Quake Champions Beta: a revitalised classic with some modern ideas

Here’s the most important thing you need to know about Quake Champions [official site]: I shot a man to death with a railgun while we were both flying in mid-air. As we passed each other like trains in the night, he exploded into jelly, and a very deep voice bellowed “Impressive!” into my ear. For a split-second I felt like a god, a pure, unstoppable force of destruction. Then a bolt of brilliant green from another player instantly dispelled me of that notion.

It’s moments like these which Quake III: Arena always sought. Not the bit where I died, that happens all the time. It’s that minute instance, that unmeasurable sliver of time where something so remarkable happens that you don’t quite believe it was you who did it. Frankly, I never believed I could do it, which is why despite multiple attempts I never really got on with Quake III, preferring the broader, more varied multiplayer offering of Unreal Tournament back when such distinctions mattered. Quake Champions has me wondering what I missed, which is as high an accolade as I can give this free-to-play multiplayer shooter in its beta form.

Co-developed by id Software and Saber Interactive, Quake Champions is fast and furious, and while I have some qualms about the wrapping of the package, the package itself is builds on the classic Quake multiplayer design smartly and effectively. The core dynamic of shooting another person while moving at speeds normally reserved for vehicles feels very good indeed.

Best described as a modernisation of Quake III’s multiplayer, Quake Champions updates the fast-paced, intense fragging of the 1999 classic with a brand new engine, adds a sprinkling of character-based mechanics into the proceedings, and then surrounds the whole thing with a free-to-play structure. The beta itself comprised three maps and three modes – the traditional deathmatch and team-deathmatch, along with a new mode called Duel.

Going into Quake Champions for the first time, I was a little sceptical. Not only because of my historic allegiance to tribe Unreal, but also due to the flaccid multiplayer offering of last-years DOOM reboot. DOOM may have earned id back their stripes on the singleplayer front, but the multiplayer lacked both style and substance, a drab and dreary affair without a single fresh giblet in its body.

My first couple of games with Quake Champions did little to assuage my scepticism either. Partly because for the first few matches almost everyone was playing as the same character, but mainly because I went through the online equivalent of having my teeth kicked in. Despite fully anticipating Quake Champions to play like a jet-fighter that was late for a particularly important meeting, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer twitchiness of the game. No matter how much I focused, my crosshairs seemed to lag vital milliseconds behind those of my opponents, and even when I did land a few hits, their health-bars seemed infinitely longer than my own. My K/D ratio resembled the Persians at Thermopylae.

As it turns out, this wasn’t mere paranoia. Quake Champions’ main new feature is that its roster of playable characters are more than cosmetic shells for players to inhabit. Each is its own class, weighted differently in terms of health, armour and speed. Nimble yet fragile Champions like Nyx compete alongside slower, tougher individuals like the hulking robot Clutch. What’s more, every Champion has a unique ability they can deploy. I’ll talk more about those shortly.

Realising that we were not all on even footing, I began to put more thought into my approach, adjusting my combat style depending on who I was facing and what weapon I was facing them with, and suddenly Quake Champions clicked. I went from one end of the league table to the other within one or two games, and those moments of bewildered glory began to happen to me.

The core of Quake Champions is supremely well balanced, with each of its redesigned guns offering just the right amount of risk and reward when wielded. Weapons like the machinegun and lightning gun chip constantly away at enemy health, but require sustained focus in order to actually kill. The shotgun and railgun, meanwhile, will put a big dent in your opponent’s health-bar, but have a delay between shots that seems agonisingly long in Quake’s atomic measurement of time. I especially like the new nailgun, which has a spinning barrel that fires a stream of hot nails at a ridiculously fast rate. It acts as a mid-range weapon that I found to be a handy back-up in any situation.

All of this you’ll likely expect from a game based heavily on Quake III, but the point is that Quake Champions delivers it. The maps, too, are smartly designed. Blood Covenant sees players fighting in and around a central plaza that houses the all-important Quad Damage, while Ruins of Sarneth blends twisting subterranean corridors with wide-open spaces that leave unwary players exposed to keen-eyed rail-snipers. Yet while all the maps are elegantly constructed in their 3D geometry, none of them grabbed me in terms of theme or aesthetic. I preferred Sarneth to Blood Covenant because the railgun is easier to access, but that’s about it.

