Quake Champions Preview

Quake Champions is an interesting animal. Announced as part of Bethesda’s pre-E3 conference, its existence seemed natural after the studio found success with Wolfenstein: The New Order and DOOM. What better game to recreate 1990s id trifecta than Quake? The cinematic trailer didn’t reveal much, though many speculated it would be primarily an online arena shooter. And that’s exactly what it turned out to be--the part of me that wanted a Quake II remake still weeps. Quake Champions feels like it wants to to reinvigorate the twitch shooter genre, eat Overwatch’s lunch, and position itself to be the premiere eSports shooter.

My desire for this preview is to try and stay away from comparing it too much to Blizzard’s popular team based game. Though a different game entirely, it’s not hard to see that Bethesda borrowed some popular (or unpopular depending how you look at it) ideas. The largest departure is the complete lack of obligatory teamwork play. Blizzard smartly designed a game where the characters function as counters to each other. Switching on the fly meant strategizing against the line-up of the other team in order to shift the balance of the match. In Quake Champions, all semblance of high-level team strategy goes out the window. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch were the only modes available to me during play sessions and both prioritized frags over anything else. There is a roster of playable characters but outside of their unique special abilities, there isn’t much to differentiate one character or another. This allows Quake players to prioritize killing anyone without having to worry about the team dynamic. As a result, combat is incredibly fast, fluid, and frantic where everyone plays the lone wolf. This return to the classic days of 1990s online shooters will be welcomed by those who loved the simplicity of games like this. I spent the majority of Quake Champions time in Deathmatch. And a good thing too because I was quickly humbled by a player base that was already way better than me. And I didn’t feel like being in a position to let down my team.

As I discovered in my first match, Quake Champions is rather disorientating. Not having any sort of safe space for players to familiarize themselves with the layout of the map and the differences between the weapons is both a good thing and a kinda-not-so-great thing. The reason for not including any sort of tutorial is because, frankly, the game doesn’t need it. To play Quake is to use the keyboard to move around, quick select weapons and activate powers while moving the camera and shooting with the mouse. It’s all a throwback to the era when multiplayer was a no fuss experience. On the other hand, players trying to make sense of the world they occupy, be it testing out the controls and checking out weapons will find themselves turning into fountains of bloody gibs without any warning.

Combat feels smooth and has finesse but its speed can be overwhelming right out of the gate. There’s barely enough time to catch a breath before you’re swarmed by other players who can kill you in the blink of an eye. The closed beta period I participated in began on April 20th, though when I started playing on the 21st I was already out of my league. My level one character was matched up against players with character levels already in the double digits, their levels of in-game and numerical experience prove just how much time they’ve put in. Before I knew it, I was found myself dead last in every skirmish. I did manage to score six kills in one match, though two thirds of those wins were against a player who clearly was away from their keyboard. A win is a win though, right? My experience with Quake Champions was fraught with murder and mayhem, all to the rhythm of “fuk u” and “die bitch” epithets.

As a free to play game, it’s clear to me that Bethesda has some eSports ambitions. I can see this also performing well with the Twitch crowd looking to spectate a whole lot of mindless action. Everything about this game looks to provide entertainment and spectacle for the viewer. On top of competitive play, I see people wanting to show off their champions with the numerous of cosmetic options and accessories locked behind loot boxes. Like Overwatch, Quake Champions comes with a loot system that rewards packs filled with cosmetic items for good play and gaining character levels. Additional, and more valuable, loot crates can be purchased using two in-game currency. There’s actually two forms of acceptable tender. Favor is earned by completing challenges (such as kill X number of enemies with Y seconds of each other, kill someone using a special weapon, etc) and generally playing well. There is also Platinum and it can only be earned by spending real money. This is where my nose starts to rankle. Platinum is primarily used to purchase new champions. The initial install of Quake Champions will only let you play as the armored marine but spending Platinum currency unlocks individual champions. You can rent them using Favor, but you only got them for twenty four hours. Again, there really wasn’t much to differentiate the different champions and for the most part, the playing field felt genuinely balanced. The real reason you’d want to play as someone else is to see how their special ability can affect the game.

Quake Champions will ship with a friendly free to play model, though I have a feeling the brutal gameplay will intimidate them. It’ll be interesting to see how Bethesda will try to keep casual players around or perhaps they’ll abandon them and focus on the whales who infuse the game with their time and financial investment. While this particular version of new Quake doesn’t quite appeal to me, if Bethesda plays their cards right then this could make a nice splash in the eSports arena. I just worry whether or not Bethesda has plans to nickle and dime their audience.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.