Four years after Doom returned from its long exile in a tidal wave of blood and guts we’ve finally got a sequel in Doom: Eternal. But how could id Software improve on their already amazing gunplay? Did Doom 2016 really need a sequel? The answer to the first question is by using some form of black magic far beyond any mortal comprehension, resulting in gunplay so sublime that it might actually be illegal. And the answer to the second question is a resounding yes. Doom: Eternal has quashed any doubts that Doom 2016 deserved a sequel. But as amazing as Doom: Eternal is, it’s also a game with some problems, and a hell of a lot worth talking about.
Doom 2016 had a clear mission statement; it didn’t want to get in the way of you killing shit-loads of demons. It scoffed at anything that took you out of the action. Early in the game the Slayer embodies this ideal by literally smashing a screen on which someone was trying to deliver useless exposition. Who cares when there are monsters to be murdered in the most brutally satisfying ways imaginable? Doom 2016 was a no-nonsense shooter. So it’s surprising that for Doom Eternal the crew over at id Entertainment have drastically changed their tune. Now, there’s actual cutscenes and dialogue and exposition and lore. This is a perfect example of how Doom Eternal is a more complex game than its stream-lined predecessor, and why Doom Eternal isn’t better or worse than Doom 2016 – it’s just different, and you’re probably going to wind up liking one a lot more than the other.
Right, so, the story: set a few years after the events of Doom 2016 the Slayer returns to Earth to find it being consumned by the forces of hell, and as the greatest one-man wrecking crew in the whole damn universe the Slayer sets out on a mission to single-handedly end the demonic invasion of Earth.
We all know that the Doom Slayer is nothing short of a incredibly violent force of nature, but Doom: Eternal does all it can to reinforce that. The Slayer is presented as practically God-like in every cutscene, striding through the environment while never uttering a word. At one point he clambers into a gigantic cannon and literally fires himself into a building. He’s unstoppable. He’s overwhelming. He’s pure badass if badass had just won a fucking competition for being the most badass badass. He’s the guy that makes demons afraid, and it’s awesome. Of course, he has all the emotional depth of a puddle of fly piss and the character development of a brick, but that doesn’t matter. He’s the Slayer, and he exudes violence.
Still, the game does delve into the Slayer’s past in an effort to explain exactly how he came to be ultimate incarnation of holy shit did he just rip that things head off. And while it’s doing that it also delivers a bunch of lore for the Doom franchise, some of which can be a tad baffling if you don’t pay attention. It’s actually quite good at times, too, mostly because it doesn’t overstay its welcome. You can also just ignore it or skip the cutscenes entirely if you’d prefer in order to get to the action, so that’s appreciated. Indeed, a lot of the deeper aspects of the story, including details on the Slayer, is hidden away in the Codex entries where only the die-hard fans will likely venture.
The Slayer isn’t just a God-like figure of destruction in the cutscenes, though: the combat goes out of its way to make you feel awesome. First, the sheer fluidity and smoothness of Doom 2016 is still present and as fantastic as before, but now the double jump has been augmented with a double dash, easy mantling and clambering, and the ability to swing on monkey bars that litter the combat arenas. You’ve got more movement options that ever, and once they’ve become natural you’ll be zipping around like a maniac. You don’t so much move as glide, and it feels oh so good. On top of that the weapons have got both a visual and an audio overhaul, somehow managing to sound even more orgasmically savage as they rip gobs of flesh off the demon hordes. It’s just so fucking good. Doom 2016 already had some of the greatest feeling first-person shooting in a videogame, and somehow Doom: Eternal has improved on it.
And don’t get met started on the super-shotguns meathook! This beautiful piece of design lets you grapple onto a distant enemy and reel yourself in, quickly closing distances. But you can also use ot to catapult yourself over the heads of demons, relocating from one end of the area to another in a few seconds, or to quickly save yourself from falling into a void.
Even the demon A.I. has been tweaked so that they are more aggressive and capable of quickly surrounding you unless you take full advantage of the spacious environments that you find yourself in. And what environments those! Doom 2016 kept itself primarily to Mars and Hell, but Doom: Eternal enjoys travelling and taking in the sights, from the demonically occupied Earth to fantastical, fantasy fortresses there are a lot of amazing vistas to soak up. Stopping for even a second in a fight just isn’t an option as the enemy will descend upon you like a plague of demon locusts. It makes every battle intense and frantic and exhilarating. The best examples of this come in the form of the optional Slayer Gates that offer up the most challenging fights in the entire game – they can be so heart-pumping that I frequently walked away from the game feeling physically tired. That’s how good the shooting is.
