Quake Champions Reboots The High Speed Shooter
Much like classic cRPGs had just a few years ago, we're in the midst of a full-blown resurgence of old school FPS games from the '90s era of PC gaming. First there was the resurrected Shadow Warrior, and then against all odds we finally saw the return of Doom when it seemed like that would never happen.
With a new iteration of Unreal and even Duke Nukem on the horizon, of course Quake also had to be in the mix, with the Early Access Quake Champions offering up that oh-so-satisfying "You Fragged So-And-So" feel (which will undoubtedly be preceded and followed by "So-And-So Fragged You" a whole bunch of times).
Retooling A Classic
Quake's odd but entertaining mashup of character and location types returns here, with a dash of Lovecraft and horror thrown into the sci-fi action shooter genre. While frantically killing all your friends, you might notice a few squamous statues, ominous carvings, or even see a tentacle pop out of a wall that very much reacts to being shot.
The arena-style format remains, returning this time with 11 different Champions of varying stats and abilities. There's a wide range of options, like an unholy paladin raised in an evil order as a child, the one lone assassin a species of pacifists had on hand, an interdimensional warlord, a reptilian soothsayer, and an anarchist obsessed with transhumanism who upgrades his own body for the ultimate highs. Oh yeah... did I mention you can play as the Doom guy? That's always a good time.
It's a fun time figuring out the different ways the Champions play, with various tactical options available depending on whether you want to go invisible and pop up behind someone, lay traps, go full force melee, or see through walls to snipe an enemy. I've personally been favoring the hulking Scalebearer, who can suddenly rush forward with a deadly melee strike against anyone not smart enough to stay far away.
There's an interesting mechanic in the spawning cooldowns that hearkens back to the golden shooter days of yore -- before series like CoD and Battlefield existed -- where you are basically opposed to everyone even in a "team" death match. You are always competing for resources against your own team mates, whether that's a weapon, the quad damage upgrade, extra armor, ability timer speed ups, or even the storyline lore scrolls that spawn randomly once per map.
Early Access Kinks
Quake Champions isn't a finished product yet, and that shows in a lot of ways. There are times where it seems like my bullet/rocket/laser has clearly hit someone, but no damage goes up, and isn't clear what's causing that problem.
You will also be in for a fairly long wait on the matchmaking front, and for some reason when I have the options set to search all possible match types to get into a round in a reasonable time (usually around a minute or so), I always get team death match 100% of the time.
For someone not used to the style on display here, Quake Champions will seem so random and fast-paced that that the newbies will probably be turned off immediately. Currently there's only a single tutorial -- which doesn't even have you fight anyone -- and there's no single player campaign. So there's a huge learning curve and no way to go into a multiplayer match with anything resembling a chance to survive in your first few rounds.
Between the high speeds, longer fire fights, and strafing mechanics, Quake really is skill based. Choosing that "perfect" Champion isn't a guaranteed way to dominate, or even have a respectable kill count. Someone who has mastered the fundamentals is still going to splatter you even if they pick the squishiest Champ from the list.
You need to know when to disengage from a fight, memorize spawn cooldowns, learn when to trigger your Champion ability, and master strafe jumping like nobody's business if you want a kill/death ratio that isn't actively embarrassing (if you don't feel like dying a hundred times to get there, be sure to check out our Quake beginner's guide to start off right).
An Odd Business Model
Much like its mashing of various action and horror genre tropes, Champions is trying to be all things to all people. In particular, its going for two groups at once: the casual F2P crowd, and the hardcore fans who want to buy a full Quake game.
As it stands, you can only buy the "Champions pass" (meaning the full game with all the available characters) in Early Access, but on full release there will be a F2P option... with a catch. The notion of renting your preferred Champion for 24 hours through in-game currency is going over like a lead balloon with a big portion of the fanbase. Sure, it's free -- if you only want two characters to choose from at any given time.
While the maligned loot box is just par for the course in modern gaming now, here it feels a little lackluster. The problem isn't loot boxes by themselves, rather its what you get from them in exchange for your in-game or real currency.
While there are runes for challenges that can be randomly drawn, the vast majority of loot is cosmetic only, which doesn't really create a sense of progression. Compare that to something like Gears Of War 4, which frankly doesn't even need loot boxes, but at least those boxes give you new abilities and options in multiplayer.
There are some awesome outfits in those loot boxes, though
The Bottom Line
There are going to be two camps considering a game like Quake Champions -- the people who just want to pop in and frag, and the people who want to have a strong progression and a reason to keep playing over time. With the lack of a single player campaign and the rent-a-Champion structure, I'm not sure either crowd is going to be perfectly pleased without just buying the full game.
While there's unquestionably fun to be had in death matches with all the top-speed, rocket-launching shenanigans, in its current state the game feels more like a weekend diversion where you occasionally pop back in for a quick match -- not something that's going to overtake your Steam library as the most-played game.
That being said, if you've longed for the twitchtastic arena shooters where you can dominate with superior skill and map knowledge, there's no reason not to check out this iteration of Quake.