Quake Champions Plays Like Quake, Which Is Sort Of The Problem

Image: Kotaku

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.

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: Reddit (u/ZeroBANG)

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.

Image: Kotaku

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: id

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.


Comments

    Last paragraph summed me up perfectly.

    I saw none of the network issues described here, but my load times sucked.

    The lack of grenade launcher is making me cry too, although there is talk of that and the BFG making it back into the final release.

      A couple of versions back, I'm sure I had a grenade launcher during one of my matches. Only recall using it once though. Has definitely been missing since then, and really should be in the game. Nades are fun sometimes :)

      I'm sure they'll be making a lot of changes over the coming months though. The whole test period has been pretty limited in terms of what we've got access to, and I think during the last 2 rounds, it was mostly load testing for them. Probably trying not to overload things without knowing how it will perform before adding in extra stuff, which makes sense. There's a lot more people playing this round, and it's a bit longer (running til 21st I think) so should give them a good chance to monitor things and make sure it's stable. I'm looking forward to seeing what else is coming!

    I found the opposite, it doesn't play enough like Quake. The movement is far too weighted for one and map and player scale (i.e. doors, passageways, etc) feel too large.

    I probably am just the gamer with the rocking chair, but it doesn't feel right, at all.

      Scale wise it feels fine to me. I did notice that the default FOV is set to 130 though. That can change your perspective on scale quite a lot. Previous Quake's had a default FOV of 90, but I've always played with 120 myself.

    I haven't had any issues while playing yet, apart from my mouse cursor not being locked to the game in full screen. Thankfully, since the last update, setting it to borderless, and then back to full screen does manage to lock the cursor in.
    I've had zero issues with the launcher though, and load times have been perfectly reasonable for me. No GPU spikes either. I do have a pretty beefy system though, so that may be why.
    I'm loving what I've played so far. Hoping they will add a rocket arena style mode of play though. Really do miss that. Can't wait to see more maps too. Hoping they'll release tools for making your own as well.

      CTF, Instagib, and a hook mod too plz!

        hahahah I miss Lithium so much....... Those were some good times! CTF will no doubt make an appearance. Instagib will probably be added as an option for matches at some point too. They've always been a pretty core part of the community in the past, so I doubt they'd leave them out.
        but man.... lithium... hooking your way round the level... that'd be hawt if they added something like that :D

          QW running Ziggurat Vertigo with the hook made for some ridiculously good games too... ;)

            A mate of mine has been working on Quetoo. Basically modernizing Quake 2, and he's been kind enough to add a grapple in :D

        Hook-N-Rail Servers for lyf!

    The real problem is that it caters to neither new players as they are super whimsical thus leaving for the next "thing" and the hardcore player base has issues with how the hero aspect handles in game. Some of the heroes aren't even that bad, but then there are characters that turn invisible and others that break the entire meta of the game (area denial skills) and these types of abilities are exceedingly hard to balance.

    I know that they said there will by ability free game modes, but we aren't sure yet as to whether that includes duel.

      You can see enough of an outline with the invisibility for the first couple of seconds, so if someone leaves it too late to escape you can still pump a rocket into them.

      The one that will probably have the biggest impact is the ranger orb damage/teleport, since you can set that up in advance. Can see instances like on DM6 where you go near the railgun to check the red armour, but have an orb hovering over the rocket launcher as a backup. Enemy is camping the red armour waiting for a spawn, you take a shot, teleport, and then jump on him from the higher vantage point (or wait for them to pick up RA, rocket up, and catch them out midair).

        The orb doesn't stick around for very long though does it? I thought if it didn't impact with anyone, it just kept moving til it hit a wall or something? I haven't really used Ranger a lot myself, and when I have, I think it's been a bit too hectic for me to actually pay close attention to what happens.

          Yeah, it keeps travelling slowly. I normally give it at most two to three seconds before deciding if its better to just hit the button to throw off aim, a lot of the player base is still struggling with the pace which means being unconventional seems to work a charm.

