After resurrecting Wolfenstein and Doom, publisher Bethesda has now turned its attention to Quake in the form of Quake Champions. While the first two saw critical and commercial acclaim for their single-player campaigns, Quake Champions is a free-to-play, multiplayer-only shooter that’s exclusive to Windows PC at this juncture.
In the run up to its release, an open beta is available for all to try, ostensibly to give us an idea of what to expect before it hits, as well as give Quake Champions’ developers valuable feedback prior to launch. We played the Quake Champions beta over the weekend and discovered a game that’s stuck between two eras. Read on to find out what we mean.
Firing up Quake Champions, we were treated to a welcome sense of speed. Traversal was every bit as fast as it was in Quake 3 Arena. Be it jumping, dodging rocket fire, or simply gunning down the opposition, it felt zippy and unfettered - much unlike Quake 4, which we’d like to believe never existed.
This agility was augmented by familiar level design. From close quarters combat with shotguns, to long-range fire fights across a courtyard with railguns (Quake’s take on the sniper rifle) and rocket launchers, Quake Champions’ maps allowed for manoeuvrability that worked in sync with weapon, ammo, health, and armour placements to allow for tense and quick encounters.
With speed however, comes skill. Expect to be dominated by other players until you come to grips with what Quake Champions has to offer. Granted, the game has some modern accoutrements such as acknowledging assists leading up to a kill of an opponent, but at its core, Quake Champions is as old-school as it gets, what with its emphasis on lightning fast response times and twitch-like shooting that makes every other game seem like a PowerPoint presentation.
Although Quake Champions’ dyed in the wool hardcore mechanics persist in its moment to moment gameplay, that doesn’t mean it's Quake 3 Arena: Remastered. Far from it. As the name implies, there are several champions or characters to play as. When the game hits, spending money gives you access to them all or if you prefer trying it out first, you’ll have access to a single hero, Ranger, who looks every bit the doomed space marine of previous Quake games. You can spend Renown — one of Quake Champions two currencies - to rent other heroes for a spell, or use Platinum (currency bought with real money) to unlock them permanently.
And this is where things get iffy. You see, each playable character in Quake Champions has a unique set of attributes, these include varying degrees of air control and health. What’s more, each champion has specific skills, such as spewing acid for a continuous amount of damage, or lobbing a grenade that also doubles as a teleporter. They’re neat additions, but they don’t drastically impact gameplay in any meaningful way. What’s worse, there’s no major difference between each character in a deathmatch, making you wonder what’s the point of the entire exercise anyway.
In an age where Overwatch and Paladins dominate the hero shooter subgenre, it will be interesting to see how this approach melds with Quake’s skill-based design mentality. Hopefully, developers id Software and Saber Interactive settle on a firm direction before the game ultimately launches. As it stands though, Quake Champions’ adherence to the middle ground between modern-day hero shooter, and twitchy, skill-based gameplay mechanics puts it in a territory that’s best described as awkward.