling hook to move quickly through the air, and similar give players a ton of options in how they get around the stages.
Another element that contributes to the importance of movement is a longer time-to-kill than other shooters. Instead of being able to drop an enemy with a few bullets, arena shooters typically give the player who’s being shot at time to react and potentially survive.
Finally, arena shooters tend to feature fewer hitscan weapons than other shooters. They instead have a variety of projectile-based weapons. If you’re not familiar, hitscan refers to weapons that immediately hit what you’re aiming at when you fire them. Projectile weapons, on the other hand, take time to reach their destination. Compare a sniper rifle (hitscan) to a crossbow (projectile), for instance.
With projectile weapons, you have to anticipate where your opponent will be, which factors into the movement of arena shooters.
Element 3: Arena-Style Maps With Opportunity for Control
The last big element of arena shooters is their map design. True to the name, the stages are “arenas” designed to facilitate combat. They aren’t realistic; elements like warping portals and jump pads provide more options for movement, even if they look totally out of place in something like a medieval castle.
Because of the pickup-based system, arena shooters also provide opportunity for skilled players to control valuable items. By keeping track of when new power-ups will appear at each point, then can move back and forth between them to grab what they need.
They can also take out other players who want to grab the goodies. Thus, a strong player can stay at the top by punishing other players who aren’t able to control the map.
In all, arena shooters allow players to use a wide variety of skills to defeat their opponents. It’s not just about aim—positioning, map knowledge, movement, and more can factor into who emerges victorious.
What Happened to Arena Shooters?
Arena shooters were at their peak in the late 1990s and 2000s. 1999 saw the release of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, both landmark titles in the arena shooter genre. Earlier games like Doom (1993) and Quake laid the groundwork for arena shooters, but these were two of the first games to specifically focus on multiplayer.
After the mid-2000s, however, arena shooters died out in popularity. Some people still play those older titles, and there are some lesser-known indie arena shooters available, like Reflex Arena. The multiplayer modes of Doom 2016 and its sequel Doom Eternal feature arena shooter elements, but neither had a lot of staying power.
Why did this happen? In short, multiplayer expectations changed.
Modern Warfare Changed Everything
Looking back, a major factor in the decline of arena shooters is the precedent that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare set in 2007. While earlier Call of Duty games featured multiplayer, Modern Warfare’s offering introduced a range of new elements that changed the expectations for multiplayer games in the future.
Chief among these was its RPG-style progression system. The game rewarded players with experience points for playing and completing objectives. As you gained levels in the game, you unlocked more weapons, equipment, and perks to help you build the best loadouts. Using a weapon unlocked attachments to make it even better.
Nowadays, the majority of online shooters have some level of progression to work towards like this. Even if you’re not winning matches, you’re at least working towards unlocking something new.
Can Arena Shooters Succeed Today?
This setup is completely different than arena shooters, which are skill-based and offer no progression aside from you getting better at the game. And because most people still playing arena shooters are extremely good at them, these games aren’t welcoming for beginners.
Playing against hardcore experts and getting destroyed isn’t fun, so most people look to other games that have more to offer for players of all skill levels. Newer shooter genres, like battle royales, are more appealing because they add elements of randomness that give everyone a fighting chance.
There are exceptions to this, however. Overwatch features no real progression other than a competitive mode, so the primary motivation for playing the game is getting better and increasing your rank. Rainbow Six Siege is similar.
So an arena shooter could succeed in today’s market, but balancing it to be fun and welcoming for both novice and skilled players is difficult.
Arena Shooters: Special, for the Right Audience
Now you know what defines an arena shooter, how these games differ from other shooters, and why they’ve fallen out of favor over time. They’re a thrilling genre to play if you love fast-paced movement and mastering mechanics, but they’re not easy to break into.
Perhaps we’ll see a spin on the arena shooter genre sometime that brings them back into the public eye. In the meantime, there are other specific shooter genres you might enjoy.
Tactical shooter games take the genre up a notch. Often based on military conflicts, here are the best tactical shooters to play.
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