Has Quake Champions been improved by its updates?

quake-champs-header
Update Night is a fortnightly column in which Rich McCormick revisits games to find out whether they’ve been changed for better or worse.

If, for some reason, you needed reminding of Quake Champions’ 90s heritage, then you need look no further than Anarki. One of Quake Champions’ 12 playable characters, Anarki (1) rides a hovering skateboard, (2) has a pink-dyed mohawk, (3) sports a pair of space JNCOs tucked into his metal legs, and (4) talks like the galaxy’s spaciest stoner dude.

He’s the video game version of The Simpsons’ Poochie: an attitude-by-numbers toon cooked up by an undead focus group whose members all died when Papa Roach released their first album. But he’s not even the most ‘90s thing about Quake Champions. That would be the game itself, a resolutely old-school arena shooter that — in full flow — feels as fast and fluid as Quake 3 did in 1999.

QC borrows the weapons from that seminal game, handing over rocket launcher and railgun to its players, as well as Quake classics like the shotgun, nailgun, and lightning gun. Health and ammo packs operate on the same principle as they did in 1999, too, appearing dotted around the level for collection by speedy players. They’re joined by two extra-special pickups: protection, which offers significant damage reduction to the bearer, and the legendary quad damage, which does exactly what it’s always done.

QuakeChampions 2018-06-24 16-42-48-28

There are some concessions to more modern game design theories here, though. Each of QC’s playable champions comes with unique abilities that make each of them handle a little differently, making id Software’s game feel a little like the result of a telefrag accident between Quake 3 and contemporary shooters like Overwatch.

These abilities fall into two categories: active and passive. Active abilities are turned on with the F key, operate on a cooldown timer, and can change the course of firefights. For Anarki, this is a syringe full of mysterious drugs that, when injected into his cybernetically enhanced arm, overcharges both his health bar and his acceleration. This, coupled with his passive boost to air control, lets him turn the tables rapidly on chasing opponents, kickflipping his way back into fights he was previously losing.

Passive abilities are always-on buffs to movement, healing, or other core combat mechanics. Waddling tank robot Clutch, for example, will gain speed if it’s travelling in a straight line, and players can double-tap movement keys to execute a quick dodge in that direction. B. J. Blazkowicz — on loan from Bethesda stablemate Wolfenstein – will instead heal himself up to the next highest multiple of 25 when out of combat for a few seconds, while white-eyed space witch Galena reduces her active ability cooldown by picking up health items.

QuakeChampions 2018-06-23 14-12-50-54

Galena’s active ability is one of my favourites, too. On a press of F, she’ll pop down a wibbly red totem that heals me and my teammates, while also damaging any enemies that step inside its unholy confines. It’s less directly offensive than some of the direct-damage abilities boasted by some of her peers, but I found that I was almost guaranteed a few cheeky off-screen kills by plopping down totems at choke points whenever my cooldown expired, while also keeping my teammates (and myself) in fights for a few more seconds.

Some abilities are riskier but offer more reward. Clutch’s active ability is a two-stage affair, deploying first a shield to soak up frontal damage, before a second tap of F unleashes a forward-firing laser that’s as powerful and accurate as QC’s lightning gun. In the right hands, the move lets Clutch weather the storm from incoming attacks before unleashing laser doom on his would-be attackers. Canny opponents will just wait out the shield, though, holding their rockets until the the ablative effect has worn off.

Others still have all the risk but much less of a reward. Strogg is Quake Champions’ new boy, having joined the game in April, and his ability is Peeker: a hovering death drone equipped with its own machine gun and self-destruct mechanism. Peeker can fly, giving it some unpredictability to attack angles, but wielding a fairly piddly weapon, it’s underpowered in head-to-head combat against most opponents. Its self-destruct attack, too, is underwhelming, trading the continued maneuverability of the drone for some mild splash damage. Worst of all, Strogg is only semi-cloaked while using Peeker — too many times I got fragged by people down on the ground who’d spotted me in concealed form while my head was in the clouds.

