PAX West 2017: Quake Champions is a Modern Take on a Classic Arena Shooter

The Early Adopters pack for Bethesda’s upcoming free to play shooter, Quake Champions, has recently gone live. Allowing folks to get in on it for an upfront fee, which comes with a helping of perks attached, the deal is tempting. Some, however, might have felt some trepidation at the prospect of paying in to play yet another free-to-play shooter, a character based one at that, that would cause some hesitation. I was in that category myself. What if it doesn’t capture that Quake feeling right? What if it did it too well, making it feel like a rehash of something that I’ve played plenty of times in the past? Those worries and more nagged at me, and I’ve been watching carefully from a distance until such a time that I could judge for myself. I’m incredibly excited to report that the concerns were unfounded. Based on my demo at PAX, Quake Champions is poised to be my next go-to shooter when I just want to let the gibs fly.

The match I got to play was a classic Team Deathmatch. Everybody chose their character (more on that in a moment) and got to the murder. For those that want to know how it feels, it’s truly Quake through and through. Players spawn in together at the beginning and randomly spawn when they fall to enemy fire. Movement speed is satisfyingly fast, thanks both to the finely tuned mechanics, as well as some stringent optimization to get a high frame rate (think triple digits). This lends itself to an extremely gratifying sense of aiming that just came naturally amidst the chaos of ordinance. The gunplay just plain feels great.

The variety of weapons during the match contributed to that feeling. During the match, I was able to score at least one frag with a shotgun, rocket launcher, as well as the nailgun straight from the first  Quake. The arena was littered with all sorts of different implements of destruction with which to use,and all felt useful in various situations. Even the default machine pistol is a game changer when used correctly.

To my regret, I only was able to play a single map, but it’s impeccably designed. Featuring an assortment of chokepoints to control, launch pads to utilize, and varying elevations, it was exactly what a Quake map should be. Smart play necessitates staying with one or more team members in Team Deathmatch. We were in the lead, however, so I took the opportunity to check out the various pathways and shortcuts that are honeycombed through the map, inviting the player to just learn the intricacies that it has to offer. This stupidity paid off as I was able to find myself in a flanking position, with a perfect angle on an enemy pair that was trying to hold together as they were being harried by my teammates. A well-placed rocket ended that stand off, though they soon respawned elsewhere.

The biggest hook to Quake Champions that it has over the classic games comes in the form of differing characters. Each character has a unique ultimate ability, as well as differing starting and maximum health and armor values. While the attack power of the weapons will be the same across the board, these abilities have the potential to help a team break out of a stalemate or just save the skin of the player. I chose Wolfenstein‘s B.J. Blazkowicz for my demo and he comes with the ability to duel wield weapons at a pivotal point. I’ll admit that I used this power selfishly as I got cornered a couple of times during the match. The resulting mess I made of the enemy was totally worth it.

Therein lies the crux of Quake Champion‘s business model. Buying in now grants access to all of the heroes, from original creations to popular id Software icons like Blaskowicz and Doom Guy. There is also a system for cosmetics in play that can be unlocked and gained through additional in-game purchases. Nothing is game breaking, though. A concerted effort is being made to ensure that this is entirely a skill-based shooter, with no dips into any sort of “pay to win” economy.

While buying in early is the only way to play it now, unlocking all of the characters is a tempting perk. id Software is using this Early Access period to engage in serious balancing tweaks, with continual updates to get things perfect. New game modes will also be introduced. Those who want to wait for it to launch in its finished, free-to-play state will be able to download the game at no charge, with only one character open to them until they earn or buy the resources for more. Either way, it’s a fair deal.

Although one match isn’t enough to speak for the balancing, I can say that Quake Champions is a title that I truly want to explore much further. Everything from the visual language of play to just how it feels is spot on. I really want to see some more of those maps and decorate them with the entrails of the poor schlubs that end up in my crosshairs. I want to get a feel for the different powers and how to use and/or counteract them. It looks like id has taken Quake and transported its soul into a modern multiplayer shooter and that deserves some recognition.