Why Isn’t Quake Champions More Popular?

Id Software’s Quake revival is better than you think

I am going to preface this article by saying I never played the original Quake games. Perhaps this makes the least appropriate person to be commenting on the current state of Quake Champions. Yet, this distance hopefully enables me to cast a more critical eye on the franchise’s revival, especially how it fits into the current shooter scene.

Quake Champions revives the mostly-dormant arena shooter genre, one that’s been out of vogue now for around a decade. Replaced by popularity for military shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, the sudden revival of the Quake franchise last year probably surprised many, and had others scratching their heads.

Quake Champions is an arena hero shooter. It takes the tried and true format of its predecessors and melds it with the ever-present hero system present in games like Overwatch and MOBAs like DOTA 2 and League of Legends. Luckily, Quake Champions doesn’t force you to play a particular style based on what champion you select. The core gameplay is still fast, twitchy and kinetic. While, each champion does have a special ability that recharges in game, these abilities are far from overpowered (except for a few cases) and don’t feel out of place.

Perhaps it’s my lack of exposure to previous Quake titles, but when I launched into my first game online, the presence of the different heroes felt right at home to me. It didn’t feel derivative of games like Overwatch which can feel unbalanced and frustrating depending on the current state of the meta. Luckily, Quake Champions doesn’t really possess a meta. Each character’s ability feels properly balanced and implemented.

The different maps are small and enclosed, and foster a huge amount of verticality. So be warned: if you’re expecting to be good at this game straight away, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed. Movement and shooting are the two core mechanics at play, easy to perfect, incredibly hard to master. It’s really refreshing playing a game with the visceral action of Call of Duty with the longer time-to-kill that is reminiscent of the Halo franchise and other shooters.

At the core of why this game is so great is one simple fact: it’s fun. Even though I absolutely suck at it, flying around each map and launching countless rockets is gleeful. The way it stomps on you from day one only drives you to play just one more game, to get one more kill. Rage-quitting isn’t even an option because you respawn so quickly that you have to dive straight back into the action.

Yet, Quake Champions isn’t exactly thriving in the way that I think it should be. It’s currently in Early Access on Steam, and since July has averaged over 2,000 concurrent players daily. It may seem like a lot, but is minuscule when compared to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds hitting a million concurrent players daily, with CS: GO and DOTA 2 not far behind. When you launch the game, it can sometimes take a few minutes to find a game, and this sometimes results in an unbalanced match, where one team simply dominates the other.

A lot of the problem starts with learning curve. Quake Champions can be brutal early on. Many players might not be old enough (like me) to have really experienced the previous iterations of arena shooters. Nuanced movements like strafing and bunny hopping might also be hard to wrap your head around, only compounded by the various jump pads and teleporters that are in each map. Another problem is Quake Champions’ confusing price point. It was initially $30 USD on Steam, but has since gone free-to-play. However, those who buy the $30 edition unlock all the champions.

In many ways, Quake Champions is the perfect antithesis to the current storm of battle royale games. It conditions you to be used to player death, and to seek out action. It is never filled with a dull moment, let alone a dull game. In the time it might take to get halfway through a game of PUBG, you’ve probably already finished three matches of Quake. And it really is encouraging to play a game where the stakes are unimportant. All that is important is each gunfight, and who wins and who loses.

Id Software and Bethesda could make several moves to make Quake Champions more accessible to players. First, a more in depth tutorial section, other than just the basic mechanics of aiming and shooting, would help newcomers feel more at ease, and start to be exposed to the nuanced movements required for success.

Second, more exposure is needed for the game to penetrate the market. There is clearly a vacuum in the market for arena shooters, and the non-stop action has plenty of esports potential if developed in the right way. Third, the game needs to simplify and streamline its menu. Often it feels like a freemium mobile game, with different alerts for daily challenges, prizes and lootbox related things appearing on the screen. These kind of distractions detract from Quake’s strength, its chaos.

Minimising this kind of visual clutter would be the first step in helping to make Quake Champions more popular. I believe with a bit of work and some love it could become a really strong and popular title. Until then, it is still definitely worth the free download, and I wouldn’t worry about buying the $30 edition until you’ve tried out the game.

Hopefully Quake Champions can go from strength to strength, as it has a lot of potential to help revive the arena shooter genre.