QuakeChampions 2018-06-24 20-45-39-41

It’s certainly less useful than Visor’s piercing sight, which lets the slab-faced cyborg spot enemies anywhere on the level for a short time — a sort of developer-sponsored wallhack that becomes monstrously powerful when combined with the quad damage pickup. For his active, Blaskowicz can dual-wield weapons, pulling out a duplicate gun from somewhere inside his combat fatigues. It’s an active ability that — like Visor’s vision — just makes him better than other characters in firefights: a sensation at odds with Quake’s strict railgun meritocracy.

These abilities are the justification for bringing Quake back from the ‘90s, their inclusion making the aging series relevant for a new business model and to a new (or lapsed) audience. Come proper launch, Quake Champions will be free-to-play, with new champions and cosmetics to change their appearance purchased for real-world cash. Those cosmetics run from serious to silly — from functional backpack to shambler hat — and have no impact on the game itself. I do like the way QC handles duplicate items, though, offering additional add-ons to existing armour pieces if you’ve unpacked the same one before.

Characters are more of a draw, and as of June, can be unlocked permanently with in-game currency “favor” — earned by completing matches. It’s a fairer system than the previous one, which let players rent champions for in-game currency but only buy them with real money, but it takes 250,000 favor to unlock someone new, amassed over several hours of matches. I decided instead to unlock all of QC’s heroes wholesale as part of the game’s Champions Pack, picking it up while it was on offer earlier this month for just over £13. That felt like a fair price, but I don’t think I’d have stumped up the full cost if it wasn’t for the sale, and certainly not if I hadn’t snagged the full game for free during Bethesda’s E3 promotion.

QuakeChampions 2018-06-24 17-32-10-26

That’s in part because I know the publisher plans to launch Quake Champions as a fully free-to-play game in the future, but also because I feel like I wouldn’t be missing huge amounts were I restricted to free characters like Ranger and Scalebearer. Active abilities are a neat concession to 2010s game design, but where Overwatch is built on the interplay between very different heroes and their very different abilities, Quake Champions’ passives and actives are the icing on the gib cake, responsible for far fewer kills than standard weaponry. The bloody heart of the game remains the balance between rocket and railgun, between blisteringly fast bunny hoppers duelling high above tight and tuned levels.

That heart still beats strong, despite a few minor letdowns in sensation, both in movement and gunfeel. The railgun is as dangerous as it ever was, but it’s now long and anonymous looking where it was previously stubby and iconic, and its new firing pattern lacks Quake 3’s metallic twang. The rocket launcher, too, spews slightly underwhelming payloads. The rockets do the business against enemies, as the damage numbers that tick from their heads show, but their explosions blossom softly, bouncing opponents around the map like a gentle breeze. The lightning gun, too, feels a bit flimsy. It’s almost too good in application, burning champions down in just a few seconds if you’re able to keep the beam on target, but it’s more like it’s firing a particularly targeted Maglite beam than a line of concentrated electricity.

These are minor problems, but they’re the kind of irritations that will rise up and rankle after 20 years of any relationship. Quake is such a known quantity that it’s easy to tell when its railgun isn’t quite right, even if it can still turn a six-foot lizard into 20-odd globs of red goo from across the map. More annoying are the lengthy loading times that plague the still-early-access version of Quake Champions I was playing. Initial boot-up takes an age, and getting into a game isn’t a quick process either — both bad things for a twitch shooter that should thrive on the whims of players who want to load it up for a quick scrim or hang on for one more game.

QuakeChampions 2018-06-24 16-40-12-44

Worse still in my experience were matchmaking queues. I wasn’t even able to finish my 10 placement matches in the comparatively well-trafficked ranked 2v2 team deathmatch mode, incapable of getting a game going even after 30 minutes or more of matchmaking. While it should be noted that I play my games on Asian servers, and that European and US player counts should be higher, I’ve seen similar complaints from players based out west, and it’s not clear whether it’s the result of low early access player counts or just a dodgy matchmaking setup. The introduction of bots is welcome and curbs this delay slightly, but they’re much stupider than human opponents, and make for unsatisfying rocket fodder.

