Doom Eternal Review – Ripping and Tearing at its Finest
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Google Stadia, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software
After a long and tumultuous development process, the game that ended up becoming Doom 2016 took the gaming world by storm. Thrusting the legendary franchise into the modern era, the team at id Software was able to craft an exceptional, adrenaline-fueled first-person shooter tour de force by taking what made the original Doom so memorable and incorporating just enough elements of modern gaming to make it feel fresh and new. No regenerating health, no reloading, unforgiving difficulty, and the constant pressure to keep moving forward at all times, Doom 2016 is a masterpiece of modern gaming.
When word of a sequel came about, as excited as everyone was to return to the world of the Doom Slayer, on a scorched Earth overrun by demons no less, one had to wonder what the team at id could do to improve on their previous title. You can only make a game go so fast and be so aggressive before it becomes just frustrating. Doom Eternal’s answer was surprisingly simple. Improve on the concept of “Combat Chess” introduced in the original while giving players more options and more freedom to rip and tear as they saw fit. The end result, while hampered by a few questionable design decisions, is one of the best shooters ever made. Even if it takes a few stumbles at the starting line before it air dashes to the finish.
In Doom 2016 “Combat Chess” was the development team’s code for strategic FPS encounters. Rushing into battle without thinking would result in a quick death and this forced players to be strategic in how they encountered each group of enemies in their way. Doom Eternal expands on this by adding four different elements together to create a wheel of combat options. The chainsaw returns from Doom 2016 but it plays a far more critical role in Eternal. The game puts a much greater emphasis on resource management, as your weapons hold a much more limited amount of ammo than they did in 2016. But players are given a way to remedy this via the chainsaw. Just like in 2016, when you use the chainsaw on an enemy they will explode into a confetti pile of ammo drops. But unlike in 2016, your chainsaw will regenerate one pip over time, meaning you will almost always be able to chainsaw a grunt for extra ammo. Which you will HAVE to do to survive in Eternal. Any extra pips to chainsaw stronger enemies will need to be found in-game through gasoline canister pickups.
Another new mechanic in Eternal is the Flamethrower. By pressing a dedicated button, you can light a group of enemies on fire, which will then drop armor refills. Kill a group of enemies on fire and they will explode into shards of armor for you to pick up. Glory kills still refill health as before, but they also fill up the meter on the final piece of your combat chessboard, the Blood Punch. The Blood Punch is a melee attack that can eliminate a wave of enemies all at once, or do heavy damage to, or even instantly kill, certain stronger enemies like the Pinky demon. So, in total, the chainsaw refills ammo, the flamethrower refills armor, and glory kills refill health and the Blood Punch. This cycle of resource management lets players approach each combat arena strategically and forces you to think about how to eliminate your enemies one by one, which makes combat much more dynamic and forces you to switch weapons and think on your feet. Grenades are also affixed to a dedicated button now and recharge just like chainsaw pips. This makes them far more useful than they were in 2016, and there is also a new ice grenade that can freeze enemies in their tracks.
Doom has always been a series focused on movement, with the player constantly moving forward like a blood-hungry shark. Because if you weren’t moving, you were dying. Eternal cranks this up even more by adding air dashes. In the early portion of the game, you will acquire the ability to air dash up to twice. So now, in addition to moving back and forth on the ground, you can now rocket across the stage in the air to get closer to enemies, or strategically retreat. This adds another new and dynamic layer to combat. Then later in the game, you will obtain the super shotgun, which has a meathook accessory that lets you slingshot towards your opponent to deliver a faceful of buckshot. Making the Doom Slayer feel more akin to the main character of a character action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta.
The plethora of upgrades you can unlock is also staggering. Sentinel crystals let you raise your maximum health, armor, or ammo capacity. Weapon upgrades let you unlock alternate fire modes for each weapon, and you can improve their utility even further with weapon upgrade points. You can even upgrade your static abilities like how fast you climb up ledges and how fast your air dashes refill. Then, the cherry on top of all of that, are the runes. Found throughout levels, you can equip up to 3 runes at a time that can dramatically change how you play. From increasing the range or speed you can glory kill, to slowing down time temporarily while in mid-air, or even being able to survive a deathblow with one health point left to make a last stand (literally “too angry to die” being incorporated as a gameplay mechanic), your rune loadout can be customized to fit exactly how YOU play Doom Eternal.
Then the Slayer’s base of operations, a floating space station dubbed the “Fortress of Doom”, has even more unlockables to obtain like new skins, more upgrades, and it even houses a practice arena dubbed the “Ripatorium” where you can practice demon killing to your heart’s content without wasting your actual in-game resources. Which is a very nice addition. All of the in-game unlockables like music are also available in the Fortress of Doom, as well as other hidden secrets like the original Doom 1 and Doom 2 being fully playable on the Slayer’s PC. It also cannot be understated how much composer Mick Gordon’s involvement in Doom 2016, and now Eternal, has contributed to its success. The soundtrack to Doom 2016 was an integral part of what made its gameplay so enjoyable, as the hard rock sounds complemented the chaos so well, making you feel like an active part of an 80’s metal album cover in motion. Mick Gordon outdoes himself with Eternal delivering an even heavier, metal-infused symphony of chaos that only adds to the excitement and adrenaline of the gameplay. The amazing opening of the game wouldn’t be as memorable as it is without being punctuated by Mick’s wicked tunes.