Now we get to the added complexity of how combat works; for starters, the amount of ammo you can carry for every weapon has roughly been halved from Doom 2016, a game in which you could typically rely on a single gun if you wanted to. But now you’ll find yourself constantly swapping from one boomstick to another in order to take advantages of weaknesses and to ensure you can keep firing. Upgrading your ammo capacity helps, but to truly keep a supply of bullets you need to use the chainsaw. Whereas in Doom 2016 the chainsaw was just a fun tool you might occasionally use, here it’s absolutely essential. The chainsaw regenerates a single bar of fuel every minute or so, though you can pick up more fuel, and using it slice through a demon rewards you with a shower of ammo and other goodies. It’s like hitting a pinata, only there’s a lot more blood, yelling and instead of a stick you have a chainsaw. So, nothing like a pinata at all, really. Big enemies will take more than a single bar of fuel, but the game cleverly keeps a constant supply of basic demon fodder running around for you to dismember.
As for getting health there are med-packs to be picked up, but like Doom 2016 your best source of healing is to cause pain. Like before you can stagger an enemy by doing enough damage, then execute a gloriously gory Glory kill. The animations for these are amazingly detailed and revel in the sheer brutality of ripping limbs, stabbing demons in the eye with their own forearm bone and yanking out eyes.
If you want to grab some armor that’s where your flame belch comes in, a recharging flamethrower that sets demons alight. Dealing damage or killing demonic dick-heads that are ablaze results in a shower of armor shards. Mind you, since the flamethrower is mapped to R by default I constantly found myself reflexively trying to reload and instead sending a burst of fire into the air. That’s not a criticism of the game, though, that’s just my own stupidity and years of muscle memory.
Finally, you get a recharging frag grenade for crowd control, plus an ice variant that lets you freeze pesky demons in place. Like the flame belch these recharge over time.
Then there’s your arsenal of weapons, each of which boast two unlockable mods that you can swap between on the fly with a tap of F, giving every gun a total of three firing modes. Your bread-and-blood combat shotgun, for example, can also become a grenades launcher or a fully-automatic death machine that eats ammo and eats away flesh. The heavy machine gun gets a precision sniper scope or a volley of micro-missiles, and so on and so on. It’s a pleasing array of machinery, and since ammo is scarce they all get their time to shine, though you’ll certainly find favorites.
All of this adds up to combat that takes considerably more planning than shooting stuff in Doom 2016 ever did. That isn’t to imply that Doom 2016 was somehow stupid in the way it handled its combat, but it definitely preferred to let players focus purely on the carnage. Eternal wants you think about what you’re doing, be it remembering to whip out the chainsaw for some casual evisceration, identifying which demons to annihilate first or swapping weapons to best deal with the situation. On the one hand I feel like many people will prefer the simpler thrills of Doom 2016’s combat, the more focused and direct way in which it hands you a gun and lets you get on with it. But the more I played the more I came to love Doom Eternal’s combat. It still has that satisfying brutality fluidity but now its mixed with smart design that forces you to think about what you’re doing. It’s an exhilarating mix, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
Now we get to another area of added complexity; upgrades, and why there’s so many bloody different things. We start with weapon points which are a way of upgrading your weapon upgrades, and are earned via regular progression through the story and by finding bonus combat encounters that are hidden away. These let you sink points into a few different upgrades for your weapon modules, culminating in an ultimate mastery upgrade that requires you to complete a specific challenge, like using your shotgun’s full auto-mode to destroy Pinky demons. It’s worth the effort, though, because these upgrades provide huge benefits. Mind you, you can skip the challenge by spending a Mastery token that can occasionally be found in the levels.
Next up are the Praetorian tokens that are hidden throughout the various locales, and these are used to buff your suit. That means you can increase the duration of your freeze grenade or the speed at which you clamber around the environment.
After that there are Sentinel Crystals. These glowing rocks are how you expand your ammo capacity, as well as net yourself some more health and armour, both of which are handy when the legions of Hell would like nothing more than to introduce you to the wonderful health benefits of having your guts removed and used as a whip. As an added bonus if you select two upgrades in a set you get a powerful effect such as the flame belch recharging quicker.
Still with me? Great, because there’s still a little more to go yet; Runes are quite rare and include some rather excellent upgrades. My personal recommendation is the one that increases the amount of time demons will stay in the staggered state, perfect for crowd management or for keeping a Glory kill for later. Only three Runes can be active at any one time, forcing you to make a fund decision as to what fits your method of murder best.
