Quake Champions is an upcoming free to play arena shooter that revives the beloved franchise. It is currently running a closed beta. It’s bloody and fun in short bursts but it is also amazingly frustrating.
I wanted to enjoy my time with Quake Champions. Old school shooters formed a cornerstone of my time as a young gamer. Bloody arenas full of shotguns and rocket launchers are remarkably pure distillation of games during the 90s and early 2000s. I’ve yet to encounter a weapon better than Unreal Tournament 2004's flak cannon. I welcomed a return to those halcyon days filled with tense arena battles.
Quake Champions frustrates as much as it entertains. The core gameplay is a captivating bullet ballet. Movement is amazing. (Even if I should remember to jump more.) Players dart around at intense speed, picking up lightning guns and rail cannons that make for nasty kills. The coveted Quad Damage power up can lead to stunning kill streaks. Unfortunately, this is undercut by a pretty terrible user experience. It takes an excessive amount of time to find a match and even when you connect, teams can be lopsided in terms of numbers and player skill.
The end result is chaos. Which would be fitting for Quake if not for the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to have meaningful or interesting gun battles when everything devolves a bunch of speedy space marines running around like shotgun toting chickens with their heads cut off. What starts as dynamic often devolves into something far too messy. Yeah, it’s only a beta right now and things might improve but at the moment, Quake Champions is a exhausting whirlwind that feels pretty random. Even by series standards.
In theory, the “champions” part of the game is supposed to fix these sorts of problems. Players can select from a series of hero characters much like they would in a MOBA or character shooter like Overwatch. Each has unique active and passive abilities. I settled for Visor, a middle of the road champion with an activated ability that let me temporarily see through walls. It led to some creative rocket shots but didn’t significantly alter play enough to feel exciting.
Quake Champions dangles characters in front of you in the hopes that you’ll purchase your favorite champions. You start with the basic marine character Ranger but can effectively rent out a hero of choice by spending in renown earned in game. You’ll have to buy platinum with real money in order to permanently unlock your favorites or get really lucky with loot crates. It’s neat in theory, but none of the characters are particularly interesting and their powers fail to dazzle.
In the end, Quake Champions looks to succeed on the strength of its core gameplay. The main issue rests with ensuring the overall experience remains balanced. For now, lackluster matchmaking and haphazard play don’t instill a lot of confidence. It can be fun but only for a while. Prepare for some cool frags with an equal amount of frustration.