I felt no such ambivalence toward the new character classes, which are a smart way of introducing some extra complexity to Quake III’s formula without ruining the balance or purity of its multiplayer. As I mentioned, alongside their differences in terms of max health and speed, each Champion has access to a power that provides them with a temporary advantage over their opponents.

Visor, for example, can use his ability to highlight opponents through walls. I found this to be particularly useful for getting back into the action quickly, providing the advantage of being slightly prepared for an encounter. Nyx can temporarily turn invisible, while Clutch can activate an energy shield similar to that used by Overwatch’s Symmetra. I also highly enjoyed Scalebearer’s Bullrush ability, which lets you charge into opponents, dealing heavy damage and possibly instagibbing them if you’re moving fast enough. It is a bit cheap and possibly overpowered, though, and is one of the few abilities I felt that way toward.

Quake Champions’ character-driven multiplayer is unashamedly inspired by the likes of Team Fortress 2 and Overwatch, although each champion’s unique traits are neither as interesting nor as crucial to the overall design as is the case with those games. This is undoubtedly the right approach. Their differing attributes and abilities are sufficient to spice up Champions’ more traditional multiplayer offering without fundamentally altering the direction of the game.

When it all comes together, Quake Champions is an absolute blast, especially in standard deathmatch. It’s a constant, breathless rush of semi-conscious decisions that have an unseen yet vital impact upon your success or failure. That moment when you drop down an elevator shaft and notice an opponent coming the other way, and launch a rocket to greet them. Or when you weave through a storm of machinegun fire to empty both barrels of your shotgun into your opponent at point blank range. Or when you’re attacked from behind and spin around, launching a rail-shot out of pure reflex, and it connects in a shower of beautiful, rapturous gore. All of this, Quake Champions provides in a way that clearly harks back to Quake III, but feels fresh and new and modern.

All that said, I do have some concerns. I didn’t like the Duel mode at all. This mode pits you against one other player, with each of you selecting three characters from your roster and duking it out over a “best-of-three” series of rounds. Kill your opponent, and they’ll spawn as a new Champion until their roster runs dry and you win the round. It’s simply not as much fun as the chaos and noise of traditional deathmatch or team-deathmatch, although it might be improved with bespoke arenas that don’t feel empty with only two players fighting in them.

Quake Champions also takes too long to get you into a match. I usually had to wait for several minutes before the game’s matchmaking system would find some action to drop me in. This is to be expected in a beta test, but on top of that there are four or five screens between you and the start of play. There’s a map-voting screen, a loading screen, the screen you look at while waiting for the other players to load, a needless fly-through of the map you’re playing on, and finally a screen that displays the assembled fighters. It’s all so baggy and unnecessary, the antithesis of the snappy, immediate feel of the game itself.

My biggest worry, however, is to do with the free-to-play model, which locks away all the Champions bar one unless you “rent” them for 24 hours using points earned in battle, or purchase them outright with real-life money. This is a bad idea for several reasons. It means that early fights with other low-ranking players are populated entirely with the starting character, Ranger, which hardly shows off Quake Champions at its best. But more importantly, it’s just a bit mean. The game should be about learning each of these Champions and picking your favourites, not fighting just to unlock its main new feature. Other F2P games have shown that players will happily spend money on cosmetic items in games they like, and I think locking out the Champions in this manner is more likely to put off potential players than encourage them to join in.

Still, I can’t deny that Quake Champions got under my skin in a way that I never expected it to. It balances tradition with innovation just right, and I reckon that provided Bethesda don’t get too greedy with the free-to-play model, it’ll be popular both with Quake veterans hungry for some frenetic old-school action, and neophytes like me who either have never played Quake before or never particularly understood it. It may not be as characterful as Overwatch or as innovative as Titanfall 2, but Quake Champions has got something else – pedigree and blistering pace.

23 Comments

  1. QuakeGamer1977 says:

    Rumors say it’s an always online title. Is it true ?

    Is there LAN support ?

    Will there be mod support ?

    Is there a map editor ?

    How about an offline mode? Offline bots ?

    Too little details are known. But if this is like Overwatch and it’s always online then it means that none of those things will be possible.
    None of the things that made Quake popular.

    Given my love for the franchise please PROVE ME WRONG.

    • Vandelay says:

      I would be very surprised if an updated version of the DOOM map editor isn’t included. I’ve not really looked into the editor nor the creations from it, but I have feeling that that is a bit limited compared to other fully featured map editors though. Certainly wouldn’t expect support for full total conversion mods.

