Game name: DOOM Eternal
Release date: March 20, 2020
Available on: Steam
Genre: First person shooter
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Back in 2016 when id Software released DOOM, most fans of the franchise looked at it with apprehension, not sure if the studio still had the magic that created some of the finest first person shooters released to date, since their last few titles had been either underwhelming, or far too separated from what fans expected from the house that built Doom 1 and 2. So, when the launch dust settled and the brave souls who picked the game up day one had some time with it, a surprising thing happened: DOOM wasn’t just serviceable, it was a bombastic return to form for the series, that not only managed to be a treat for the tech nerds among us, but also an incredibly fun first person shooter that understood how to bring Doom to the current era without leaving its soul at the door. In other words, it was id Software at their best, and we were all fools for doubting them. Fast forward four years, and the Texan wizards have released a sequel titled DOOM Eternal, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that come with a name so similar to Forever. Of course that means it’s time for me to dive in and tell you what I thought about this new entry in one of my all time favorite franchises, so strap in, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
Right from the start, DOOM Eternal hints at some pretty important changes from its predecessor, as we are exposed to a lot more story beats in the form of cutscenes and people talking to us as we rip and tear through the demonic hordes. As someone who liked the efficiency of DOOM (2016)‘s storytelling, I have to say that, surprisingly, I’m actually quite OK with this sudden change, since the lore is actually pretty cool, all the cutscenes can be skipped (and if you want even more lore, the Codex is still a thing), and it’s obvious that the writers were having a lot of fun while working on this game. Of course, if you are looking for some kind of deep story where everything has a moral and there are twists and turns at every corner, you will be mightily disappointed with what’s on offer here, but if you were looking for the right amount of ridiculous fan-service mixed with metal-inspired imagery, then you are in the right place and will enjoy this aspect of DOOM Eternal as much as I did.
Aside from this new-found focus on story, there’s another big change that all players will notice right from the get go: ammo counts are drastically lower than in DOOM (2016) and the starting pistol is gone, replaced for the combat shotgun. I didn’t mourn the death of the puny handgun, since I barely used it in the 2016 entry, but I was very concerned about the lowered ammo counts during my first hour with the game. Thankfully, as I made my way through the first level, something clicked and the new ammo limits started to make sense. You see, in the previous title, players had access to a chainsaw that could destroy most enemies in one hit, transforming them in a meat pinata of ammo and entrails, provided we had enough fuel. This useful hardware item returns in DOOM Eternal, but it serves a different purpose, as now fuel automatically regenerates up to one pip, letting us rip through lower tier enemies, generating ammunition for the rest of our arsenal in the process. Of course this also means that the chainsaw is no longer an “instant kill” button for the big boys, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t like this change. Starting in DOOM 2016, demons have been the fuel for the Doom Slayer’s needs, giving him health and ammo whenever he needed any, and the evolution of the chainsaw only reinforces those mechanics, which in my opinion fit the game like a glove.
Armor regeneration works in a similar manner, as the Slayer’s suit is now fitted with a flame belch that can be used to incinerate demons, making them drop armor shards when they get hit while they are on fire, a pretty neat mechanic that has a perfect synergy with the way we get ammo or health. As I said in the previous paragraph, the demons provide sustenance for our protagonist, and he’s only too happy to take it from their cold, dead hands (or guts, most of the time, I hear he’s fond of huge guts). Another suit upgrade is the introduction of a shoulder mounted grenade launcher (which replaces the frankly quite wimpy grenades found in DOOM 2016) that can fire both frag and ice grenades. Frags get the job done if you need to explode some bad guys, and ice grenades are perfect when you need some breathing room, as they’ll momentarily freeze in place most enemies, giving you enough time for a quick glory kill if your health is low.
These new tools came in handy more times than I could count as I made my way through the game’s fifteen hours long campaign. There’s nothing like the feeling that comes after getting into a room jam packed with demons, surveying the inhabitants of said space, and then getting to work with maximum efficiency, freezing whoever’s being a pain in the butt at the moment, liberally partaking in the armor, ammo and health being offered by low tier demons ready to sacrifice their bodies to the cause (which doesn’t mean you should ignore them, they can be a threat if you forget about their existence for too long). And don’t get me started in the new enemy type that shows up after a certain point in the game. A perfectly designed foil for the Slayer’s need for speed, this demon will need a specific dance that might get some players to hate him, but for me it was bliss. Oh, and as you might have seen in the trailers, a certain Doom II foe returns, and he’s even more of a pain to fight than he was in the past (and I love it!). Truly, id have outdone themselves when it comes to enemy variety and the ways to deal with that here. I’d say that my only complaint would be about a certain tentacly thing that appears in specific levels, and that’s a very minor gripe, honestly. Everything else is just perfectly tuned.
