Note: Codes supplied by Bethesda to enable review.
My introduction to online gaming came way back in the year 2000 when I first ventured into a game called Quake III: Arena. In fact, for a long time, most of my PC gaming time was spent on either that or Unreal Tournament. Eventually, my love of FPS games waned somewhat, and bar a few brief excursions, I rarely picked them up again. I certainly didn’t play them online again until starting Overwatch in 2018. If nothing else, the ability to play as different characters where their differences affected the gameplay so heavily intrigued me enough to give it a shot.
As much as I’ve enjoyed said Blizzard title, I’ve always had two issues with it. One was the focus on team games; I’m a fan of old school Deathmatches, and a lot of the time, I find myself wanting that experience. While Deathmatches do exist in Overwatch, it’s an incredibly limited mode in terms of maps. Meanwhile, while Fortnite does feature a hefty non-team mode, I’m not a massive fan of the Last Man Standing set up. The second issue I had was the sheer level of toxicity that comes with team-based games (And boy is it rife in Overwatch).
So, my ideal was for a game that features individual characters with set skills in the way Overwatch and Apex Legends do, but with a Fortnite level support for non-team based Deathmatches, and more old school modes to boot. Oh, and a reduced level of toxic interactions would also be nice. The problem was, nothing had that balance for me. So, with little to keep my interest in the world of online FPS, I thought I was done with the genre for the time being. Then, I found Quake Champions.
First landing in 2018, Bethesda’s revamping of Quake ticks a lot of boxes for me. To give you the basic run-down, you have 16 playable characters, each of which has their own stats and a unique special move. Their main weapon arsenal doesn’t really change between each, as all players start with the same choice of three weapons and then run around the maps picking up other weapons and additional armour as they go. In terms of the range of characters, you’ll see some familiar faces from Quake III: Arena, such as Sorlag and Slash, guests from other games like DOOM Slayer and Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazkowicz, and newcomers like Eisen and Nyx. Looking through each of them, it becomes apparent quite quickly that it’s a good variety in terms of appearance and skills.
There are twelve maps, all of which are suitably different as to make you think about different routes to take. They feature all the expected features too, such as teleporters, air pads to send you up to higher sections, and plenty of platforms to leap across as you frag your opponents. You get to experience the maps across a multitude of game modes too. If you want to go it solo, there are a few options, including classic Deathmatches, one-on-one Duels, and the ever fun Instagib. If you want team play, then Deathmatches and Instagib are joined by modes like Capture The Flag and Slipgate (a variation on the popular Overwatch mode, Assault). That is just snippet of the modes though, and they’ve all been well worth exploring so far.
The game is free-to-play and features a little monetization. The main thing you’ll note is that all players start with only Ranger as a selectable character. The other champions can be purchased separately or by purchasing a Champions Pack, both of which can be done in-game. Failing that, you can earn in-game ‘favor’ by completing daily challenges, and use that to rent characters as and when you choose. The game also features a battle pass system for those that love cosmetics. The cosmetics really are just that too and offer no buffs, so that’s purely optional. Really, the only thing all players will be wanting to do for sure is unlock the characters.
Why is that? Because, even with each player having access to the same weapons, the character you choose does make quite a big difference to how you play. To give you an example, Sorlag has the ability to pick up speed by bunny hopping. Her special ability allows her to spray acid in front of her, not only causing damage to whoever it hits but also creating pools on the floor that will damage those who run through them. On the other hand, Eisen starts with more health than Sorlag but is slower. He has the ability to place a sentry turret that automatically fires at other players, even if he’s at the other end of the map. While the individual abilities aren’t going to stop you (or your opponent) in your tracks every time, they will open up options, and that’s part of the fun. As a bonus, you can also unlock lore files to learn more about each character and the Quake Champions world at large.
