Hot. Damn. Quake Champions is savage. SAVAGE. I’m usually (semi) respectable when it comes to multiplayer shooters, but id’s aggressively nostalgic throwback to the arena blasters of old has kicked every square inch of my ass. After recently spending a good few hours with the closed beta of the upcoming free-to-play FPS, I can confidently state the following: Quake Champions will make you feel inadequate… horribly so.
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Over the two dozen deathmatch, team deathmatch, and Duel clashes I play, I finish higher than second bottom all but once. Death is dealt out so swiftly in Quake Champions, the life expectancy of my average spawn is shorter than a mayfly’s. The game’s brand of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it barbarism demands exceptionally quick reactions – it’s no wonder it only supports mouse and keyboard controls. If you tried to play Champions with a pad, the experience would no doubt be akin to driving an F1 car wearing boxing gloves and nine-inch stilettos.
That’s not to say getting your frag on isn’t fun. In full flow, Quake Champions is a riotous conveyor belt of non-stop slaughter that plays out at a truly dizzying pace. Thought Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare was twitchy? Those horribly frayed nerves in your fingertips ain’t seen nothing yet. Movement in these eight-player online battles is so unapologetically rapid, my digits are nervously shaking with phantom twitch at the mere thought.
Shooting men - or giant lizards and monocle-rocking fetish fans - is both fun and furious, then. Each of Quake’s trigger-happy warriors can inflict devastating damage with an assortment of firearms that harken back to the glory days, of rocket jumping splash damage and pin-point precision rail gun sniping.
You may die a lot, but at least your Champion can suck up a fair amount of pain before they bite it. At mid-range, each character can withstand five or so seconds of fire from the vanilla machine gun and super nail gun – partially because it’s so hard to keep those twinkle-toed foes in your crosshairs. Placed next to the insta-kill headshots of COD, these two weapons occasionally make combat feel like a marathon run with bullets.
In contrast, fighting someone who’s packing a rocket launcher is basically a foot race against a sprinter with nitrous oxide engines strapped to their sneakers. Such is the splash damage inflicted by Quake’s iconic missile-spewer, your Champion will be dotted around the map in 30 different, oh so squidgy pieces before you even register that rocket racing towards your face. Sensibly, though, you don’t start rounds with either the launcher or headshot-happy rail gun, and instead must fight foes for the right to collect power-ups. The placement of these guns, alongside powerful quad damage modifiers, naturally creates frenzied chokepoints, as players compete over the same spots again and again.
I could draw you a(n admittedly terrible) picture of where to collect every railgun pop-up - but that’s partly because the beta rolled out with a disappointingly paltry three maps. In Quake’s defence, at least they’re memorable. Still, the final game will need a more generous selection if it hopes to command any sort of staying power.
Each of the beta’s maps are neatly laid out. Blood Covenant has a distinctly pious edge, what with its brooding monk statues and side balconies that twist around church-like courtyards. Ruins of Sarnath is a jungle temple set around a stone square framed by a massive tribal mask, then dotted with all too tempting jump pads – don’t use ‘em unless you want to be easy, mid-air sniper fodder. Rounding off the trio is Burial Chamber, a set of gothic courts oozing with a real Dark Souls vibe; its masonry seemingly ripped straight out of Lordran. Pro tip: zip between the pillars of its central throne room if you’re a scaredy cat strafer looking to prolong your life.
As for the F2P model… well, it’s not actually too insidious. Indeed, the entire core of the game is open right from the off, and you’re free to merrily frag folk across the game’s maps all the livelong day without spending a dime. The catch comes with character selection. Only the default, granite-chinned Ranger is available to begin with. To unlock Quake’s titular extra Champions, you must fork out using one of two separate in-game currencies.
