Quake Champions: the eternal beta
So we’re 4 months in, Bethesda is hosting tournaments, and the game isn’t even close to release yet. Neat.
I actually forgot Quake Champions existed for a while. A new beta cycle just started; according to Reddit, the game is the best it’s ever been, but the game is absolute garbage, and the netcode got better, but the netcode actually got worse…
Anyway, that’s my excuse for giving this slow-motion train wreck another try. I haven’t been watching patch notes super closely, so I won’t cover every change, but here’s everything that jumped out to me.
Performance is still mediocre, but it’s consistently mediocre now. There are still hitches, but they’re short stutters every few minutes, instead of hard stalls every 30 seconds. The CPU load nearly pins my i7 4790, which is really confusing, but at least I can get near 144hz on Low settings now.
In this wave of the beta, all champions are unlocked by default. More freedom, fewer games with 7 Rangers and 1 Nyx. File this one under “what the fuck took you so long.”
The new announcer, which is actually the old announcer from the earliest stages of beta, is a huge improvement. It’s not super high-energy, but there’s a sleek edge to it that makes medal callouts feel satisfying.
Rocket delay is unnoticable now. The Super Nailgun also got a hefty damage increase, making it feel a little less like garbage.
The animation on Anarki’s active ability can now be cancelled, letting you fire much quicker than usual. The extra versatility makes it feel less like an escape option, and more like a dueling tool. About to die? Just kidding, run up at lightspeed and Gauntlet someone while suddenly at full health. Scumfuckery. It’s fun.
Speaking of Anarki scumfuckery, the multi-hit Gauntlet bug is fixed, so you can’t randomly get oneshot with full stack. Melee exchanges feel a lot more consistent now, though it feels kinda bad to hit Sorlag twice with melee and watch her turn around and spit on you.
Sacrifice and Duel are still sort of garbage. They’re straight-up regressions from game modes we’ve had for years, adding complexity and cruft without adding any fun. Sacrifice in particular got some UI tweaks, but it doesn’t save the format—and even if you like it, you’re probably not going to find games.
The Super Nailgun buffs are big, but leading with it is still a huge pain. The projectiles are practically invisible, so you have to adjust your timing based on blind feel. It gets easier with time and practice, but learning to use plasma was never this hard.
The Tribolt is a new weapon taking the place of the Grenade Launcher. It feels like you’re firing damp towels out of a potato gun. The explosions have no impact, the sound effects are muffled and quiet, and the projectiles are so small that they’re awkward to lead. It fills the niche of a medium-strength area denial weapon, but it’s so unimpressive that it actually makes me miss the GL.
Bonus damage on zoomed rails is still a thing. It’s got a brand new UI and sound effect and everything, so apparently they’re committed to keeping this in, even though it has never been fun and everyone who cares about it wants it gone.
While the netcode is generally better, it has a new set of problems. Hitboxes feel a little wacky on smaller champions, and rocket splash damage is wildly inconsistent. Delayed damage registration can create weird situations (I’ve been seemingly oneshot with LG more than once), it’s possible to eat melee even while backpedaling at equal speed, and player collisions are basically a dice roll. Oh, and your client sends one packet per frame, so if your FPS is too high, it chokes your connection. What the fuck.
The new map, Lockbox, is plagued with some bizzare performance problems, and the quad area is designed like a death funnel. It slows play down and kinda feels like shit, though the rest of the map is solid and fun to move around in.
The health container system still exists, it’s still awful, and I’m still disproportionately upset about it. Health and armor pickups automatically round to the nearest multiple of 25, so you can get anywhere from 13 to 37 health from a single item, and it’s effectively random. I’m actually sort of impressed that neo-id managed to fuck up something as simple as health pickups.
Finally: despite mass complaints, Bethesda insists on using a bloated launcher instead of just putting the game on Steam. If you’re going to play this, grab QCLauncher and only use Bethesda’s downloader to update. This game already performs weirdly, you’ll need all the power you can get.
I spent a lot of time trying to gather my thoughts on this wave of the beta. Despite my gripes, things have been better. There are still plenty of design problems, but the few technical fixes count for a lot. The end result is recognizably Quake, and despite an awful first impression, I actually had some fun. But after 4 months of beta, the game is nowhere near ready for release. It’s certainly not ready for Bethesda’s bizzare, mistimed marketing tournaments. And judging by what we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure it’s going to get there.
Quake Champions is this bizarre, half-baked chimera of Quake history and design-by-committee, filled with classic characters and loot-box cosmetics. The game is a hacked-together mix of in-house tech and Saber3D, a third-party engine from a team mostly responsible for Halo ports. And everyone who actually wants to play a hero shooter is already playing Overwatch.
Gut instinct tells me that this is going to be released in a broken state, enjoy a few months of hesitant popularity, and fall off the radar, never to return. I’ve been wrong before, though—and hey, if the game keeps moving in the right direction, maybe it’ll end up a worthy sequel. Just give it a few decades.