In many ways, Quake Champions feels like it’s set up to be a healthy mix of old school arena shooters and their modern equivalents. The natural imbalance between characters allows for a variety of play styles, meaning individual tactics come into play, just as they would in Overwatch or Apex Legends. On the other hand, the team-based games are joined by a robust run of options for those that don’t enjoy team play so much, allowing the old school love of FFA to shine through. Want even more of a mix? The custom games allow you to set up a plethora of options to suit your needs. In that regard, Quake is somehow both nostalgic and fresh at the same time.
The game looks beautiful as well. This is not designed to be a cartoony romp, but rather channels all of the Lovecraftian horror of the original Quake games into a prettier, modern package. Each character is highly distinctive in appearance, and they look great in motion. In much the same way, the maps are at times absolutely stunning. Textures look great, the scenery ranges from genuinely varied general scenery to chained up giant eyeballs and oversized skeletal remains. Visually, it’s certainly on par with any other current member of the genre, and depending on your taste, may well be head and shoulders above them.
The maps also strike a good balance in terms of size, providing a good mix of play areas without ever becoming too big to truly enjoy. One thing that always bugged me with Fortnite was that you could sometimes walk for ages without meeting another player, then get sniped from afar without ever engaging in battle. This is far less likely to happen in Quake Champions, as even the larger maps are sized to keep the action frenetic.
And boy does the gameplay live up to that. The speed of play is almost overwhelming at times, with everyone vying for the same pick-ups and weapons being discharged all over the place. When people have described the game as hardcore, they aren’t joking, especially when it comes to the variations of straight-up deathmatches. Thankfully, the controls are relatively simple, meaning there’s no bloat in what you need to know to get started. All in all, it’s all very easy to pick up and play, but tough to master. To do that, you’ll need to be familiar with as many characters as possible. After all, you don’t just want to be able to play them effectively, you need to understand what ability they may throw at you.
So, with all that praise, is there anything wrong with the game? Well, throwing yourself straight into some of the non-team modes can become daunting pretty quickly. Even as someone who used to be pretty good at the older titles, I’ve found that I struggle at times. In that regard, the learning curve for surviving in some modes is quite steep. I’ve experienced far less toxicity in Quake Champions so far than I have in other games, but it is still present. Bethesda does have options for you to report this both during and after a game – providing you get the player’s name – so it’s not insurmountable.
The only real gameplay altering issue I’ve had has been some inconsistent lag. It’s not every game, but I have found sometimes that I can have anywhere from fifteen seconds to a full minute where I essentially can’t move due to the lag. With how fast-paced everything is, it does start you off on the back foot, and that can be a bit frustrating. I do expect this to improve over time though as I know that Bethesda are working hard to eradicate problems like this. Besides, I’d imagine that, if the game continues to grow, then Bethesda will be making the servers more and more robust as they go.
The question is, will it be able to grow? As it stands, I would say yes. The player base may not be as large as the most popular titles in the genre yet, but it is very active. As it stands, I’ve not had to wait too long to find a match as yet, which is definitely a good sign. Bethesda’s long term plan is also to increase the amount of content included in the game as they go. Thus far, that has meant adding more characters, maps and play modes, so my guess is that there will be even more to come. On top of that, they also plan to run tournaments throughout the year. The big one is the current season of the Quake Pro League, which started at this year’s Quake Con and will run all the way through to next year’s event. That particular tournament features a good mix of experienced and new players too, which certainly points to growth for the title in the eSports scene. Given the pedigree of the series, I’m really happy to see that.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time with Quake Champions. It’s a fine choice for those that remember the dawn of online FPS games and want a nostalgic kick but is equally suitable for fans of the modern landscape. With a large selection of varied characters, a fist-pumping soundtrack (courtesy of Brutal Doom composer Andrew Hulshult), and some darkly beautiful visuals, it deserves to be far more celebrated than it is. If nothing else, dipping your toe in the water with Ranger will give you a good taster of what to expect, and from there, buying into the full list of characters is cheaper than most games cost these days. I look forward to seeing where Bethesda take the title and highly recommend you give it a look in if you’re a fan of the genre, old or new.