Let’s get this out of the way; the Axe is a garbage weapon. Much like the Doom fist and the Wolfenstein knife before it, there are barely any reasons to bother with melee over the many ranged options. (In all honesty, your starting gun doesn’t fare much better. id’s design philosophy relies heavily on loadout variety, crafting weapons to serve different purposes, and the beginner weapons are always left by the wayside.) It’s so bad that it got removed completely in Quake II.
However, due to Quake’s many gameplay elements, there are situational occasions where you might conceivably pull out the Axe. And just for fun, I thought we could go over them now!
1. Push buttons.
I’m sure most of you saw this one coming. The most famous use for the Axe is to hit switches/levers/buttons and save a bullet. If you followed this entire list, 95% of your Axe usage would still be this.
2. Alert unaware enemies without using ammo.
Quake monsters work just like their predecessors in Wolfenstein 3D and Doom: they start off unaware of the player until they see you or hear a weapon fired. If you wanted to alert the monster without wasting a bullet (perhaps it’s blocking an exit), the Axe works just as well as any other weapon. This is mostly used by speedrunners, but then again, speedrunners likely don’t care about conserving ammo, so…
3. Desecrate altars.
Unholy altars are a map mechanic in E4M6 (The Pain Maze). The player’s goal is to defile both of them in order to unlock access to the Elder World’s inner sanctum. While they’ll be heavily guarded by high-level enemies, the altars themselves cannot fight back so you might as well whack them with the pointy end. And ultimately, what better way to defile something than to destroy it with the worst weapon in the game?
4. Kill a Shambler for an achievement.
When Quake recieved Steam achievements in 2021, one of them (“A Close Shave”) requires killing a Shambler with your Axe. This is, to put it lightly, no easy feat. I earned it on E4M2 (The Tower of Despair), when you jump into fake water and plummet into a Shambler pit. If you grab the Pentagram of Protection behind you, you can soften it up with your heavy-hitters and then finish it off with your Axe.
5. Gibbing zombies in Honey.
Honey is a free addon, originally created by Christian Grawert in 2012 and officially added to the Steam version of Quake about a month ago. It’s a wonderful little two-map experience that I highly recommend every Quake player try out. It stays very close to the original formula but with great architectural design and a very vertical, fast-paced experience. The only gameplay change is that you can use the Axe to dismember zombies, a resurrecting enemy who normally require explosives to stay down completely. This is honestly a great inclusion and I wish the original Quake had allowed you to do this. It gives the Axe a combat identity while not stepping on any other weapon’s toes.
Bonus #6. Fight gremlins safely.
Last but not least, the first expansion pack Scourge of Armagon included several interesting new monsters, including the gremlin. These speedy little buggers can steal your weapon and use it against you, which is a death sentence with your most-powerful ordnance. But the humble Axe and shotgun are immune to being poached, making them (for once) your best options. That being said, this DLC also includes Mjolnir, a much better melee weapon you’ll collect the very next level after gremlins are introduced, so their honeymoon phase doesn’t last long.
Again, this is a very tongue-in-cheek article. I do honestly wish the Axe weren’t so useless, but it’s simply a byproduct of its time. If I could do anything to make the Axe useful, it’d be the aforementioned gibbing mechanic from Honey. But for now, we’ve just got to settle for the niche cases in this article!