Quake Champions is a game that certainly happened. It’s received numerous updates for over three years now to acknowledge that it does, in fact, exist. Despite being essentially forgotten by the internet, the game has a devoted community, churning along at its own pace. That’s remarkable given how many other hero shooter games have tried and failed to survive in a market dominated by Overwatch and Paladins, especially an M-rated title based on an IP that’s not nearly as well known now as it once was. So, when they gave away all the champions for free for this year’s QuakeCon, I finally dove in.
And you know what? Quake Champions might just be one of the smartest FPS games in years. Messy, with some obvious growing pains, but still an experience many competitive games could stand to learn from.
The thing that strikes you first is how oddly polite everyone is. Despite however grizzled its main cast may be, Quake Champions has established an air of respectful dueling. After hours of rocket jumping and gibbing aplenty, I felt more relaxed than tense. Your blood gets pumping, dashing between rocket volleys and laser beams, but you never feel in danger or like you’re really fighting someone. Instead, your brain’s analyzing each opponent’s strategy and accounting for their respective champion’s unique attributes.
Quake Champions works like chess more than anything else. There’s no progression system, weapon mods, or anything outside of the game modes that alters your in-game performance. Every weapon is reliable, with consistent placement across maps and modes. While each character has stats and ultimate abilities — like casting a healing field that explodes on enemies or briefly revealing enemy outlines on your HUD — none of them are overpowered like a Call of Duty killstreak. Instead, even those distinctive wrinkles are just there to give you a brief edge in a pinch — skill and earned knowledge are what differentiates an average Quaker from a rocket-blasting master of mayhem.
In many ways, it evokes the sort of varied, memorable duels in a round of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. Everything’s over the top, but never so noisy that you can’t focus precisely on the key details. The controls are instantly familiar to any arena shooter fan, but the speed and flexibility allow you to pull off moves a more traditional game would try to stop. Pulling off tricks like spinning around mid-leap isn’t simply exhilarating — it’s damn near necessary at points. While practice mode’s bots put up a challenge, I’ve bumped into players who’ve been bunny-hopping through Quake since the beginning, and it shows.
Except, as I said, you never feel punished for not being a great player. Not only do medals and stats in practice count towards unlocking new cosmetics at the same rate as traditional competitive play, but there are modes built for new players. Team-focused matches in Sacrifice and CTF are tailor-made for those who are better off playing defensively as they get to grips with Quake Champions’ combat. If you’re tired of hunting for ammo and dealing with characters having unique stats, there’s a rockets-only mode where every shot landed is an insta-gib, letting you blow off steam without any of the fluff.
This all ties together that fighting game sensibility. Rather than locking players off or ruthlessly punishing them, there’s content to get your feet wet. It’s not about mastering an infinitely elaborate system, but instead learning how to harness a consistent rule set. Once you’ve mastered hopping around, swapping weapons, and knowing the strengths of your arsenal, the rest comes naturally.
For instance: I’m a huge arena FPS fan, so I knew from the get-go how to handle the basics, and everything else clicked effortlessly. I will say that a few characters’ traits, like Scalebearer’s charge ability and the Death Knight’s scorched earth attack, did leave me scratching my head for a minute, but some brief experimentation helped me figure out natural counters. Not to mention Quake Champions has both text and video tutorials that are brief and to the point. There are no drawn-out explanations, nor any sort of tedious handholding. Quake Champions respects that you’re capable and observant enough to approach things at your own pace as you figure out its nuances.
That freedom to explore and actually play it your way extends throughout the experience. Cosmetics for characters are extremely easy to acquire through earned currency, never locked off by leveling requirements. Plus, you can customize what modes matchmaking will search for, widening and narrowing the net of potential games by what you want while not locking you into a single mode of play. Every multiplayer game with multiple modes should have this system, and it’s a bloody shame so few do.
Really all Quake Champions needs at this point is mod support and more players engaging with it. It’s evolved so far beyond a simple free-to-play experience. Quake Champions begs, nay, demands to be played by anyone with an inclination towards the genre or competitive multiplayer.