It’s on developer id to sand off these sharp edges in transitioning Quake Champions from early access to full release, but they have already shown a willingness to buff and nerf characters where applicable. That’s a good sign: in a climate where other old-school shooters, like Boss Key’s LawBreakers have withered on the vine, Quake Champions will be dependent on a healthy community to keep itself relevant.

But at the moment, id’s game makes a good attempt at pleasing players both old and new: borrowing enough from modern shooters to keep it interesting, not gouging with its free-to-play elements, and offering a pedigreed throwback for people who yearn for the halcyon days of the late ‘90s — when jeans were baggy, when metal was nu, and when twitch shooters were on top.

27 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Arnvidr says:

    Load times and queue times are the biggest annoyance for me as well. And the inability to choose deathmatch directly is annoying. Being forced into instagib by the vote when I choose solo play is always a letdown. I’m sure the same problem will pop up in team play once CTF launches.

    Not having an offline option now that there’s bots is also a failing. A patch downtime yesterday was scheduled for 5 hours!

    That said, the game feels really good, and I enjoy playing even when the mode I want is not chosen. The passive abilities are a nice addition that creates a bit of variety, although in my opinion the active abilities are a distraction. They could disappear for all I care. But naturally they are the reason most people would want to unlock the other champions.

    • caff says:

      I agree with a lot of your thoughts. Long load times and classes seem like nonsense to me. Fixing the former is feasible, but it feels like the latter is here to stay.

      Personally, I feel DM arena games should have all players start with the same skills and abilities, every time they spawn.

    • Herring says:

      The passive abilities that tie into movement styles are really clever at trying to give the old communities something to glom onto.

      Want CTF/RA style-rocket jumping? Go for Ranger.
      Want CPMA air-strafing? Anarki or Sorlag
      QW-style top-speeds? Visor
      DOOM-MP Double-Jump? Doom-Guy

      They’re not exactly the same, but it’s pretty cool none-the-less.

    • Vorrin says:

      Agreed, plus, why on earth is there no ranked TDM?

  2. vukos says:

    It is precisely that lame surfer bro dude’s trailer that turned me off to this game.

    ID had the perfect timing for the return of competitive arena shooters. CSGO was in full swing and the MOBAs were all on fire. What they needed to do was merge competitive ranked matchmaking with high-skill-based classic arena shooting. Market it on Twitch and YouTube and esports and you have a winner. People are raving for anything competitive these days.

    Instead they create this hero shooter nonsense and add it to a sea of hero competitive games. I acknowledge that this game’s hero shooter mechanics are mild and it is far closer to classic Quake than it is to Overwatch, but good luck trying to avoid those comparisons. Everyone else just sees a cheap competitor. It didn’t help that all the marketing specifically emphasized the champions which quickly turned off veterans and made newcomers wonder why they should play this corny shit when they can just continue to play Overwatch.

    Just reading this article speak of ults and passives and hero abilities makes me throw up a little. The return of Quake didn’t need this nonsense to succeed.

    • nokturnus says:

      It’s time for the Unreal Tournament alpha to get more love from Epic

      • caff says:

        I’d agree with this. The Unreal Tournament alpha feels amazing and just needs the polish and full balanced maps to complete it. It’s been perfectly playable for months if not years.

        I just hope Epic doesn’t lose sight of it, and let Fortnite distract them from what is ultimately a sound base game.

        • PiiSmith says:

          I have the feeling that Unreal is abandoned. They always tried to make it community driven and with the rise of Fortnite it seems to have fallen completely by the way side.

        • merzbau says:

          I desperately want that to be true- the UT series was my go-to arena shooter, right up to the self-serious idiocy of UT3- but the current pre-Alpha build I tried last week was borderline unplayable. A brand new, decently powerful machine capable of running Doom 2016 butter-smooth with most of the fancy turned on hitched and stuttered like mad on a Deck17 remake that hadn’t even had more than the most elementary art pass. I might reinstall and try it again if this experience isn’t typical but that was heartbreaking to see.

