Quake Champions is what Doom's multiplayer should have been when it launched last year. id Software outsourced that portion of the game, and when it shipped in May, universal acclaim was heaped on the campaign, but the reception enjoyed by the multiplayer paled in comparison. After just a few hours with Quake Champions, it becomes clear why we were all so lukewarm about Doom's competitive aspect; id makes exceptional shooters, the Doom-ball was dropped at launch, and the studio is capable of so much more.
It looks like it'll be a different story when Quake Champions launches later this year as a free-to-play PC-only arena shooter, and the game is already looking and feeling great. It's fast, it's gritty, it's violent, and it's a hell of a lot of fun. This is Overwatch for twisted adults, where individual hero characters - champions - square off in gothic arenas, and where blood and guts are in plentiful supply thanks to a violence-inducing array of hefty weapons.
This latest closed beta weekend featured a new mode, called Duel, whereby players pick three heroes and then go into battle against another trio. When one character dies another spawns in and carries on the fight. We got smashed by a Quake pro (at the moment it's mostly journos and pro players testing the game, which as you can imagine never ends well for the journos who are largely lambs to the slaughter), but the mode works fine and it encourages thoughtful team composition. For example, rolling with someone like Visor might give you a tactical advantage early on, or alternatively, players might prefer to go with defensive solidity at the start, before switching to someone with a bit more agility for second and third picks.
Beyond that, we sampled a bit of Deathmatch (it didn't end well) and a few rounds of Team Deathmatch (which we had a lot more fun with), and throughout our time with the closed beta, even when we were getting blown away by skilled competitors, we had a good time thanks to weighty controls, kinetic gunplay, and fast-paced action. The three arenas where the action took place - Burial Chamber, Blood Covenant, and Ruins of Sarnath - all look fantastic, and each one is packed with detail and interesting terrain. Perhaps some hardcore players, those who prize performance over pretty design (pretty is definitely not the right word, but you get the point), would argue that there's simply no need for the number of particle effects and whatnot that adorn each map, but you couldn't possibly argue against the fact that this new Quake looks incredible.
The quality visuals extend to the cast of characters, each of whom looks and, most importantly, feels unique. This is thanks to differing stats for each character and special powers that offer unique options in the heat of battle. There were eight in the beta, and we sampled most of them at least once. Sorlag comes packing naturally-thick armour and spits acid; Visor can see through walls for a tactical advantage; Ranger is about as run-of-the-mill as you're imagining he is, but he's a solid first pick; the robotic Clutch might be slow but it has a massive (albeit temporary) shield; Anarki pootles around at speed on a hoverboard and heals himself; Nyx is a bit squishy but can phase in and out of reality and surprise opponents; Slash leaves an explosive trial of destruction in her wake that acts as a trap for pursuing foes; Galena can heal friends and damage enemies with her special power; and the our favourite was probably Scalebearer, who uses his Bull Rush ability to charge headfirst into his opponents at deadly speed.
The combination of abilities makes for interesting matches, and you're constantly evaluating the battlefield based on what you can see happening around you. We'd be interested to see how the dynamic in team-based matches would change if teams were limited to one of each character, but at this stage that's a question mark, not a criticism. As it stands, each character picks one of three basic starter weapons, and thereafter it's a race to the point on the map where your favourite gun will appear. id keeps the action intense because the respawn time on weapons is really quick, and you never have to wait long on a railgun or rocket launcher (alas, there's no grenade launcher as far as we can tell), and as such, it doesn't take long before players are well-armed and seeking out weaknesses in the enemy line.
It's still early days, but the initial signs are extremely promising, and as a wider range of the titular champions is introduced, we can only imagine our own enjoyment of it increasing. The pacing is fast, the action tight (though some of the hitboxes could be a touch tighter), and the overall design is eye-catching to say the least. It looks like we've a while to go before Quake Champions leaves beta, but having played over the weekend, we're happy to report that it's shaping up rather nicely indeed.