DOOM Eternal Review – Rip And Tear Right Into My Heart
Developed by id Software
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, and Stadia
If you don’t know about DOOM Eternal… then hi Mom, thanks for reading my articles! For the rest of you, there’s no way you are on a horror site and don’t know about the Doom franchise. Stretching all the way back to 1993, Doom is considered by most to be the game that spawned the modern shooter. Yes, I know Wolfenstein 3D came before. But just like how Paranormal Activity led to the found-footage craze and not Blair Witch, Doom was the game that everyone tried to replicate. Hell, basically all shooters were called “Doom clones” for years. Doom popularized many mechanics that would become standard practice for years. However, nothing lasts forever. Between the first Doom and DOOM (2016), shooters evolved in a new direction. Even Doom 3 would adopt cowardly mechanics like reloading and ducking for cover. DOOM (2016) was seen as a return to form, shedding contemporary mechanics that harmed flow (reloading, iron sights, waiting behind cover to heal) while adopting ones that benefitted the nonstop action (glory kills, fluid movement, chainsaw loot piñatas, etc).
I thought I had a pretty good picture in my mind palace of what to expect from DOOM Eternal. I had played the demo at E3 2019, and my overall impression was that it was an amped-up version of DOOM (2016). I was fine with that. DOOM (2016) is a masterpiece that managed to merge old-school design with modern graphics and mechanics. If DOOM Eternal was just more of that, I’d be happy. I think this is a sentiment I shared with most gamers. DOOM good, more DOOM gooder. Visions of glory kills and shotgun dismemberment dancing through our happy heads. While DOOM Eternal has plenty of that, that’s not all it has to offer. This is the best shooter sequel since Max Payne 3, and for the same reasons. It’s what I expected, but with so much more I didn’t even know I wanted.
DOOM Eternal kicks off sometime after the end of DOOM (2016). I’m sure there’s some timeline that the nerds can tell you in the wiki. I don’t care to look, I’m here to rip ass and tear bubblegum. What I do know is that Earth has become infested by demons. Someone needs to do something about it. Lock and load. You once again take the role of the Doom Slayer, a powerhouse of carnage who wordless delivers pain to demonkind without flinching. Armed initially with just your shotgun and massive balls, you crush your way through demon hordes and make a few friends along the way. And by friends, I mean new guns. Guns can be friends, right?
Now, I aggressively tried to ignore the story in DOOM Eternal. I only have so much time to review a game before interest dies out. I figured that DOOM Eternal would be the perfect game for me to just zone out and blast demons. This is a game where the longest cutscene (apart from the opening) is about 30 seconds long. While there are plenty of collectible codex entries to dive through, my plan was to ignore those. So imagine my shock when the first thing that impressed me about DOOM Eternal was the narrative. It’s amazing how much this game hooks you right off the bat. While DOOM (2016) started you off punching demons and smashing the computer giving you your quest, DOOM Eternal has you ripping off the head of one of the big bad guys within 10 minutes of starting. After that, you absorb much of the story through visuals and gameplay. Looking around at the nightmarish streets, I can see the ruins of towering mechs in the distance. In just a glance, I can tell that A) the demons have won, B) some time has passed since they won, and C) the robot dude fought back. This kind of visual storytelling is done throughout the game. Even if you skip most of the cutscenes, you should get the basic gist of it.
When DOOM Eternal does stop and spell things out for you, the tale it has to tell is far grander than I had imagined. I mean, sure, it’s a game about an angry guy fighting the armies of pseudo-biblical hell. But they actually come up with a damned good reason as to why. How this world all fits together actually makes sense. It’s not Game of Thrones seasons 1-6 levels of complex, but it doesn’t need to be. It manages to take the simple premise of man vs demons and elaborate on it without making it needlessly complex or melodramatic. It’s just the right amounts of drama, turmoil, and mystery to build the universe up to what’s sure to be a climactic third game. And while I won’t spoil anything here, there is a mid-game reveal that recontextualizes DOOM Eternal‘s position in the whole series.
That all being said, being impressed with the story of DOOM Eternal is like being impressed with the quality of nachos at a baseball game: it’s nice to be surprised, and certainly no one expected it, but it’s not why we’re here. We’re here to kill demons. And in that regard, DOOM Eternal has more kick than a whole stadium filled with even the spiciest nachos. This is more than just DOOM (2016)+. There have been several changes to DOOM Eternal‘s core design that allow it to reach a level that DOOM (2016) couldn’t.
