In spite of what initially seemed to be a drastic change to the original formula, Quake Champions has managed so far to be the truest ID Software sequel to come out since Doom 2 in 1994. Whereas Doom 2016 had the attitude of the originals, Quake Champions not only refines and incorporates the mechanical cores of Quake 1 through Quake Live, but also harmoniously blends them with more modern gameplay elements borrowed from the MOBA and Hero Shooter genres.
The biggest change and primary concern of purists is, as the name suggests, the addition of champions with unique base stats as well as passive and active abilities. However, unlike Overwatch or Team Fortress, Quake Champions doesn’t have classes in the restrictive sense of the word – there are tankier characters, but there aren’t any tanks whose main purpose is to soak up damage while the “carries” do the killing; there is a healing ability for one of the champions, but her playstyle hardly revolves around it. This isn’t to say that the added elements are irrelevant to the gameplay, but only that everyone still ultimately lives and dies by the same fundamentals of Quake: movement, positioning, aim, weapon selection, map control etc. The only difference is that you can now pick characters that offer enjoyably different playstyles in a way that meaningfully spices up the meta. It is essentially a buffet of Quake; it is not a brainless tacking on of Overwatch onto Quake.
Let’s take a look at two of my favourite champions, Nyx and Visor, to illustrate this point. The first one has the highest movement speed currently in the game, as well as the ability to wall jump and turn invisible for a few seconds. It doesn’t seem like much, but the wall jump is actually a very versatile passive – depending on the angle of the jump it can be used to hoist or mantle yourself up ledges if you are just short of making a jump or wish to cut corners, to gain horizontal movement speed through narrow hallways, or to climb to higher positions without expending precious hp on rocket jumps or taking the time to climb a set of stairs for example. Thus she is better at reaching items, and cutting off or running away from opponents. Phase shift being up means you feel safer taking fights that you otherwise wouldn’t, because you know you have a fairly reliable “get out of jail” card. Conversely, it might be used to close the gap on opponents and line up a point blank blast with the super shotgun. Visor on the other hand has a much slower starting speed but has no cap on it, meaning that a player who’s good at bunny hopping could theoretically keep looping through a map at an ever increasing speed. His active, piercing sight, can then be used to keep an eye on where the other players are going which can help with item control (especially in duel mode) and avoiding or setting up ambushes. These are all things that were already part of Quake; the champions merely provide more fun and diverse ways of putting these tactics into play. They feel like driving different cars in the same racing game more than playing different classes in an rpg. And yet they each offer unique advantages and long-term mastery goals.
The weapons themselves are in a sense the real tactical archetypes, with each one fulfilling very specific functions and being better suited for different combat scenarios – the nail gun can dish massive damage down a narrow corridor or when your opponent is committed to a straight line of movement, rockets can ambush people around corners and flip them into the air for more predictable shots, rail guns are all for landing precise shots across the map and through narrow angles, the lightning gun can finish off an opponent in combination with a well placed rocket or rail etc. While I am satisfied with the current selection I think more could have been done to expand the moment to moment rhythm and diversity of combat. Even just taking inspiration from other shooters, ID software could’ve easily found a few more weapon types to throw into the mix – a stake gun a la Painkiller that can briefly pin opponents against nearby walls or create climbable steps (as it was implemented in Reflex), a short range freeze ray that begins to slow enemies and ramp up damage after a period of focused fire, a razor disc thrower for shooting around corners etc. There is also one change that I am not huge fan of in this department – certain weapons will do more damage if zoomed in, effectively incentivizing slowing down and creating a less than fun trade-off between doing 10 more points of damage and seeing where the hell you are actually going, as map navigation and dodging are particularly clumsy at a 30 fov. This is particularly annoying on maps with plenty of complex geometry and verticality.
In terms of presentation, the game looks crisp and slick with suitably atmospheric environments that have a visual style highly reminiscent of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament. The characters and weapons have simple, but elegant models and the animations and particle effects strike the right balance between readability and visual spectacle. I do also like what they’ve done with the cosmetics, particularly the various weapon skins brought in from other ID shooters, which make the fps geek in me very giddy indeed. One complaint is that I found it occasionally difficult to distinguish characters from the backdrop in certain environments due to poor contrast. Thankfully everyone now has a big red arrow practically saying “shoot me!” floating above their head – perhaps not the most elegant solution but ultimately an effective one nonetheless. I would’ve personally preferred to be able to select the colour of enemy skins (traditionally something like a bright green) as most players did in Quake Live.
The sound design also contributes greatly to the fast paced, kinetic feeling of the action – a rail shot whizzes past your ear and the slug clinks off a nearby pillar, your rockets make a hefty sound as you release them into the air and there is a mechanical click as another is loaded into the chamber, the stompy footsteps of Scalebearer pick up pace as you bullrush an opponent and Anarki’s hoverboard hums in various tonalities as you gain momentum or perform a circle jump in the air. It all makes you feel like you are inhabiting the skin of each champion and are physically holding the cold heavy metal of the weapons in hand.
On a technical front, the game is mostly solid. The framerate managed to stay at a smooth 100 fps in 1080p on my 6 year old gaming rig, although I did turn most of the advanced options to low. Speaking of which, there is a decent variety of customization options for those who want to strike a very particular balance between performance and graphical fidelity. What I will say though, is that even with all the options turned down to minimum, the game retains its visual charm and clarity. There is however a massive issue in the form of lag, which combined with the smaller hitboxes of certain faster enemies can make combat a frustratingly random experience at times. There is also no server browser a t the moment and the matchmaking system doesn’t seem to factor in skill at the moment, but perhaps this is to be expected in the early stages of beta. Hopefully each of these issue will be fixed as the game nears completion. I would also like to see a more open attitude and support for the modding community in the future, NOT in the form of a highly limited editor like SnapMap. I want to see modded servers and mutators with a variety of fun game modes for everyone. Perhaps even a cooperative or single-player game mode might be fun considering the variety of playable characters.
To sum everything up, if you are a veteran of ID software shooters, then this is the game for you without question. The numerous changes and added elements do not dumb anything down but simply lift the skill floor while simultaneously increasing the ceiling – they effectively elevate the gameplay to a more exciting plane. And even if you are a bit rusty or new to this style of arena shooter, you are still bound to enjoy the chaotic fun, provided you are not dead set on being at the top of the scoreboard. The game has long-term appeal primarily through the learning goals it provided by the champions, maps, weapons and game modes, but also in the form of stylish cosmetic unlocks. It will be interesting to see how the meta evolves as new champions and patches are released. The business model is in opinion very fair and frustration-free, as you can easily gain currency to rent new champions and test them out. It is effectively a modular demo, with the option to buy certain champions or all of them at once.