By Michael Sagoe (Mikedot)
With the state of the entertainment industry going through somewhat of a “nostalgia trip” with old 80s, 90s and early 2000s shows, and movies/TV shows getting different revivals recently, it’s only logical in the eyes of id Software and Bethesda that now would be the perfect time to bring back a beloved shooter franchise: Quake.
Known by many as THE fps titled that created the twitch-based arena shooter genre, the devs are attempting to bring back that same kind of rush and adrenaline that Quake 3 Arena managed to give gamers so many years ago, all while putting a modern spin on the formula. Thus, Quake Champions was born. And while Quake Champions does feature most of the same gameplay found in Quake 3 Arena and Quake Live, the addition of character classes (or rather champions, given the game’s title) all have distinct appearances, stats and skills. With this, the game gives off a strange mix between what’s old and what’s new, and to be straightforward with my thoughts on this game, I’m not quite sure it succeeds in appealing to both newcomers or veterans.
So when players load up the game for the first time, they won’t be given any kind of explanation for the game’s setting or gameplay, instantly assuming that you know how to play and what you’re in for. It’s the first clear negative warning of things to come, because Quake veterans will know that there’s more to Quake than just running and gunning. There’s a handful of intricate techniques and movement options such as strafejumping, bunny hoping and rocket jumping. While these things are not that hard to perform or figure out, not telling your newcomers what these movement techs are will severely hurt their ability to hold their own in a live match, as well as potentially kill their interest in the game if they never realize how important these techs are to help it stand out from other modern shooters today. Yes, while anyone can just look up a YouTube video guide on these things, this kind of knowledge should be available in the game ASAP. Any player that pops into the game for the first time will be better for it.
Lack of tutorials aside, the game features nine different champions to choose from, with several more being planned after launch. While each champion appeals to different playstyles, the Ranger champion (based off of the original Quake 1 character) is an all-around character that will be available to all players at launch for free. With no ridiculous stats or passives, he’s quite easily the best character in the game, as far as I’m concerned. As for the other eight champions: they have fast and nimble character that can wall jump, slide and control their momentum in midair, along with slower bruiser types that can take five rocket blasts to the face and still keep moving. Lastly, all champions come equipped with one skill ability ranging from grenade blasts, wall hacks, HP restoration and more.
But here’s the thing that I feel is a fatal flaw with Quake Champions… It’s the champions themselves. The fact that the characters even have stats and skills seems like a very backwards approach to Quake, as it has been known for pure, mechanical-based skill, and funneling that skill into characters that have very clear and distinct playstyles seems awkward. Even if this was made to appeal to today’s gaming demographic that’s into character stats and skills, the game doesn’t even succeed in this regard since characters only have one skill each, and in most cases aren’t even all that useful due to the fast-paced nature of the gameplay. Half the time when I perform my skills, they either whiff completely as my opponents have already dodged my attack from several miles away, or my character has been eviscerated shortly before I could even get any benefits from my skill. The only skill that I would say is even remotely good is Nyx’s ghost walker ability which allows her to turn invisible and invulnerable to damage for a few seconds, allowing her to engage and disengage fights easily. So with the game not having enough killstreak perk crazy skills to keep the casuals entertained, and having character stats and skills that would turn Quake purists away, what kind of crowd are they really trying to appeal to with Quake Champions? Well they better figure it out soon, because it’s not a wise decision to try and appeal to both crowds.
So how about the actual gameplay, though? Well as I hinted above, it’s very much like classic Quake, which is both a good and bad thing. Players have access to all the classic weapons that the series is known for as good ol’ weapon pickups. The machine gun, nail gun, railgun, shotgun, rocket launcher and lightning gun are all here, but because of all the stats and balance changes they’ve made, they don’t feel as powerful or impactful as they used to. At least as I remember them from my times spent playing Quake 3 Arena demo.
Speaking of Quake 3 Area demo… While I never (legally) owned the full game, I lost so many hours playing that damn demo, warming my skill up against nightmare level bots and fragging people all day long in multiplayer matches. Sparingly enough, there are STILL people to this very day that play Quake 3 Arena and even crazier is that there are still ACTIVE multiplayer servers for the freaking demo version of this game. And it doesn’t take long to pick an active server and hop into a match.
Which brings me to my next point: The speed it takes to hop into a match compared to Q3A is abysmally slow. First you have to select your game type, then you get placed into a matchmaking queue and have to wait several seconds to find a match, then once a match is found, all players have to click the little accept icon in the top right corner…
…but there’s even more after this: Then the players have to vote on a map and/or vote on their champions to use. Next the game has to load which can take another minute or two depending on how good your hard drive is, after which the game has to showcase all the players and their currently selected champions for a few seconds before going into a 15-30 second warmup session. Once the warm up is over, then FINALLY the real match can begin. It’s kinda amusing and a bit sad that a decade old game like Q3A is more effortless when it comes to finding live matches compared to this state-of-the-art modern game title. Even though it could have been excused with the matchmaking making sure that it’s looking for players within your skill level, a handful of my matches made it very clear that I was being pitted against players that were well above anything I could comprehend in Quake’s spectrum of running and gunning with aimbot-like precision.
Well is there anything positive that I can say about Quake Champions? If I were able to completely ignore and forgive the character stats and skills that were shoehorned into this game, I would say that the core gameplay is pretty standard Q3A style action. Just like its predecessor, you spend your time hunting down enemies, controlling the map for weapon and armor picks and then scream out obscenities as one of your opponents picks up the quad damage multiplier and manages to kill you with a rocket launcher just by splash damage alone.
But all this has been done before in Q3A, and at times, done better. Movement speeds were uncapped, so you can zoom around faster than light, and weapons were a lot more impactful because every player had the same potential health and armor as you did. Can’t really say the same with Quake Champions, except maybe that the only champion in the game that can even come close to Q3A’s glory is Visor, as he is the only champion in the game with strafejumping that has no speed cap.)
Overall, Quake Champions seems like a game that doesn’t exactly know what it wants to be with its gameplay that tries to appeal to newcomers and hardcore fans while failing to appeal to both at the same time. While the team at id Software did once mention that they have plans to to include a “No stats” mode into the game, I fail to see how that would appeal to the Quake purists out there since characters have some pretty varied body types and sizes, and trying to normalize the hitboxes on characters like Clutch would lead to some hilariously bad issues.
There’s still some time from now until release for them to make some changes, but as I see it, I kind of don’t have much of an idea of how they can really improve the game outside of making the game appeal to the modern team-based, Call of Duty type gamers out there… or literally just remake the game to be Quake 3 Arena but with a fresh coat of paint.