Speaking of perfectly tuned, I feel that the Doomguy’s arsenal fits that definition as well, since every weapon fills a distinct role now, forcing players to mix and match with confidence, instead of just sticking to classics like the Super Shotgun (which has received a neat upgrade in the form of the mobility-enhancing Meat-hook) or the Rocket Launcher. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some SSG fun and that Doom II favorite will always be in my hands while I traverse levels looking for the next fight, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand why id chose to orchestrate combat sequences in a way that requires full use of the Slayer’s weaponry. For too long other tools in the mighty arsenal of our perpetually enraged protagonist have been neglected, confined to quarters as they see the Doomguy channel his anger through the Super Shotgun, Rocket Launcher and Chaingun (we are not counting the BFG since it doesn’t have enough ammo to qualify as a daily driver-worthy tool of destruction, sadly). These times are now over, as enemies have different weak points that all require specific weapons to destroy, and in order to get through fights in the best way possible, we should focus on that. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we are forced to use weaponry that isn’t fun to operate, and it just means we’ll have ample time to reacquaint ourselves with an upgraded arsenal that can be traced back to the first time we picked up a shotgun in a Doom game (since the starting pistol is now MIA). There are a few additions, and all the weapons have interesting modifications that can be unlocked and improved as we explore Eternal‘s mostly excellent levels, but everything feels right at home in Doom (and there’s a secret weapon that will make fans of a certain ex console-only entry giddy with delight).
I might have a few complaints on the way the game handles upgrades, as there are times where the player will definitely feel that there’s too much going on in that regard. You can upgrade weapons with new mods, then upgrade those mods, and then master them. So far, so good. But aside from that, there’s suit upgrades, runes, and character upgrades, which don’t feel nearly as well handled as they felt in the previous game. This is not to say that Eternal gets to the level of open world collect-a-thons, but it can feel a bit jarring, considering everything else has a different tone going for it. Another thing that could irk people is the over-abundance of tutorials, though thankfully, those can be turned off if the player wishes to do so.
The game’s extreme love for upgrades and collectibles did give us a great thing though, which is the orbital Doom Fortress that acts as our base of operations. The Doomguy will return to this area from time to time, and we can explore it at will, unlocking stuff and marveling at the detail that went into making it. There’s all sorts of cool easter eggs, and all the collectibles we might find as we play the game will show up here (we can even play the vinyls that are hidden throughout the levels!)
Now that we’ve talked about story and gameplay, it’s time to give some love to the game’s levels, which can be some of its most divisive parts in my opinion. Doom has always been known for sprawling maps where players can get lost if they aren’t paying attention, and that aspect was somewhat lost in the 2016 title. In that regard, Eternal is sometimes a return to form, with a few specific levels being utterly incredible when it comes to scale (at least compared to modern shooters). Then there’s the few areas where for some reason the developers decided to use a gooey mix with tentacles thrown in there for no real reason other than to slow down the player and force them to think of ways to get around that obstacle. I hated those, and think that they go against everything else the game is trying to do. I’m thankful that they don’t show up a lot, but really, I hope they don’t come back if there’s a sequel to Eternal (please, id, I need a sequel!). There’s also a few corridor-like areas, but for most of the time we’ll have plenty of room to maneuver and explore, finding secrets, cheat codes and all sorts of goodies (including the upgrades we’ve talked about in previous paragraphs). Overall though, there’s a lot more memorable levels than in the previous game, and there’s definitely enough variety when it comes to visuals that you’d have a hard time putting 2016 over Eternal on that front.
There is something else I haven’t really discussed previously that wasn’t in DOOM 2016, or at least not to the level present in this sequel: the platforming segments. DOOM Eternal‘s designers seem to LOVE first person platforming, something I usually hate with a passion. In this game, however? I have to say that I’m 100% onboard with the developers’ choices, as the platforming is handled perfectly, giving the player enough room to screw up without instantly killing them, and there’s always a reward waiting for us if we choose to explore some areas that can only be accessed if we brave optional platforming sequences. The star of the show is the new dash mechanic, which can be coupled with the existing double jump mechanic, and turns the Slayer into a bonafide demon-punching Mario. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve fallen in love with the platforming in Eternal, it’s just that good.
And speaking of things that are otherworldly good, I must say that when it comes to tech, id have outdone themselves, delivering a title that runs like a dream, looks the part, and pretty much makes me want to see all future first person shooters running on this id Tech magic sauce. I mean, id have always been masters of tech, delivering incredibly looking games even at their lowest point, but much of that was always attributed to John Carmack. Credit where it’s due, Carmack is long gone, and the latest iteration of id Tech looks and plays well ahead of anything the competition can throw at it. And of course, Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is always there, punctuating the action with inhuman riffs and chaotic choirs. I already know I’m going to spend hundreds of hours listen to this beautifully frenetic work of art once it’s released as a separate OST (I wasn’t able to get my hands on a CE copy, sadly, or I’d be listening to it as I type this review). There are no words to describe the feelings Mr. Gordon’s masterpieces evoked in me as I played the game, so please, if you like music, get it as soon as it’s out, you won’t regret it.
Ultimately, that’s also what I feel about the game overall. DOOM Eternal is the rare sequel that manages to improve on nearly everything when compared to the previous game, which is a truly astounding achievement here, considering that the 2016 title was already an awesome experience. This is the kind of title that all first person shooter fans should have in their library, as it sort of rewrites the book on a lot of stuff, refining already existing mechanics to perfection and adding enough to deserve a place of glory in the pantheon of DOOM.
10/10 – Excellent.