Quake Champions First Impressions: Bethesda Deftly Reloads the Classic FPS Series

Quake Champions remakes the classic FPS mold for modern audiences, while leaving most of the frills and fancies of today's shooters behind.

For hardcore shooter fans, nothing says “classic” like the word Quake. Arguably one of the best shooters of all time and the granddaddy of the modern first-person shooter, Quake introduced thousands of PC gamers to the arena -- a frenetic shooting gallery where noobs either went to die or ascend the ranks to glory.

In an ode to that nostalgia, both Bethesda Softworks and id Software are going back to Quake’s roots. Quake Champions, which is set to release sometime later this year, is classic Quake for a whole new generation. In essence, it sheds many of the tattered robes of the modern shooter and brings twitch gunplay back to its halcyon roots.

During our demo of the game at PAX East, it was immediately clear that Creative Director Tim Willits and the rest of the development team – as well as publisher Bethesda – have put fan feedback into practice. There are the obvious callbacks to the Quake games of yore, but there are also new improvements, like class-based abilities that add new strategies to the tried and true Quake mold.

The biggest takeaway was this:

Quake Champions is the Arena-Based Shooter You Know and Love

Choosing a basic build in the Ranger, who is best suited for a direct combat assault role, we quickly spawned in a 5 vs. 5 team deathmatch on the Blood Covenant map, where it didn’t take long for the bodies to start piling up.

Armed to the teeth, we flew through Blood Covenant’s tight corridors -- getting up close and personal with our shotgun, while peppering enemies at medium-range with our versatile machine gun. Finding the iconic rocket launcher kicked the carnage into high gear.

Aiming and shooting is tight. Damage is indicated by both visual and aural cues. A hit marker and damage tracker appears above each opponent's head, while a satisfyingly audible thump and thrum resounds through your headphones as you pump lead into pounds of flesh. It all adds to the carnage of combat.

In classic Quake style, buffs, ammo, and health pickups, as well as new weapons, are strewn across each multi-tiered and at times beautifully detailed map. The verticality of each arena makes long-jumping and sprinting fun and strategic, especially as you race your opponents to newly spawned death dealers or that highly coveted quad-damage multiplier.

The combat in Quake Champions fits like an old glove (Quake III Arena?), but it also has a few new wrinkles, too. Before you begin each match, you’re asked to choose a champion from the (current) roster of five champions. Each has their own specific ability and set of active and passive buffs they take with them into combat.

For example, our Ranger has what is called the Dire Orb ability, which allows him to throw an orb across the map and quickly teleport to that location, quickly dodging danger in a tight corridor or landing in the center of a dogfight. 

Another character, Nyx, is able to render herself invisible and invincible, stalking across the map to make quick flanking kills from either close or far. Check out each of the current Champions' abilities below:

  • Ranger (Dire Orb): A pulsating blue orb that allows the Ranger to teleport to a new map position once thrown. 

  • Visor (Piercing Eye): A type of x-ray vision that allows snipers and flankers to see enemies through walls and other solid objects. 

  • Nyx (Ghost Walk): Transferring planes of existence, Nyx becomes invisible and invincible for a short period of time. 

  • Scalebearer (Bull Rush): The Scalebearer charges his enemies with brute force, slamming into them and causing massive amounts of kinetic damage. 

  • Anarki (???): Unfortunately, we didn't play Anarki at PAX East this year, and there's little to no information on either his active or passive abilities as of now. 

But before you throw your hands up and lament the Blizzardfication of this classic shooter, know this: Champion abilities aren’t all-powerful. Instead, they’re a new means to an old end. Abilities enhance your skills but never make your Champion overpowered. They help bridge the gap between classic FPS mechanics and modern shooter sentiments. And at the end of the day …

Deft and Skillful Shooting Are Both at the Heart of Quake Champions

In the modern FPS space, skill and subtlety are often eschewed for fast-paced gameplay, powerful guns, and player customization. But what Quake Champions understands is that a triple-A FPS can have all that and still heavily rely on player skill.

Neither cosmetics nor champion classes will affect your ability to wield any of Quake Champions’ guns.

Even though QC is free-to-play on its base level, with players buying more champions piecemeal or through one of the game’s founders' packs, players will never pay to win. Matt Frary, Bethesda’s Assistant Director of Public Relations for Online Games told us that all cosmetic and vanity items will be just that: cosmetic.

The champions have their set abilities and weaponry -- and players have their skill. Every player in the arena begins each match on equal footing, scrambling to be the first to acquire that devastating weapons upgrade, that overpowered quad-damage buff, or that meat-grinding rocket launcher.

Ultimately, that’s what sets QC apart in an increasingly crowded FPS genre: Skill and loot grabbing, the hallmarks of the classic shooter. 

Speaking with Frary on the PAX showroom floor, he said now was the perfect time to bring Quake back to the arena because there's not a shooter currently on the market like it:

"The team would never have revisited Quake if they couldn't bring something new and fresh to the gameplay. It's an improvement on the Quake 3 formula."

That formula established a rabid and fervent cult community over about the last 18 years. And in our about 20 minute session with Quake Champions, we discovered that while QC isn’t 100 percent classic Quake, it’s (so far) a focused reimagining of that seminal experience. It looks to speak to both FPS modernists and purists – and seems to be doing a damn fine job of it.

Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more news and coverage on Quake Champions, which is set to release sometime later this year.

Published Mar. 13th 2017

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