        My problem is that you know within seconds whether the exchange is likely a loss, the ttk is so low that if you lose element of surprise or failed the first few moments of trade you are just better off moving on. Invis is overly useful at low to mid tier because a lot of the time players are lost in the chaos.

        Ranger is ok, but the aoe is small and I don't think I have died to it even once due to the slow speed. It seems to be much more usefull for displacement and doorway control than say firing into groups of players.

        I want to use barrier to see if its nearly as silly as it seems like it should be.

        I just want abilities turned off in duels, I have a mad complex after years of playing Live with mates, I don't need abilities making it worse. :P

      I suspect it'll be across the board, so when you create a match of any type, it'll allow you to select whether or not to have abilities. I sure hope so any way.
      I don't personally have any gripes with any of them so far though. I haven't found any particular one to be more annoying than others yet. Perhaps it's just me, but I'm ok with them atm. Just have to wait and see how it all pans out.

    Seriously? A CS player reviews quake, who just occasionally played the original? You gotta be joking... I bet MOST quake players want exactly that quake champions PLAYS LIKE QUAKE and nothing else.

    I, for instance dont even like that different characters tsart with different healths/armor or the ability crap ... all i want is a fancy looking faced paced (vanilla) QUAKE as in the good old times.

      Didn't Quake Live try to do exactly that? Quake's success depends on finding new audiences, and new audiences don't want the old formula. You might want nothing of substance to change, but for the sake of the community and the livelihood of the developers, changes have to be made.

      Just out of curiosity, how many people in the media would you expect to have any competitive experience with Quake? We're not talking a game that got big in the last three years or something.

        Quake Live was an experiment by Carmack to see if he could get Quake 3 running in a browser. I don't think he ever sought out to make it more than it actually was and if it is a success then that was a bonus to him.

        IMO the main reasons Quake dropped from being as popular was the lackluster effort with Quake 4's deathmatch, souring many people's experiences and quake 3/live had evolved a fairly high skill floor where new players would really have to put in the effort and have their arse handed to them for months before they even got close to being able to catch up. Something like that probably will scare off more players and only retain the most dedicated.
        CS at least has a lower skill base and larger skill spread so new players could learn to play effectively before having to take on more "Pro" players, hence people taking the path of least resistance.

        Champions with its "matchmaking" and new player infusion will definitely help to bring Quake and arena shooters at least some decent success again.

          I'm one of those few people who really, really enjoyed duelling in Quake 4. Support for it locally died in the arse pretty quick, although I think things like instancing in duel servers (so you didn't have people hanging around watching two people do armour runs all day) were vastly underappreciated at the time. Also, my rail was miles better in Q4 than Q3 for some reason, which always felt good.

            I do agree, Quake 4 wasn't bad and didn't get the love it deserved but felt at least to me, inferior overall when compared to Q3A. My biggest issue was it felt much slower comparatively.

    It's a shame.

    I would've loved to see Quake follow the success of Wolfenstein and Doom in modernizing itself with a thorougly-enjoyable, surprisingly-deep single-player campaign.

    Instead, it's throwing its lot in with the video game charnel house that is 'multiplayer-only arena games'.

    Well. Good fucking luck, I guess?

      In its defence 3/Arena really is the jewel in Quake's filthy, grimy crown.

      It is kind of inline with what I expected really. Quake 5 is what you want. It may come eventually. This is kind of in line with what I expected from them though. Q4 was primarily about the single player experience, and given it was the last one to come out, it was really time for an updated multi game.
      I do hope they don't give up on the single player, cos I enjoy a good single player romp myself, but I think this needed to happen before Q5 gets its turn

    It's a Bethesda game. Of course you think it has a problem!

      I said I enjoyed it, and I don't have any problems with Bethesda personally. Plus, every game has problems and it's my job to point them out when appropriate. Was anyone expecting Quake Champions to be flawless?

    Seriously? Talking about load times and network issues on a beta game?

