Disclaimer: the Quake Champions closed beta test is under NDA and “sharing of game content” isn’t permitted outside of the beta forums. Instead, enjoy some stills from the 2016 trailer!
I’m hardly what you could call a Quake veteran. I had limited exposure to a shareware demo of the first game – by the time the second one was out I was more interested in console gaming. I played a lot of Q3 but I never considered myself that good. All that said, I still appreciate the dynamic of Quake – weapons are easy to understand, maps are designed so that you always have something to move towards, and nothing slows down your momentum. It’s why I admired Quake III Arena so much – weapons weren’t as dynamic as those in Unreal Tournament but they all served a specific purpose; meanwhile, ladders and lifts were replaced with accelerator and bounce pads, and the movement was so responsive that you could make a sharp 180 degree turn with a deft flick of the wrist. Since then I’ve vaguely followed developments in the series, despite the disappointments along the way (Quake IV felt a bit too shallow and forgettable, whilst Enemy Territory: Quake Wars had some great ideas, but by the time it emerged I had moved on to other things.) It’s why I signed up for the closed Quake Champions beta, and why I’ve spent evenings in player queues waiting for a brief bit of classic Quake action.
The Quake Champions beta is familiar but new
You see, the spirit of Quake deathmatch hasn’t been forgotten – the gameplay of the Quake Champions beta feels like a bit of a throwback compared to the likes of Destiny and The Division, but maybe that’s the point. Whilst there is experience, collectibles and loot in the Quake Champions beta, the MO of the game seems to promote putting a gun in your hand and letting you loose. The movement speed is still fast, the turn speed still reacts well to your mouse flicks – the game even keeps the “dink” sound from Quake III Arena, telling you when your long-distance machine gun spray is hitting the target that you’re chasing. In an industry so keen to reimagine and reboot its classic franchises, the Quake Champions beta respects its lineage whilst also trying to move with the times via hero-based gameplay and loot collecting.
The heroes of the Quake Champions beta
The titular champions each have character designs typical of Quake 3 and 4, and the abilities can range from the mundane to the exotic – there’s one ability that places a big barrier in front of the champion (which seems more suited to team objectives than straight free-for-alls), another champion gobs acid at foes (a strategy that didn’t work too well for me when I waded in to a room full of rocket launcher-toting opponents), one of the characters will charge at foes like a bull, there’s a champion that specialises in healing, and it goes on. I didn’t really notice any trends or favourites being picked in the games that I played, although play in the Quake Champions beta moves so quickly and there are guns and power-ups littered around the arenas. Perhaps the perception of a character being over-powered is a little harder to get behind when the game throws so many options at players – at the same time, the selectable champions allow players to adapt to the match if they find that a particular style of gameplay isn’t working out for them. One character has an ability that lets them see through walls (with players appearing as coloured outlines), allowing the player to quickly prepare a suitable ambush; the healer character can make a quick retreat, allowing the player to patch themselves up and deny opponents an easy kill. I’m sure that most characters in the Quake Champions beta will have an equivalent in more established “hero” games, but the diversity and balance in the game’s roster still seems solid.
Added extras in the Quake Champions beta
Outside of the main gameplay, the Quake Champions beta allows you to customise the appearance of your champions, open loot boxes, browse the store (where presumably you would use the free-to-play currency to buy champions and loot boxes in the final game) and also look at other convenient community features – Quake Champions will allow you to keep an in-game friends list of your favourite regular players, notifications of news and updates are easily accessible, and there’s a small pop-up chat window that you can activate whilst you’re in the menus and waiting for the next game to be arranged. It’s a bit hard to judge these bells and whistles in a beta environment, but it’s reassuring to think that the final game will have a convenient feature set outside of the core gameplay.
Is the Quake Champions beta a successful preview?
Whilst the game still feels like Quake and the champions are easy to pick up, one of the main concerns I had whilst playing the Quake Champions beta was that the game modes seemed at odds with the hero gameplay it was trying to promote. During the recent re-opening of the closed beta I played some free-for-all deathmatch and team deathmatch, and the full range of champions was selectable (compared to a previous beta period where champions were locked for people who didn’t grind out the free-to-play credits). I enjoyed checking out each of the super abilities of the champions, but in the context of an arena shooter the abilities felt like this natty party piece. Overwatch seems a bit keener to promote the team synergy – it will tell you if your team is lacking heroes of a specific class, the objectives are built around everyone in the team moving forward together towards a common goal, and the maps clearly establish particular routes for players to go down. Maybe it’s just my Quake inexperience talking, but I don’t know if the final game will successfully deliver maps and objectives that suit the champion abilities and fast-paced gameplay, without those various components feeling at odds with each other. Of course, this is all speculation from a limited beta of a game that’s not out yet, and I’m looking forward to playing more of the game and getting the most out of this hybrid gameplay. (Or not – the roars from my PC fan make me think that a hardware upgrade might be in order first…)