Are Quake's weapons weak? 📄 posted at 21 August 2021 on new danboland

Thinking a lot about Quake. One complaint I see quite frequently when people pick up Quake for the first time (yes, Quake actually is a single-player game too, and it absolutely rules) is that Quake’s weapons are quite weedy compared to the Doom 2 arsenal. Specifically, the shotguns.

So let’s put the bowties on and start by doing what nobody ever wants anyone to do – the damned numbers. This part is mostly just a bit of fun, there’s no way to realistically account in numbers for how enemies and weapons are used in the context of maps.

Let’s take a quick mean average of all the monster health values in Quake. I haven’t excluded any enemies except Shub, because none are really huge outliers – the relative ratio of a Shambler’s health to its underlings compared with that of a Cyberdemon is pretty comical1. We end up with ~169 health. Nice.

Doom 2 is a bit tougher – I’ve excluded the special-purpose enemies, the Cyberdemon and Spiderdemon, as well as errata such as the Keens and Icon of Sin. This in mind, we end up with ~314 health.

Now, faced with these theoretical mean health values, we can see how many shots to kill a hypothetical monster with the average health, and calculate an average TTK from there. Doom 2’s weapons have random damage rolls, while Quake’s do not – For Doom 2, I have taken an average of the real damage range, once the game’s PRNG is taken into account.

So it’s a bit of an upset. Both weapons are faster firers and faster killers than their predecessors – perhaps they pay the price in ammo usage, but keep in mind that shells are Quake’s basic ammo type, while they’re the second tier ammo in Doom 2. Running out of shells in Quake generally means there’s an issue with how you’re playing. In any case, the relative power of Quake’s shotguns certainly don’t lag behind Doom 2.

(If you’re curious, TTKs for the rapid-firers: Nailgun is 1.9s, Super Nailgun is 1s, Thunderbolt is 0.6s, Chaingun is 3.65s, Plasma Gun is 1.19s. Comparing these weapons is more difficult because of their different roles and projectile travel times, but at a glance, the numbers make sense.)

Image: A usermap for Quake with a Nine Inch Nails logo. Tight spaces, industrial colour schemes and Nine Inch Nails logos – welcome home. (Foundation for Corruption, Alkaline)

But, as we all know, games are rarely simply numbers bouncing off each other. Sound and animation are pretty crucial in how players perceive and then use weapons. I like everything on our buckshot smorgasbord here, but it’s hardly a secret that people remember and love the sound and animation of Doom 2’s SSG. I’m often left a little confused when I see mods that add more frames to the reload animation – people think this is the finest shotgun in games, perhaps because it has 4 frames of animation, but that’s just my own neuroses, I suppose.

To go a little deeper, I think Doom 2’s random damage spread is doing some work here too. Quake has absolutely no random damage spread, in comparison – personally, I absolutely love this, making the immortal science of shooting hellspawn consistent and breezy. I have been on record across multiple dimensions saying that Doom 2’s random damage was a mistake (at the very least for damage the player is taking! come on!). But certainly in practice, people will remember the SSG more fondly for all the times they absolutely creamed enemies with some good damage rolls. A slower-firing, harder-hitting weapon absolutely helps this, too. I can’t exactly argue with the good vibes that result.

We should also look at the monster behaviours in question. Doom 2’s demons are big, lumbering things. They may only move in cardinals and ordinals, and generally can’t reliably punish the player for getting too close. This in mind, lining up the perfect meatshot is a straightforward, very addictive process that can be done almost at leisure assuming any pressure enemies have been disposed of.

Quake’s monsters on the other hand are much more fluid. None of Doom 2’s monsters can attack and move at the same time2 – but Quake’s melee bruisers eagerly do so, and can easily box in players. It’s a lot harder to line up a perfect SSG blast on a fiend, or (may god help you) a spawn3, and even a handful of knights can put a player in a “kill these guys before you run out of space!” situation. Try this cute clip against a room of knights, fiends or even dogs. No bueno. Players are a lot more pressured to put out damage quickly with basic weapons, so it’s little wonder they feel a little less faith in said weapons.

Image: A fiend from Quake, poised to attack. These guys are not really in the habit of waiting for you to reload a slow-firing, heavy weapon.

Quake’s faster arsenal is also more poised to take advantage of the signature powerup, the Quad Damage. Even the basic shotgun is a wonderful partner-in-crime with it, and the challenge immediately becomes seeing how bloody a swathe you can tear through the map before your stolen power fades. This in mind, powerful but sluggish weapons may not be so ideal.

One additional thing – players rely on Doom 2’s SSG a lot, and easily feel a bit naked without it. Doom 2 has a pretty lethargic weapon switch speed4, and you’re best off having this guy in your hands if something rapidly starts encroaching or needs to be staggered fast. Quake’s weapon switch speed is instant, meaning the player can combo their weapon usage. Use a few shotgun blasts to make your nail supply go further, quickly fire a cheeky rocket or grenade to soften up enemies for the nails and shells, snipe distant foes with the basic shotgun, rapidly respond in a tight spot with the super nailgun and thunderbolt. Quake has 3 or 4 workhorse weapons, all best used together as the situation or ammo supply changes.

Both are fantastic games, but Quake is the more dynamic of the two – enemies control space much more aggressively, particularly melee enemies. Even basic enemies can put the player on the defensive, requiring rapid response with a much faster-firing, faster-switching, more consistent arsenal. This is reflected in even the superweapons - the BFG is effectively an incredibly powerful, far-reaching shotgun for commanding enemies and taking down bosses, and the Thunderbolt is a fast-firing liquifier that gets you out of traps or gets that one enemy out of here right now.

Once you stop expecting Quake to play exactly like Doom 2, I guarantee you will find no shortage of joy in its arsenal. 🚀

  1. We know this intuitively – you, yes you, can take on a Shambler with only an SSG and a bit of cover, no problem. Doing that with Doom 2’s cyberdemon requires almost your entire shell reserves and a long time, assuming the PRNG is even moderately favourable. 

  2. Lost souls can, in a sense. However, they are easily knocked out of this state and left adrift, and their behaviour in close range is a bit eccentric. Quake’s melee enemies don’t stop so easily and will wail on you rapidly until there’s nothing left but the obit. 

  3. Spawns own, by the way. Any enemy that can reliably put the fear of God in even a fully-stacked player and require them to suddenly play very cautiously is a great design tool, and this hilarious trap in episode 4 wouldn’t hit the same way without them. 

  4. To be clear, this slow switch speed is part of the game, and is part of the design that is relied on for many cool fights. I don’t grudge it for a second, though my internal jury’s still out for the weird fire delay on the rocket launcher.