Having finished up its Closed Beta run, showed up at the most recent QuakeCon as an impressive competitive esport, Quake Champions is now available to play in Early Access. Although you need to pay to play right now, eventually Quake Champions will be released as free-to-play title. Now, aside from that model and the Champions in the title referring to different characters you can choose to play as - that each have their own special ability – Quake Champions is still very much Quake. Classic, fast-paced, intense combat that was pioneered by id Software over 20 years ago.
Yeah, Quake’s been around for a while. And if you were part of the scene that involved the words and acronyms Voodoo, CD-ROM, CRT, and Dial-Up Internet then no doubt you’ve played at least some Quake in your lifetime. Perhaps a lot of Quake, which in terms of online shooting peaked with the introduction of Quake 3 Arena in 1999. Not that the franchise has been missing since then, but the introduction of Quake Champions aims to do two things. One, capture the look and combat feel of classic Quake. Second, introduce mechanics and features that scream 2017.
And it’s that second bit that might need a bit more fine-tuning.
Different heroes or Champions to control, loot boxes containing Champion and weapon-specific cosmetics, goal-oriented progression to encourage different approaches, a revamped UI for making things easy to follow for spectators. In a lot of ways, the changes suit the Quake formula. The updated presentation that includes brightly coloured health, armour, and Quad Damage pick-ups, makes sense. An easy to follow colour-code for each weapon and after five minutes you’ll know that red means Rocket Launcher, green means Rail Gun, and orange means Shotgun. It’s a nice touch that plays into the menacing environments featured in most of Quake Champions’ maps. Whilst ensuring all pick-ups are clearly visible.
But by that same token some of the additions don’t really gel. Make no mistake about it, Quake Champions is a fast-paced shooter first and foremost. So, if the idea of Champion abilities makes you think of an experience along the lines of Overwatch – it’s not that at all. In fact, when playing regular Deathmatch where it’s a free-for-all frag fest ripped from a late ‘90s LAN party - your shooty skills and manoeuvrability will be more important than knowing exactly when to trigger an ability. With certain characters like Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazkowicz, whose ability allows him to dual-wield for a few seconds - effectively doubling his damage output - it’s hard to see how it all balances out against other abilities like healing auras.
Which, happens in a small circle that you can’t afford to waste one second standing still in. After all, this is Quake.
And really, outside of cool skins and seeing different characters move around having tanks and healers and what have you doesn’t feel essential to the formula. Sure, they have different base stats, and when playing Team Deathmatch grouping with different classes adds a new flavour that makes sense at a competitive level, you can still get by just as well by playing exactly as you would have in the year 2000. This isn’t meant as a takedown of the new approach, but simply highlights that when played casually, team dynamics and Champion choice isn’t as important as it would be in a game like Overwatch.
Where Quake Champions excels is in its raw, blisteringly fast performance that scales well across a wide range of hardware configurations. We tested it out on both a GeForce GTX 1070 and a pretty old by today’s standards GeForce GTX 760 - where it looked great on the former, and ran just as smooth on the latter. Built on a hybrid engine made up of id tech and Saber Interactive tech, which handled DOOM’s multiplayer in addition to a bunch of console titles, Quake Champions looks the part whilst catering to a wider audience. Yeah, we were a bit surprised that this doesn’t run exclusively on id Tech 6. But that isn’t immediately noticeable or even something you’d be aware of unless it was pointed out to you.
Quake Champions is the sort of game where performance comes first, visual detail second. And you can tell that’s how it has been optimised, to the point where the Early Access nature of it really seems to be all about getting all the different Champion balances right and fine tuning all the progression and loot to make it feel like you’re being rewarded every time you fire up a round. In the end though it’s great to see that the Quake feel hasn’t changed all the much and that id Software still have what it takes to create classic Deathmatch Arenas that flow and accommodate all the jumping, jump pad launches, and those that are powered by rockets.
Quake Champions is available to play now via Steam and the Bethesda.net Launcher