At the end of the 90s, a war began in the PC community. The rise of a non-dial-up internet led to the creation of multiplayer-focused entries in two of the biggest first-person shooter franchises of the day. Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament launched only a few days apart, both promising the ultimate FPS arena experience. Both ended up being amazing shooters.
People drew their battle lines around maps (CTF-Face or Q3DM17: The Longest Yard?), weapons (Dueling Rocket Launchers, the Lightning Gun or the Flak Cannon?), or playable modes (look, even if you love Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament won here). For five years, these were the shooters to beat for hardcore PC players. Unfortunately, their respective developers couldn't capitalize on these releases: id Software tapped out with Quake 4 and Epic Games faltered with Unreal Tournament 3. So the sci fi-based, lightning fast arena shooter fell off the map.
A decade later, it's time for a return. Quake Champions is id Software's chance to bring back a specific style of FPS and revive the Quake brand.
Damn, I missed Quake (and Unreal).
At its core, Quake Champions is a jump backwards to the high-speed, twitch-level shooter. That's not to say the Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Overwatch don't provide excellent FPS experiences, but Quake Champions is fast as a baseline, even if I feel doesn't quite reach the speeds of Quake III Arena. If you're not moving through corridors, flicking your mouse from side-to-side to track potential targets, you're not playing Quake Champions right. Like putting on a comfortable old sweater, the movement speed and weapons feel (mostly) right. Hell, the classic rocket jump still works here.
During this beta phase, Quake Champions offered only a fraction of the game's planned content. You have three modes - Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Duel - one of which you can't play until you've unlocked a certain number of Champions (more on that later). Those modes play out across three maps in beta. Blood Covenant is a remix and remaster of Q3DM6, previously known as The Camping Ground. Ruins of Sarnath and Burial Chamber are the all-new maps for Quake Champions, both standing as multi-level arenas in classic Quake style, albeit with a slightly larger scope than previous games.
There have been a few tweaks on the classic formula. For one, the weapons are far more visible on each map; each weapon has been assigned a basic color and their spawn locations are clearly marked with glyphs of the same color. As you go speeding by, you can make a quick decision on whether your need a specific weapon: "Bright green? I suck with the railgun. Keep on moving, Hopalong." Likewise, the full armor pickups and the Quad Damage are clearly marked and have visible timers. Both changes help you learn map placements slightly faster than you used to in Quake III Arena.
There's also smaller additions, like a directional damage indicator, medals for specific actions during a match, and daily challenges. These ideas all pull from games like Call of Duty, bringing Quake up to a modern standard.
The second major shift is the one that'll probably anger some Quake purists. Quake Champions might have classic Quake at its core, but the game's infrastructure is modern. As the name suggests Quake Champions has a number of different Champions, nine in the beta, each with their own hitboxes, health, armor, speed, and active abilities. Quake III Arena worked the way it did because everyone was essentially the same. In Champions, the giant warlord Scalebearer doesn't feel the same as faster Champions like Slash or Anarki.
On top of that, Quake Champions uses a free-to-play business model. Every player starts with Ranger, the updated version of the classic Quake and Quake III Arena character. Other champions need to be rented or bought using in-game currency. Platinum is used to buy champions outright, while Favor is used to rent them for a single day. You gain Favor by playing matches, but I get the feeling that Platinum is a real-money currency.
The beta phase offered 500 Platinum to buy a second character, but I'm unsure if that'll carry over to the live game. Worse, outside of the rental method, there's no way to try out other champions to see who might fit you best. I assume the idea is you play the game, rent champions that interest you, and shell out the cash to own the ones you really like. Unfortunately, not having a certain number of champions locks you out of the beta's Duel mode, as it requires three champions for each player.
Bethesda and id Software are offering a full price Champion Pack that will simply unlock all the characters. This will likely be the best way for a number of folks to enjoy the game instead of the piecemeal free process. It's just a matter of if you want spend $60 (or whatever the final price for the Champion Pack is), or grind your way through on a regular basis.
I ended up picking Scalebearer as my second character, the fast, hefty monster, whose active ability causes him to charge foes and stomp them underfoot. Some champions had abilities that feel fairly game changing, like Nyx's ability to phase out of reality for a limited time to avoid damage. These abilities have a cooldown, so you'll still be relying primarily on your weapon skill and map knowledge, but I wonder about the game balance with them active.
All the gameplay talk doesn't even touch the Overwatch style rewards and progression system, which offer loot boxes for leveling. In the various loot boxes, you'll find armor shaders (think character colors) and character parts. Yeah, instead of a full skins, you unlock heads, torsos, and legs for each Champion, with varying degrees of rarity. I'm sure this will lead to madness for some players; imagine having a rare torso or head, but lacking the legs to complete the set. It'd be like only get a small part of an Overwatch skin.
That said, Quake Champions is still a damned winner so far. Maybe some of that is nostalgia speaking, but regardless I'm hopeful for the game's eventual launch. At the very least, it's a return to a better time in shooters. If Epic Games can land their odd Unreal Tournament experiment, we might live in a 2017-2018 with Quake and Unreal back in prominence. I might've been an Unreal fan, but Quake Champions hits the right target for me. Perhaps it'll do the same for the community.