This all sounds incredibly overwhelming, and, honestly, it is. At least at first. The demons in Eternal are far more aggressive and smarter than they were in 2016, often surrounding the Slayer on all sides and heaping on loads of damage. There is a reason you are given so many options in Eternal, and it is because you are going to need them to survive. Each demon has a specific weak point or particularly effective strategy that makes taking them down much easier to manage. The player must combine movement, weapon switching, and resource management, all the while figuring out the best way to dismantle every demon in their vicinity. For the first few levels as you slowly acquire each of these new weapons and abilities, Eternal can feel very overwhelming, even frustrating at times. But once you have every piece of the puzzle at your disposal, and become accustomed to how Eternal wants you to play, it results in some of the most breathtaking, adrenaline-fueled, heart-pumping action you can find in video games. After especially tense encounters I realized that I was actually gripping my controller in my hands tighter than I realized. There is only one other genre I can compare this to, and that is a character action game. Doom Eternal is able to take everything that makes games like Devil May Cry great by giving the player plenty of options in combat, unrestricted freedom of movement, and the freedom for the player to handle each challenge as they see fit. What started as feeling restricting or overwhelming ended up being the most freeing and liberating gameplay experience I have had since Devil May Cry V.
Doom Eternal is not without its faults though. To complement the new-found air mobility, platforming sections have been added throughout the game. Too many, in fact. While fun at first, they often overstay their welcome. Initially offering refreshing breathers from sections of intense combat, their frequency ended up eliciting more annoyance than being killed by a horde of demons ever did. The game is also littered with tutorials that pop up everytime a new enemy type or boss shows up, showing you exactly how to beat them. While this is necessary, considering many enemies have very specific ways on how to counter them and would be incredibly frustrating or downright impossible to beat without knowing, like The Marauder, the game’s method of delivering this information leaves much to be desired. As does the frequency of these momentum killing tutorial screens. Slowing the game down mid-combat and telling the player as they are playing might have been a much better way to deliver this information, and keeping the player active while doing so would make it feel much less like handholding.
Doom Eternal also places a much larger emphasis on story. One of the biggest jokes of 2016 was how the Doom Slayer couldn’t give a hot crap about what was happening on Mars or with the UAC, he was just there to kill demons. However he got to do that, he didn’t really care that much. In Eternal though, we get to see MUCH more of the Doom Slayer’s origins and the world he inhabits. While I personally enjoyed this story information, which can also be learned about through Codex entries much like 2016, it makes the game’s themes clash. The Doom Slayer is id personified, he is a blank canvas for the player to project themselves upon, the epitome of the power fantasy. Ironically, by giving the Doom Slayer more personality and character, this gets rid of what made him so appealing.
Learning about the story and the world is welcome, but by incorporating the Doom Slayer so much, and elevating him to the point of basically making him a superhero, it achieves the opposite effect by removing the player from the story unfolding around them. Also, for a game so insistent on injecting more story into its proceedings, it leaves out a lot of seemingly important information. How did the Doom Slayer get to his flying fortress orbiting the Earth? Where did he go after Samuel Hayden teleported him away at the end of 2016? How did the demons end up on Earth? None of these questions are answered, and even more questions are raised by the end of the story that are left untouched by the game’s incredibly anticlimactic ending. We know that at least two story-based DLC chapters are on their way, and perhaps these issues will be addressed there, but to open up so many doors and leave no resolution to any of them is cruelly tantalizing.
Doom Eternal also offers a multiplayer mode called “Battlemode” that has three players playing as demons and one player as the Slayer in a very ambitious asynchronous multiplayer match. The problem with Battlemode is that, while it is a fun idea on its surface, it is incredibly unbalanced and requires a lot of fine-tuning. A team of three even mildly competent demons will tear the Slayer apart every time, almost without question. It becomes very lopsided very quickly and makes playing the Slayer not fun. Which is the opposite of what Doom should be. A co-op Horde mode would have been a much better implementation of multiplayer in Eternal if traditional Deathmatch was out of the question. Instead, your time post completion of the single-player campaign is much better spent still in the single-player campaign. Unlocking cheat codes, which are amusingly housed on floppy disks, grant you extra powers and abilities when going back through earlier levels to get collectibles that you may have missed during your first go around. In addition to that are “Master Levels” which are much more difficult versions of the story missions that players can tackle for an even greater challenge. Then, this is all in addition to the multiple difficulty modes available. Doom Eternal has a plethora of replayability housed within it, it just so happens that none of it is in the multiplayer.
While misguided in some aspects of its delivery, like the story and multiplayer, Doom Eternal shines through in its single-player content. It contains some of the best gameplay the first-person shooter genre has to offer with white knuckle combat and heart-pounding intensity, all the while forcing the player to think as strategically as possible. Doom Eternal is an amazing follow up to Doom 2016, and I almost pity the team at id for having to figure out what they will need to do to top themselves again. But, then again, I thought the same thing after completing 2016 as well. So whatever their solution will be, I can’t wait to find out and continue ripping and tearing across the universe.