    • Quadruplesword says:

      LAN support: I can’t imagine this not being a consideration, but considering how many multiplayer titles launch without LAN support with no plans to add it…

      Mod support: Maybe.

      Map editor: I could imagine them packaging the game with a more advanced and fleshed out version of SnapMap, though I’d prefer a traditional map editor like we used to get.

      Offline bots: Quake 3 had bots, and just about any multiplayer game I’ve played worth its salt has bot support, so I can’t imagine this being omitted.

  2. Herzog says:

    IAgree with most parts. FFA and TDM are good fun. The champion abilities are also a nice addition. But technically it is bad. Compared to the older Quake titles the netcode is still very sluggish (or the more recent Reflex Arena).

    Also the visibility is bad. It is really hard to distinguish enemies from background. Firing the LG makes everything hard to see. I don’t want Lego Quake from 1999 with picmip 16, but for example Overwatch has a good visibility and color design for the levels. Hope these things can be fixed.

    Oh.. And the new duel mode is just terribly boring.

  3. L4mbi3 says:

    Can’t wait for an asia server!

  4. Vandelay says:

    Are they not offering a flat fee to just unlock all champions forever, in the same style as Smite? If they do, then I have zero issues with that as a free to play model and consider it the best approach.

    Yes, others have offered nothing but cosmetics and done well, but those others are Valve with Dota and… well, no one else. I imagine Overwatch does nicely selling cosmetics, but that also isn’t F2P and doesn’t just require whales to live off (Blizzard is probably the one company outside of Valve that could pull off a similar model though.)

    The approach of Smite (and I hope Quake Champions,) is that the F2P version is effectively a demo. You can pretty much ignore that it is a F2P game.

    • FLoJ says:

      Exactly right, pay full retailish price and all the champions are unlocked but you still need to unlock/pay extra for cosmetics on top. Or just F2P and you can still eventually unlock all the champions (very very low % chance of getting them as loot drops but given enough time perhaps?)

  5. DanMan says:

    I’m playing Titanfall 2 to scratch that “do crazy stuff, and fast” itch. Thank you.

    • FLoJ says:

      lol it’s cute you think that’s fast

      • DanMan says:

        Have you even played it? Anyway, fast enough for an old man like myself. I’m not into old-school DM FPS action anyway. Never was. I like a bit more variety.

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        barashkukor says:

        It’s a different kind of fast. The baseline speed of a character is not 90’s FPS fast, but it’s higher than most; and there’s lots of grappling hook, gravity assisted ability to really skelp it across the map.
        The real difference is that some of your opponents are 2 storeys tall and others have rocket pants that makes for speed. There’s a whole lot of options to deal with, and making sure you have the speed advantage when you join a fight is really tricky.

  6. PiiSmith says:

    I am in the beta. This news article might be right or might not be right, but I can’t tell you as I am under NDA.

    What is Bethesda doing here? Giving news outlets the right to report on the beta, while they leave the rest of the players under NDA.

  7. Ham Solo says:

    “Free to play” …yeah, not touching that one.

    • Quadruplesword says:

      You can pay a flat fee (which I assume will be around the same price as a AAA game) to get access to all the champions with no restrictions.

      • Ham Solo says:

        Will it have the “2 different currencies ingame” model?

  8. Ham Solo says:

    Also who the flurb thought of the idea to include a wallhack as character ability? That is absurd.

    • DeadlyAccurate says:

      It works in Overwatch with both Hanzo and Widowmaker.

      • Ham Solo says:

        Overwatch is not Quake, though. What works in Team Fortress 2 might not be that great in Unreal Tournament ot Toxikk.

  9. Pizzzahut says:

    Played the beta. Uninstalled when I came across a Champion whose power was invisibility.

    • The_Player says:

      Good riddance.

      • Pizzzahut says:

        Yep… I am happy to be gone.

        There is a damn fine reason this is a free to play game. The pay to win mechanics in it are rife and it isn’t even released yet. Hell, you can even rent Champions in this game and you just know future champions will have:

        -Aimbot mechanics
        -Xray vision
        -Speed hack

  10. OmNomNom says:

    I used to play a lot of Q3 back in the day but I still find the bunny-hopping (strafe-jumping) in this very offputting in a modern shooter. It just feels very quirky deliberately keeping something in the game that was originally an exploited bug (and it looks poop)

    • Quadruplesword says:

      And yet if they omitted strafe-jumping, the Quake community would be up in arms about it.