Okay, I promise we’re nearing the end of this bit of the review! The last things you can grab to upgrade yourself are special batteries. These chunky power cells can be slotted into doors aboard the Fortress of Doom a – a literal fortress floating in space that acts as your little home hub between missions – in order to access Praetorian tokens, Sentinel crystals, upgrade modules and even special costumes.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these upgrade systems individually. They all work nicely enough and it’s fun to explore the levels to find the various tokens and stuff. But when you consider them together as a whole there’s a real lack of cohesion. It feels like they’ve been haphazardly stacked on top of Doom Eternal’s excellent combat mechanics rather than properly worked into the gameplay.
Speaking of things that don’t quite feel like they’ve been woven into the game correctly, the Fortress of Doom is a fun place to explore but doesn’t add much to Doom Eternal on the whole. It’s a spacious property with a lovely location that affords grand views of the Earth as it’s consumed by demonic forces, and comes complete with a master suite for the Slayer where collectibles can be displayed. From this floating example of gothic architecture gone crazy can listen to music from prior Doom games, replay missions and use cheat codes that you’ve discovered. But aside from spending a few minutes to slot batteries into doors to get more upgrades I never found much of a reason to hang around the fortress. Much like the little home base in Wolfenstein: Youngblood the fortress in Doom: Eternal ultimately feels pointless. Although I do find it hilarious to imagine the mighty Slayer kicking back in his room reading the various magazines strewn around the place.
But then, who I am to judge what the Slayer can and cannot do? I mean, I never would have taken him for a platforming pro, and yet Doom: Eternal proves that despite being built like a small mountain the Slayer is actually a rather agile chap. Confused? Allow me to de-confuse you. Between adreneline-pumping combat encounters you’ll often find yourself jumping, dashing, swinging and wall-climbing through platforming sections. Given how smooth movement feels in combat it’s unsurprising that the basics of all the climbing and jumping do feel quite solid. Eternal will have you leaping across vast chasms, hitting triggers and clinging onto floating rock coffins…er, for some reason? And these sections do a rather good job of breaking up the action…but….but, well, they feel strange in a game about smashing demonic faces to pieces. It’s not that I don’t like them because I do, I’m just not completely sure that I like them being in Doom: Eternal. I can see these sections being one of the most divisive aspects of Eternal.
That’s ultimately the theme of the entire game: Eternal has lost the elegance of 2016’s Doom, becoming a more bloated product. The platforming, the new cutscenes, the cluttered upgrade system, it all dilutes the incredible experience that Doom 2016 offered. But the tradeoff is a meatier game with more intense, thoughtful combat, and many people will probably really enjoy the platforming and the upgrading. Personally, I find Doom: Eternal to be the better game.
Outside of the glorious campaign, which should take you somewhere around 10-15 hours to burn through, there’s the brand new Battle Mode where two players take on the role of demons and attempt to take down one person who steps into the chunky boots of the Slayer.
As we wrap up this review let’s take a minute to talk about performance, which is nearly flawless. There’s a wealth of graphical options, and the game appears to be beautifully optimised. I didn’t run into any frame drops outside of a few frames here or there, and glitches were also pleasantly infrequent. Doom: Eternal runs as smoothly as I could have hoped for, although for some reason it did occasionally decide to forget my resolution settings on firing up the game.
Considering how buttery smooth the whole game runs its amazing just how much visual punch id have packed into the game. This is a gorgeous game. It’s almost hard to notice the wealth of details on enemy models as you carve through them. In fact, it’s not until I was going through my screenshots for this review that I really noticed some of the little details on the various demons. Probably the best part of the whole package is the lighting model that helps give everything depth. Lovely, lovely stuff.
I said near the beginning of this review that Doom: Eternal is not really a better or worse game than Doom 2016, it’s just different and some folk are going to vastly prefer one over the other. There’s no denying that Doom: Eternal is a more bloated game, and that expansion comes with some positives and negatives. The upgrade system feels haphazardly stacked on top of the action and I’m still not convinced that the platforming – as smooth and fun as it is – feels right in a Doom game, but in terms of combat Eternal is nothing short of exceptional. This is first-person shooting at its very best. Some will prefer the elegance of Doom 2016, but personally I preferred this more thoughtful brand of shooting that forced me to use the entire arsenal of weapons and every inch of the environment in order to stay alive. That heart-pumping combat prevails over any other small complaints I might have about Doom: Eternal.
We might all be facing one of the most challenging and uncertain times in recent memory, but we do know one thing for certain: Doom is Eternal, and hellaciously brilliant.
4.5 out of 5