The good news: Quake Champions plays, sounds and looks like Quake. The bad news: it definitely needs a bit of work, and it’s no closer to solving the problems that have plagued arena shooters, Quake included, for years.
In heart and soul, albeit with a new coat of paint, a bunch of cosmetic transactions and yet another third-party launcher to deal with, Quake Champions so far echoes the spirit of the Quake series. A few bits and pieces have been tweaked along the way – different characters have different starting armour, HP and movement speeds, and everyone has at least a passive and active ability – but for the most part, this is what you’d expect a modern Quake to look and play like.
For those who remember playing Quake back in the day, or those stood by the game no matter what, that’s a handy start. It’s good timing as well: with the momentum behind esports, it makes sense to bring back the franchise that helped kick everything off. Giving away a Ferrari would certainly capture some mainstream attention.
But the world has changed an awful lot since Carmack was giving away his car as a prize for duels, and the tastes for gamers have changed as well. One thing remains the same, however: mincing people in melee never gets old.
Let’s break down what’s available. Quake Champions is a free-to-play successor to the Quake series with microtransactions. Players get access to a suite of champions, with the roster unlockable either through in-game currency or real-world money. Each champion has an active ability and one or two passive abilities, ranging from wall-running, unlimited strafejumping, the ability to spit acid at your enemies, and more.
In the closed beta, you’ll find four modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch and duels, all of which do exactly what they have for the last two decades. Sacrifice is a spin on CTF of sorts: players begin the match by capturing one of two obelisks and then spend the rest of the game collecting a “soul” to take back to their point.
It’s not an instant capture, though. Players then have to defend their shrine, domination-style, until a counter ticks up to 100%. You get a point every time it does, and three caps will win a round. You need to win two out of three rounds to take the match, although the clock ended up finishing off most matches I played (due to players flailing around).
Sacrifice is fun enough, but in dire need of some audio cues. You're not given enough of a heads up when a match or round is on the verge of ending, and plenty of players in-game and on social media have complained about being a fraction confused.
That's easy enough to fix, mind you. There should be more team modes on the way as well: team deatchmatch is a 5v5 affair, and it would be weird if traditional CTF, or clan arena/rocket arena wasn't introduced at some point. (Its inclusion would probably enrage a segment of the community, but it was also one of the most popular modes for public play, and a good starting point for newer players.)
Otherwise, most of the core principles of Quake remain in Quake Champions. Pick your battles, make judicious use of strafejumping, learn where the major items and weapons are and how often they respawn, and try to read as far ahead as possible, like Rapha:
But, as good as that all is, Quake Champions has got some key problems.
Before a game even starts, you have to deal with the Bethesda Launcher. I can understand why Bethesda is keen to house all their titles under one roof, ala Blizzard, but for gamers it just means another program chewing memory and CPU usage in the background. But Bethesda's client is beset with issues of its own, like not supporting resumable downloads, randomly alt-tabbing users out of the game, using excessive amounts of CPU and cancelling downloads midway through. It's so frustrating that players have come up with ways to avoid using the launcher altogether.
Even just getting into the game is fraught with issues. I wasn't able to join a single game on the first try. Quake Champions would always search for a couple of minutes, fail to connect, drop out to the main menu where it would ask me to login again, which I couldn't do. From there, I'd have to relaunch the game (at which point I found the Bethesda client had opened a second process for itself in the background), watch a series of unskippable title cards, and then be given a prompt to rejoin the game I'd tried to connect to.
And that's not addressing perhaps the biggest issue - if you have a dodgy connection, or very limited upload speed (as most on ADSL2+ connections do), you might not be able to play Quake Champions satisfactorily at all. Thanks to traffic monitors like NetLimiter, users discovered that Quake Champions uses an astonishing amount of bandwidth: around 30kb/s if the game was running at 60 FPS, and more than 50kb/s if your FPS was higher than 100:[image url="https://www.kotaku.com.au/content/uploads/sites/3/2017/05/quake-champions-usage.jpg" caption="Image: Reddit (u/ZeroBANG)" align="center" size="xlarge" licence="Supplied" nocrop="true"]
The problem here isn't that Quake Champions uses more bandwidth if your FPS is higher - that's been the case for aeons with a lot of games built on the Source Engine. The problem is that the bandwidth usage right now is so high that its ruining the experience. Australians don't have a lot of upload speed to play with at the best of times, unless you're on a reliable NBN connection, and even 30kb/s is an awful lot to spend for just one application.
