Quake Champions Preview: A Fragfest

Quake Champions wants to be old-school like a fine wine and to pack the punch of a double-barreled shotgun. It aims to bring back the arena shooter in all its glory, and it’s certainly making good progress. 

Let me explain what an arena shooter truly is. Firstly forget cute-fluffy cartoon avatars that seem to be king these days in the modern day FPS. Forget weapon attachments, aiming down sights or scopes, perks and killstreak rewards. It’s about being chucked into an arena with up to 8 other players. Your worth is determined by how many kills (or “frags” the old Quake gods like to call it) you or your team can achieve in a short space of time. 

Quake Champions Champions
Quake Champions, or new DC villains? Hard to tell

Under the hood of Quake Champions lies a truly unspoiled arena shooter. It has ludicrously fast movement speed, which feels unusual after playing slower-paced shooters like the recent Wolfenstein. Insanely over the top weaponry that’s big, futuristic and loud.  And there is relentless action and competition, thanks to the wonderfully crafted and diverse maps. 

Mastering movement in the game is key, and the level design plays on that. It does this through use of vertical movement, and platforming elements in all of its visually stunning maps. Jump pads will launch you two or three stories upwards, providing you with height advantages over your enemies.  Knowledge of weapon and power-up locations are critical to success. These stick in your mind through the clever use of landmarks. The weapon and power up locations inevitably create hot spots for grizzly shoot-outs and competition with other players. It all just flows nicely, and there’s never a dull moment because of the games excellent pace. 

On the subject of weapons, there’s a big selection, with some more useful than others. You can choose to start with a shotgun (my favourite), a nailgun or a machine gun. You can get better versions of these guns through pickups. I mainly just try and get the Rocket Launcher or Railgun ASAP. They are, in my opinion, all you really need, but doubtless many pros out there will disagree with me. The Rocket Launcher is not only powerful, it allows you to Rocket Jump. A technique created by accident in the original Quake’s deathmatch mode. The developers recognised its popularity and catered for it; overemphasising its capabilities in Quake 3 Arena, and now this title.

The Railgun is great at fragging people from a distance. It’s essentially a sniper rifle that will instantly kill anyone with a well-placed headshot. If grinding people to paste with a chainsaw is your thing, there’s a weapon that caters for that urge too of course. Just don’t expect to win matches with it.

The visual style of Quake Champions is as if it’s designers were Gothic architects from the future that have been inspired by a recent holiday to a hell dimension. It therefore looks quite outlandish, a fusion of technology with starkness of the medieval era and otherworldly demonic corruption. If you’re a fan of the maps and visual style of other id Software titles, you’ll smile at the Quake Easter eggs, and the inclusion of BJ Blazcowicz as a playable character. The contrast and colors across the 8 maps on offer are therefore vibrant; definitely a refreshing change from the muted pallet of other modern day shooters. It’s also not a major performance hog, it chugs away nicely on my rig at 60fps/ 1080p. I use a Geforce GTX 1070, and fairly old-generation Core i7 processor.

The game bewildered me at first with it’s blistering pace, to the point it almost put me off completely.  Was I just bad at the game? Apparently so, because with each game I got better and began to understand that this is all about pure skill, focus and determination. It definitely pays to stick it out, as it gets more fun and more satisfying the better you become at it.

The game does chuck more spice into the already fragrant arena shooter. It does this by having an array of “Champions” to play as, each with their own unique abilities and visual style. Maybe you want to be the marine from Quake, who is able to teleport to a beacon you just launched. Or you could be a lady with an insane fringe who is able to phase in and out of existence (not sure if she can actually see anything though).

Preparing to get my arse kicked

To add to this choice, each Champion varies slightly in how much health, armour and speed they have, but not too greatly. Enough so that the Champions cater towards various play-styles, but there are a couple of stand-outs that I feel will remain the most competitive, and others that seem more throwaway casual fun. I’m looking at you, Blazcowicz! All of the Champions are locked initially, bar the Ranger, and can be unlocked either through loot boxes, in-game currency or through Premium versions of the game. 

This leads me onto those modern day issues the game has. Quake Champions has all the trappings of your typical F2P title, along with a store and in-game currency. Glowing buttons are in your face, urging you to buy loot boxes. Boxes that chuck out items with varying degrees of rarity, that give you a little kick from seeing that glowing legendary item pop out. I get that Bethesda has to make money somehow, but this does all muddy the pureness of the game. It’s up to you if you choose to indulge, or just crack on with the Ranger and just kill as many players possible. The game certainly doesn’t stop you doing that either.

On player skill, it’s difficult to comment on how Quake Champion is going to balance out the matches. With the absence of a ranked mode, some matches were dominated by god-like entities I couldn’t hit for toffee. A decent ranking system and skill-detection should fix these problems at launch. 

All in all I feel like the game is shaping up well and hopefully it finds the right niche and player base it deserves. Arena shooters do still have a place in my heart, and for now this game is keeping me occupied, but will it hold my attention for as long as PUBG or Overwatch has? When Quake Champions is released, i’ll let you know!

What do you think? Leave a comment below!