Most of these changes stem from id Software’s decision to focus on DOOM Eternal‘s fluid combat and mobility. As I said at the start, DOOM (2016) set itself apart from other modern shooters by shedding mechanics that didn’t contribute to non-stop action. DOOM Eternal takes that idea and tailors every last piece to meet this end. There’s a new dash mechanic, jump pads and monkey bars dot the map, and the Super Shotgun has a chain that can be shot into enemies and pull a reverse-Scorpion. Enemies now always drop health when they die, not just when you perform one of the gruesome glory kills (the glory kills do drop more). There’s also a new “extra life” system that allows you to revive mid-combat and keep on blasting. If DOOM (2016) felt old-school, then DOOM Eternal feels like it’s straight from an arcade. It’s far less grounded in “reality.” The trade-off is that it’s never been easier to dash through the air launching rockets at Cacodemons, then switching to your shotgun to pull yourself into a Revenant and remove the top half of its body with a satisfying blast.
The brilliance of DOOM Eternal is that it’s not all just a grander scale power fantasy against an even bigger horde of demons. You have more tricks and tools to take out the hordes, but the demons of DOOM Eternal are far deadlier than they were in DOOM (2016). And you have less ammo to fight them with. The overall amount of shots that each gun can carry has been reduced. It can take 1/3 of your machine gun ammo to down a Hell Knight, and there can be over a dozen hell knights in a single fight. This forces you to constantly switch weapons in the heat of battle to best tackle whatever directly in front of you. Got some Arachnotrons blasting you from afar? Switch to your machine gun’s sniper mode and shoot off their cannons. Need to close the distance with a Revenant? Switch to your Super Shotgun and pull yourself into him. Need to chew through a horde of imps? Your chaingun in turret mode can cut through them with ease. In addition, there are several new weapons that can turn the battle in your favor. The shoulder-mounted flamethrower/grenade launcher has a long cooldown, but net you more armor or freezing enemies in place. You also have a new melee attack called the “Blood Punch” that deals heavy damage to everything in front of you and is recharged with glory kills.
It sounds like a lot. And it is. But when you rewire your brain to work on DOOM Eternal‘s level, something magical happens. I was struggling with a few sections for the better part of an hour. Then, something clicked. I just started using everything at my disposal. I was launching grenades, pulling myself to enemies, lighting demons on fire, and pew pewing with plasma all seamlessly. People have been saying that DOOM Eternal is more tactical, but I disagree. When firing on all cylinders, DOOM Eternal is instinctual. You just have to figure out which animal the game wants you to be.
When the dust settles and the hordes of demons are all just bits of gore beneath your boot, DOOM Eternal still has plenty to explore. There are tons of secret collectibles to uncover, ranging from functional upgrades to adorable decorative toys. All of these aesthetic collectibles adorn your new base, which serves as a safe haven between missions. There are also several doors that can only be unlocked with collectible power cells, behind which lies more collectible powerups and some alternate skins. It’s a fun diversion, but not anything on the level of an RPG. The powerups are the biggest draw, with several of the upgrades adding new functionality to your weapons. While you do get stronger over the course of the game, it never boosts you to the point where you can slaughter without worry. Most of the upgrades just give you more tools in your toolbox. But there are plenty there to get the job done right.
The only thing I didn’t really like in DOOM Eternal was the multiplayer. Titled Battlemode, it pits two players controlling demons against one player controlling the Slayer. Players can choose between five demons, each with their own movement style and set of powers. Demons also have the ability to summon AI demons to help hunt the Slayer. The Slayer has insane mobility and his guns. I appreciate id Software’s novel approach to asymmetric multiplayer. I just couldn’t get into it. There are a lot of ability descriptions to read through before you understand how your demon works. When you do, your success is going to be based on how well our teammate knows their demon. It just doesn’t feel like as much polish went into the demons as the Slayer. Still, it’s not like I’m going to deduct points because the multiplayer wasn’t as good. It’s an extra addition that I just didn’t like. I’m here for the single-player.
I ultimately don’t feel comfortable calling DOOM Eternal better than DOOM (2016). They are two very different games. Even with the same glory kills, doom slayer, chainsaw, etc., they each bring substantially different feels to the table. And honestly, isn’t that what we want from sequels? To evolve significantly away from the established formula? To not just be the same thing with extra bells and whistles? I prefer DOOM Eternal. You might prefer DOOM (2016). What we can agree on is that they are both kickass masterpieces in their own right.
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Fans of DOOM (2016) would have been happy with just more of the same from DOOM Eternal. But DOOM Eternal dares to be so much more. And I love it for it.