    • Pizzzahut says:

      Yep. I was in the beta about a year or so back. Game feels nice, it’s fast and competitive. But I’ve never alt+f4’d and uninstalled a game so quickly than when a competitor’s Champion went invisible.

    • PiiSmith says:

      You and me (and I guess even more people, who actually played the game) a agree that the “heroes” and “abilities” are nothing compared to Overwatch. In Overwatch you are confined to one specfic role set by the character you choose. In Quake Champions every one of the characters is capable death-matcher. If you loose any particular fight is 99% your ability and not the character you have chosen.

      Can we stop that Overwatch comparisons already? Those comparisons already killed Battleborn and again Quake Champions is very much different.

      Sure those heroes are a “look at me I have it too” move. They don’t get in the way in at some occasions even enhance the depth of the game.
      Other titles like Reflex, Xonotix, Toxikk or even the DOOM 2016 tried to revive the multiplayer arena shooter scene and did not. Quake Champions has a chance of doing it.

  3. Herzog says:

    But has QC been improved by its updates since closed beta last year?

    Certainly yes. It runs much better. Some horrible bugs like Parkinson LG (which decided last years quakecon one million dollar tournament), last year’s September patch which made the game unplayable for months and other issues have been fixed.

    I actually enjoy the game quite a lot. The different champions are a nice spin on an old formula. My biggest complaint is that there is no fun (or let’s say a mode with some depth) team mode. Really hope CTF will come soon.

    Also the game is made by Saber Interactive and not by id.

  4. Butler says:

    Have barely played Quake since Q3A. Downloaded this for free and have clocked up 17 hours in less than a week.

    I think the champion skills are always going to put off some, but for me they add decent flavour without make it feel any less Quake-y.

  5. Awkward_Seppuku says:

    Huh, after years and years of nothing, this is the second time today I’ve heard Papa Roach mentioned.

  6. Plok says:

    I’m having a great time with the Ranger’s Dire Orb. Softening someone up with a few rounds of whatever I’m holding at the time before tele-gibbing them from the other side of the room. Very satisfying.

  7. badcompany says:

    What’s wrong with q3a? It’s still the best game id ever made. Gameplay is utter perfectio.

    • aziztcf says:

      Absolutely nothing, that’s why everyone here bitching about the new Quakewatch should just download http://www.openarena.ws and get fragging.

    • Herring says:

      When Q3A came out there was a pretty big divide among the old-guard. “Not like Q2”, “Not like QW”, “Not like “CPMA” etc etc. I loved Q3A but there were sizeable contingents that didn’t move from their poison of choice.

      QC at least gives an olive branch to all those in the forms of different movement styles for the heroes.

  8. Herzog says:

    I stopped playing Q3 in 2004 after playing thousands of hours and being active in clans and leagues. I played another three years of Quakeworld from 04 to 07. I am done with Q3.

    Give me something new. Something new with an active community.

    • Herring says:

      Yes. I loved Quake/QTest/QW/Q2/CPMA/Q3A. I played Q3A semi-competitively for years in clan Omega. It was awesome.

      But that was then, and this is now. Quake with a fresh coat of paint and a new spin is brilliant. And it’s great to have an active community too.

  9. Mungrul says:

    Hmmph, a Quake without modding and community hosted servers with custom map rotations isn’t Quake as far as I’m concerned.

    Hah, Bumbug.

  10. Crusoe says:

    I’ve never waited more than 90 seconds for a match at any time of day, and 90% of the time I get one in under a minute.

    EU servers. Just wanted to add my personal experience.

    20 hours in over the last two weeks, I am loving QC.

  11. Moose_Knuckle says:

    Gotta say I wish this was better but hopefully it’ll get there. Main things I dont like are the different champions and abilities and the fact that none of the weapons are very fun to use. I was always more of an Unreal tournament guy but i’ve still got a soft spot for a bit of Quake.

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>