Arena shooters were once one of the most famous subgenres of games in the world, but today they’re a rarity in the AAA gaming space. Despite being less common, arena shooters enjoy many dedicated fans and a legacy that reaches into many other genres. So what are arena shooter games anyway, where do they come from, and what examples still exist today?
An arena shooter is a first or third-person game where most combat encounters occur in a small-medium-sized map or arena. Arena shooters tend to rely on fast-paced movement, weapon pickups, intense battles with vertical movement, and high skill ceilings.
Arena shooters were born from ideas first popularized by developer id Software. It was id that created Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake, which illustrated generational leaps in first-person shooters. The rooms you experienced in these games often formed mini-arenas, as kinds of puzzles that needed to be solved with your weapons and wits. Doom and Quake levels were small self-contained maps, each of which could be played in deathmatch to create early multiplayer arena shooter experiences. This idea consolidated with the release of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament, two titles built entirely on arena shooter gameplay.
Over time, other titles would borrow from these early arena shooters, as arena shooter titles took over early eSports and demonstrated to the West what competitive and online gaming could be.
As time went on, other genres would take over from the early success of arena shooters. RTS games would eventually dominate, which themselves fell out of favor as they morphed into MOBA games. While arena shooters still existed, they were no longer the biggest games in the competitive sphere.
Fortunately, single-play and multiplayer arena shooters still offer many opportunities for long-time fans and newcomers. The king of arena shooters returned with Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, and many indie titles are picking up the arena shooter reigns. Still, arena shooters might have had their time in the sun, at least in terms of multiplayer worldwide attention.
Arena shooter means a shooting game set in an arena with pickups, head-to-head gameplay, and a variety of weapons. Arena shooters can be serious or silly, and they traditionally lean on a free-for-all type of combat over team matches.
Other than possibilities from id Software, the future of arena shooters looks to be from independent developers. This doesn’t mean a lack of quality, however, as many of these up-and-comers have bigger teams than those who built the original arena shooter hits all those years ago.
With more advanced technology for developers and a better understanding of the evolving gaming landscape, the future of arena shooters is looking strong, even if they’ll no longer dominate the conversation around online shooter combat.