    If you aren't a Quaker then you'll get bored and move on, but Quake provides an element that those other FPS games don't. It's based on pure skill and not on pressing the Q button at the right time or camping a corner with a sniper rifle. I've played CS and OW enough to know those games don't offer much past that unless you are doing competitive teamplay. Quake Champions may not be much different than old-school Quake but I don't think it should be. The problem is people, tbh. They are self entitled and just want to jump into a game and own without really learning anything. Will Quake champions fail because of that? Probably.

    I had 0 network issues (or any bugs for that matter) during the time that I spent with the beta. Perhaps I was just lucky.

    Personally, I like the fact that it plays just like the Quake of old. I felt it played awesomely and had a ton of fun playing it. I'm keen to see how it shapes up around release. I'm glad that they didn't turn it into another "new age" shooter ie: another Overwatch clone. If it were up to me, I would ditch all of the different character choices and give everyone the same stats and just let people change models/skins.

    calling quake uninspiring compared to CS?
    quake is dynamic , on the fly, all skill, lightening fast where the better player/team will always win.
    cs slow, spray and pray, camping 'tactics'

      There is literally no point where I said CS was more inspiring than Quake, but sure.

        "like Overwatch, the vastly more popular CS:GO, or anything a little more inspired."

          That's saying people might gravitate to other games that are more inspired, not that CS:GO or Overwatch are more inspired necessarily.

    Over the years I've been reading kotaku, and every time I read an article by Alex about Quake it's always had these passive undertones of Quake inferiority or negativity. I feel like deep down you don't like Quake or think it's inferior to games like CS like quake doesn't have the 'strategy' and 'brains' of CS.

    I'm open to being wrong but I feel like your dislike of Quake or perhaps you weren't very good at it when you played it 'back in the day' and it comes out in your articles in subtle ways.

      I'm pretty explicit in that Quake is responsible for my favourite multiplayer experience of all time, and I don't think it's an inferior game by any stretch of the imagination. I won't pretend I was a national champion or especially skilled at Quake, but I don't think it's inferior to Counter-Strike by any means.

      The community doesn't do the best job of welcoming in new players, which it's always needed, but that's not a fault of the game.

        In that case I'm glad to be wrong. But I hope you take it on board because it does seem to come across in the subtle phrases in your articles, and if I'm interpreting a lot of your articles this way others would be too.

        You have used a lot of negative associative words and phrases in this article when referring to Quake, such as: flaw, problem, don't (Quake doesn't do this, and doesn't do that, etc). And most people don't even read the whole article, they just skip to the end to see what the 'conclusion' is - which again is negative.

        Someone who has never played Quake before might read this article and will likely think to themselves 'nah not going to give this a go' because of the negativity of the article. You've basically said the game is going to be dead before it's even released. I know technically you phrased certain things as a question, and are only 'speculating' in some of your sentences, but you have to realise that your content would carry a lot of weight and have a lot of influence. If you really do love Quake I would have hoped you would want to help new players try it out and have fun and experience the original arena shooter gameplay that's so lacking in the modern gaming industry.

        Thanks for replying anyway. I hope I haven't come across as too critical but these are my genuine thoughts.

          That's kind of the problem that has faced Quake all along though - it's got such a high skill ceiling, and that first initial experience can be so brutal that it does put a lot of people off. If you can get past it, Christ it's fun, but getting past that hump ... that's not for a lot of people. Gamers have a lot less time these days (by way of getting older, as per the regular Bond University reports) and the harder something is to get into, the harder it will be for a game to be successful. That's the reality we live in.

          It's sucks, and I'd love to see a return to glory for Quake. But it's also not my job to be an advocate for one game or one particular community, as much as I might enjoy it. I'd say people should still give QC a crack if they get into the beta, and definitely upon release as it'll be free-to-play. But that doesn't mean the game should get a free pass from criticism either, you know? It's a tight rope to walk.

    you cant make a better quake, because quake3 is already perfect.

    Quakelive was close to making it modern (by adding a social aspect to it). it could have helped with some newer skins, but when they decided to close down linux and mac support a lot of people dropped out. How do you expect the community to grow if you try to push players off?

    seriously a quake post by a CS dude? don't get me wrong, but CS is too slow most cs players gets owned in quake all the ways.

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