Quake has a special place in my memory. It’s one of the first video games I ever played; my dad had a PC with Quake and Doom installed. I was far too young to be playing either, but they got me hooked. Quake is one of the granddaddies of first-person shooters, popularizing old-school game terminology like “rocket jumping,” “telefrags,” and “strafe-jumping.” At its core, it is running and shooting—no time for frivolities such as sprint meters or reloading.
You’ll find all the classic game modes—in unranked you choose from team deathmatch, deathmatch, or the chaotic instagib, a one-hit-kill mode played only with rail guns (i.e., sniper rifles). If you’re really looking to get your blood pumping, you can test your might in ranked battles in a two-versus-two team deathmatch or in duel mode, a high-stakes one-on-one battle in which each player chooses three characters, getting a single life with each choice in a best-of-five round of matches.
An unranked match only has eight players, but it always feels like a much bigger game. This is a testament to the map layouts; they’re large enough to give players space to move, but designed to funnel you right into the action. Given the high movement speed, you can zoom around the map in no time. On the postgame scoreboard, it’s not unusual to see average player lifespans of just 30 seconds or less.
Quake Champions features a roster of 13 characters, some returning from Quake III Arena and some from other id Software games, such as BJ Blazkowicz from the Wolfenstein series and the Doom Slayer from Doom. Each character has a unique active and passive ability to give them an identity. Ranger can lob an orb to teleport short distances or hit an enemy with one for high damage. Sorlag, a bipedal lizard, can spit pools of acid that damages anyone who runs over it. These abilities are unique enough that you keep them in the back of your mind when you’re going up against other players, but this isn’t Overwatch—no one is crafting their team to counter the other team’s roster.
There are loot boxes (I know, boo, hiss!) to unlock vanity items: color shaders and armor pieces unique to each character and weapon shaders universal to everyone. You get one box for free with every level up, or they can be purchased for real money, with each of the three tiers of loot box having better odds of rare items. You know the drill. Only, the boxes are a bit gamed—with each character having about 40 armor shaders and only about 20 armor pieces, plus all the weapons shaders, and toss in a few name plates and profile icons, you’re far more likely to get something other than a cool piece of armor, and even then there’s no guarantee what character it’s going to be for. This is a prime example of why I don’t like loot boxes, and I would have thought better of a developer such as id Software.
End game in Quake Champions needs some serious work. Currently when a match ends, there’s a good 20 seconds of staring at the winning team’s characters during which you can’t even look at the scoreboard, then a loading screen, followed by another 15 seconds tallying your match medals and XP, then you finally get a chance to look at the final scores. Right now the game is only updated once a month, so it’s a long stretch between menu tweaks or more major changes like character or weapon balancing.
A more pressing concern I have regarding Quake Champions is its player count. Being multiplayer only, it lives and dies by its population. During a two-week span following E3, id Software released the game for free in a “download once, keep forever” deal (albeit a “starter pack” with two characters instead of the full roster). In the following weeks, there were over 15,000 players at peak hours, but that slowly trickled down to its current numbers. Currently, the game averages about 4,500 players at peak play times.
That translates to queue times for a game anywhere from two to three minutes, and that’s during peak hours. That may not seem like much, but it’s plenty of time to catch up on your social-media feeds, especially coming from games like Fortnite or Counter-Strike, where you can jump from game lobby to game lobby in a flash.
The game is available on PC in early access, but will it bring in the much-needed player boost at full release? Quake isn’t exactly an “in” franchise these days—Quake Live released over a decade ago, and the last single-player entry, Quake 4, was way back in 2005. The developers are planning a “free to play” version at launch (likely the starter pack that was given out post-E3), so hopefully that will be a boon to player numbers.
There is currently no indication of when Quake Champions will come out of early access to a full release, but in its current state it’s definitely worth diving into. It’s feature complete and builds on the legacy of a successful arena shooter series from a developer that has stood the test of time. I’ll definitely be checking back when it reaches full release.