QuakeCon 2016 – A Time for Champions

While Doom is racking up demon skulls, it's not alone in its return to the big-time. id Software finally busts the lid off their new title Quake: Champions with a full gameplay trailer!

In the waning days of the 1990's, id Software released Quake, which is generally accepted as the first great 3D first-person shooter. Despite its extreme age, the game maintains a thriving community of fans and has an enduring legacy in the form of the many titles from all over the genre that went on to emulate it. Featuring a bare-bones story with loose ties to Lovecraft as well as blazing-fast multiplayer combat, Quake was unlike anything anyone had ever seen upon its release. It was an astounding achievement, but even then, few could've predicted how high the franchise would rise. Three years later, Quake III: Arena became the gold standard for competitive high-speed multiplayer in shooters, its popularity equaled only by the original Unreal Tournament at its release. Now, two decades later, the gore-soaked success of the new Doom propelling them forwards, Bethesda and id Software have combined forces once more to return the king of Deathmatch to its rightful throne. At E3 2016, they unveiled Quake: Champions, a brave new vision for the series that combined elements of the first and third games as well as more modern ideas, all in an effort to recapture the glory of the franchise's origins.

Of course, things never go as smoothly as hoped, especially when they're as big as this. For years, id Software has hinted at the fact that they were dying to make another Quake. Unfortunately, the questionable success of Quake 4 left the series in limbo, while id's acquisition by ZeniMax Media, Bethesda's parent company, further pushed out any dreams the franchise's creators might have of continuing it. Now, with the cat out of the bag, many fans have voiced complaints about the chosen path the new title appears to be taking. An interview with Tim Willits, director of id Software, has revealed that despite any initial assumptions or fears, Champions is not a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) like League of Legends or DOTA 2. However, it does seem to share characteristics with Blizzard's new title Overwatch, a fact which caused a fresh wave of displeasure in itself. Among other things, the interview discussed how the roster of playable characters will have unique features, as well as one unique ability tied to them. I cannot count the number of angry Youtube comments I saw frothing at the mouth about how Visor (seen at the end of the teaser and generally accepted as one of Quake's chief mascots) now had the power to temporarily see through walls. I also cannot count how many expressed they felt this, among other things was a sign of a betrayal of Quake's identity and the spirit of high-octane and skill-based gaming it represented.

This whole scenario has given me flashbacks to the original announcement of the latest Doom and the reaction of id's fanbase to that effort to teach an old dog new tricks. People back then were angry at the introduction of 'glory kills', timed execution moves that they felt would slow down what should've been a game that felt like the charge of the Spartans in Zach Snyder's 300, except set on fast-forward instead of slow-motion. Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth however (or possibly because of it), Doom has become a massive commercial and critical success. I can't help but wonder if we're setting ourselves up for a repeat of history. It'd be nice to think so. Tim Willits has since stated that the game will ship with a mode that disables player powers for those purists that want the 'true' Quake experience, so perhaps it's not all simply entitled whining (though given the tone of those Youtube comments its not hard to see how it could be mistaken as such).

The footage of Champions that debuted at QuakeCon seems to show the game is combining elements of the first and third installments of the franchise. Many of the wild and creative characters of Arena, such as Anarki, a hover-boarding cyberpunk nightmare with stitched lips, have returned, while also being joined by new faces, such such as Scalebearer, a hulking brute whose special power is to charge his enemy like a freight train and plow through them with roughly the same effect. At the same time, the heavy satanic imagery of Arena has largely been eschewed in favor of bizarre alien environments similar to those of the first game, complete with Lovecraftian themes. I have to say, I love their choice of set pieces. Between the giant eyeball and the enormous dead bug…thing, it certainly does a lot to lend the environment atmosphere. Experienced fans will also spot returning venues with refurbished looks. The aforementioned insect was positioned atop a pillar that looks a good deal like the infamous Campgrounds map from Quake III. All in all, it combines with the action to make a powerful impression, which hopefully is reflective of the quality of the final product.

Quake: Champions is another effort by an old company to refresh the glory of yesteryear, something that seems to be happening an awful lot lately, and not just in the video game market. I have high hopes for this one, having been a fan of Arena back in the day. The word is that it will only be released for PC, a sad loss for consoles, but hopefully not something that is not beyond being subject to change. Here's to the king! LONG MAY HE REIGN!

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