The first is called Favor. Essentially a type of XP, it’s dished out after matches, and the more frags you pull off, the greater wads of Favor the game ponies up. During my time with the beta, I quickly fill my pockets with hundreds of these imaginary coins – it’s nice to see Quake isn’t stingy about handing them over. The trouble is, Favor can only be used to rent Champions for 24 hours, not buy them permanently. If you really want to own Sorlag, the snarling seven-foot iguana lady, or Clutch (a robot whose attire suggests he harbors a serious weakness for Warhammer), you’ll need to part with actual human currency.
If you don’t mind the idea of prying open your change purse, the game’s other form of credits, called Platinum, can be bought for real pounds/dollars. Bethesda hasn’t released exact cost info yet, but in the beta, buying a Champion outright costs 500 Platinum. Now, without a precise pricing point, it’s hard to say if this represents value for money. But your choice of character is far less important than the weapon they’re packing, or building up sound knowledge of a map’s layout, so the primary reason to pay for fresh Champions is mostly cosmetic. Of course, considering how outrageously generic Mr Ranger is, I won’t judge you for being superficial in this instance.
The only mechanical element that separates Champions and affects what sort of damage they can do in arenas is each one’s Active Ability. These special moves regenerate every 20 seconds, and can be a useful crutch to fall back on under the right circumstances. Sorlag’s Acid Spit is handy if you find your Champion backed into a corner, while Scalebreaker – think a blue-eyed Incredible Hulk knock-off – comes equipped with his Bull Rush to charge opponents into steamrolled submission. Don’t fret though, penny-pinchers: the free Ranger and his equally gratis energy grenade still get the job done.
Quake’s most interesting combat wrinkle comes in the form of Duel mode: a best-of-three round, one-on-one clash where you choose a trio of Legendary Champions and then scrap it out. As the default Ranger doesn’t count towards the Champions tally, you need to rent three other characters, which costs 15,000 Favour – or you could get lucky and have one gifted to you in a post-game loot box. Once you have your line-up sorted, a pre-match draft takes place, with each player getting a turn to decide what order their warriors fight in. It’s kinda like the recent NFL one, only your Champions don’t get all emotional and produce a photo of their grandma “who always supported their dream” once you pick ‘em.
While it’s good to see Quake branching out from the traditional deathmatch mould, Duel feels imbalanced in execution. Whoever blinks first (read: dies horribly) is at a big ol’ disadvantage. If the other player gets that opening kill, they’ll likely still be wielding whatever weapon offed you once you respawn as a new character – and trust me, it’s always a bloody rocket launcher they’re packing. Any game where I die first usually sees my other two Champions downed in quick succession; my opponent repeatedly pouncing on my spawn location and pelting me with missiles. Like the rest of Quake, there’s little margin for error.
The maps also feel too sprawling to adequately accommodate one-on-one fragging. Much of your time is spent frantically scurrying around, looking for your foe. It would have been far more sensible if id had cordoned off sections of each arena for Duel, making bespoke smaller slices of each map so fights were more intimate. Hardcore Quake marksmen will no doubt get a thrill out of the bragging rights Duel provides, but for this sausage-fingered simpleton, it’s a combat kitchen that proves a mite too homicidally hot.
Quake Champions is a stripped-down, old school nod to the past. And the beta’s mere three modes and scant selection of maps mean id’s blaster currently has to rely on the quality of its slaughter, not the quantity of its content. Yes, it’s fugly, but it also runs more smoothly than any shooter I’ve played in ages – I can easily get it at 3440p/90fps with nary a stutter. And trust me, with the level of competition, you want a monitor that goes above 60Hz. Every frame here counts.
Does it offer the tactical depth of an Overwatch or the unabashed spectacle of Titanfall 2? Hell no. Regardless, this no-frills fragfest unquestionably captures the spirit of Quake. So much so, I can finally almost Men In Black those memories of playing Quake III: Arena on a Dreamcast (yes, I was that one sap who used the ill-fated console’s official, extra awkward mouse and keyboard). The final game could certainly do with more content, but my time with Champions’ beta shows id’s frantic fragging can still compete with modern shooters.