So with that in mind, you'll understand why scenes like this are a recurring theme:
There's no console or net_graph equivalent in the game right now, so people can't get a better indication of their ping and network performance in real-time (the scoreboard doesn't update particularly frequently). And not having access to the former means people can't see if they can forcibly set limits on the amount of data being pushed out by Quake Champions, which will be a necessity for gamers in developing countries or limited connections.
Because the rubberbanding is such a problem, it's affected the meta. Players are gravitating towards the smaller and nimbler characters, not because they're inherently better, but because they're even harder to hit when character models are warping around.
Just to be clear, I haven't had matches where the game has devolved into Where's The Wall-Running Waldo, but you see it from time to time. Quake is already a hard enough game as is, and the way Quake Champions is coded means you're going to instantly notice anything that jumps onto your internet connection (like Netflix, someone accidentally opening torrents, the Steam client suddenly updating out of nowhere, that sort of thing).
Other problems include long loading times, GPU usage spiking into the sky on the menu screens (StarCraft 2 used to have a similar problem, until Blizzard patched in an FPS cap just for the menu), and some odd stuttering that seems to occur only during the first minute of the match.
But even without all of these technical issues, Quake Champions still has one overarching flaw.
Fundamentally, it's still Quake.
Let me be clear: My background might be Counter-Strike and StarCraft, but the most enjoyable multiplayer experience I've ever had still to this day was the few seasons I spent bunnyhopping around in the second division of a crappy team for an Australian CTF league. It was literally everything I wanted in a game: a twitch shooter with little downtime between the action, but still with the elements of communication and teamwork that I loved from Counter-Strike so much. I even won a free-for-all Quake 3 competition at SGL once: I won a set of headphones as a prize, which I kept for years precisely for the memory.
I've had plenty of good times with Quake, and I'd love nothing more for it to be back. The world of esports is certainly more mature than it was in the early days of the Cyberathlete Professional League.
Most players have moved on from Quake, and arena shooters generally. Even Quake Live failed to recapture the imagination, both during its stint as a free-to-play browser game and afterwards when it launched on Steam. The game has a fairly consistent community, with around 1000 peak players a month for the better part of the last year.
But it's not growing. Epic's remake of Unreal Tournament has been languishing in a pre-alpha state for a couple of years, and the bevy of indie arena shooters on Steam like Toxikk and Reflex haven't taken off either.
It was the same problem facing DOOM's multiplayer. Id obviously doesn't want to change the formula a great deal, because there is a solid community, albeit a small one, that have stuck with the game through thick and thin.
But it reminds me a little of watching Kitchen Nightmares, where exasperated owners complain to Gordon Ramsay that the changes will upset the small amount of regulars they do have. Ramsay's response is always the same: your regulars aren't enough to stop your business from closing, so why are you appealing to them in the first place?
The principle is the same. Quake Champions still plays like Quake, and more specifically, Quake Live. But if Quake Live failed to strike a chord with the broader PC base, what chance does Quake Champions have? The character abilities don't fundamentally change the moment to moment gameplay, nor the general sense of speed and accuracy that has defined every Quake game since the 1990's.[image url="https://www.kotaku.com.au/content/uploads/sites/3/2017/03/quake-champions-anarki.jpg" caption="Image: id" align="center" size="xlarge" licence="Supplied" nocrop="true"]
It's hard because, technical annoyances aside, I've really enjoyed Quake Champions so far. And maybe for those in the upper echelons of tournament play, Quake Champions has enough fundamental differences in the underlying gameplay to keep things fresh.
But is it fresh for the right audience? That's the real problem here. I can see people picking up the game, playing it for a few rounds and going, "Yup, that's Quake alright." And then they do exactly the same thing they do with Unreal Tournament, Quake Live, and every other oldschool-inspired arena shooter of the last few years - they get tired and they move onto something else, like Overwatch, the vastly more popular CS:GO, or anything a little more inspired.