‘They are rage, brutal, without mercy. But you. You will be worse. Rip and tear, until it is done.‘
These were the opening words of the the previous chapter of the legendary godfather of the FPS genre, Doom. That game, simply called Doom and frequently referred to as Doom 2016, something we’ll also do for the remainder of the article, was a major surprise. The initial reception to the slow gameplay videos was lukewarm, the concept of the glory kills seemed out of line for such a game, and the mixed reception of the multiplayer betas certainly didn’t generate much hype. But as the release date was getting closer, the more convincing gameplay segments on YouTube channels started appearing, and once the full game was released to digital and physical stores worldwide, it was a little revolution. Nobody has ever done such a smart combination of fast-paced old school gorefests with the feel of weapons in modern first person shooters and their advanced movements. It was no longer just a merry-go-round of enemies to run around, nor it was a constant hide and seek trying to take out enemies one by one to avoid getting headshotted in an instant. It was a fast-paced game of chess where aggressiveness was rewarded, where every move had its very specific use, where smart a constant alternation of attack and defense netted the best results.
It was unlike anything else on the market, and its incredible reception surprised id Software as well. It is therefore not particularly shocking that their recipe for a sequel would be a good old bigger, badder, bolder approach as opposed to another revolution. And indeed, the game begins treading familiar grounds, in a new location however. After defeating the spawns of Hell on Mars, turns out the Earth was overrun by demons as well, pushing our fellow hero to stop the invasion once more, this time in a more familiar environment. The first level reintroduces us to the shotgun, the assault rifle and the chainsaw, along with some well-known enemies like the zombies or the Imps. It serves as a little tutorial for the newcomers and as a fun little refresher for those familiar with the song and dance of Doom 2016. The gloriously powerful weapons, the fast movement system without resorting to sprinting or aiming down the sight (ADS), the brutal glory kills that replenish the Doomslayer’s health, or how the chainsaw can be used on smaller enemies to gain ammo. For the veterans it all comes back in an instant like hopping back on a bike years after the last time, for everyone else it’s a quick but healthy explanation of the basics.
Not everything is the same, however. Beyond the graphics taking multiple steps forward, looking particularly crisp on Xbox One X, the whole battle formula has been evolved immensely, and by the end of the third level Doom Eternal absolutely expects you to understand what is going on. Glory kills no longer replenish armor as well, this has to be done via the brand new shoulder-mounted flamethrower which blazes enemies for some long-lasting if minor damage. Even Doomslayer’s ammo reserves took a big hit, perhaps the only element of his incredible arsenal that feels less lethal than it was in the previous game. The reason is simple: the developers want to players to stop cheesing the same strategies, to stop relaxing in the comfort zone by using the same 2 weapons that worked so well, forcing them to master the whole arsenal’s strengths to overcome the many difficulties. I can not stress the word many enough.
Takes a really short timeframe to start getting swarmed by dozens of demons in a single battle, with the player often having to juggle between 5 or more at the same time, dodging all their attacks with the newly added dashes, and alternating the weapons smartly to abuse their weak points. This time around, in fact, the enemies are not just giant healthpools with maybe the head or the eyes as single weak spots. Their whole design can be used against them, rendering them practically inoffensive long before their HP reaches 0. Take the Revenants for instance: their shoulder-mounted rocket launchers that cause so much pain thanks to an abundant shooting of homing missiles? Shooting these weapons effectively disables the demon’s ability to hit the Doomslayer from a distance, immediately making it less of a threat than before. The cacodemons flying above the battleground, shooting fireballs at the player or biting them from close-up? A well-thrown grenade into its giant mouth immediately drops his health pool to an amount low enough to get a glory kill out of him, assuming he’s close enough to the ground to be able to pull it off. The brand new spider-like arachnotrons can also be very lethal and take a lot of bullets to take down, so why wait and stay exposed? Just shoot off its cannon and boom, the offensive potential is greatly diminished.
This sort of puzzle combat is the core of Doom Eternal. Every single enemy has weak points, weapons they particularly fear, pushing the player towards finding the fastest route towards these weaknesses while dancing around all other dangers. Understanding which demons pose the more immediate danger is key, so using the correct strategies and not wasting ammo and time on brute forcing them is essential to staying alive. And the demons themselves were upgraded for this game, taking visual cues from the designs seen in 1994’s Doom II. The updates are not merely visual, however: they seem to have been upgraded specifically to render the most common tactics from Doom 2016 less feasible. The pinky demons are now practically impossible to damage from upfront, the player has to wait for them to charge and then shoot their weak spot in the back. The mancubus no longer lets the Slayer close for an easy double-barrel shotgun hit in the face; he will burn the ground next to him as soon as the Slayer takes one step too close. Every player of this brutal ballet has been upgraded, and the result is incredibly satisfying.
The campaign, indeed, is just a joy to play. The encounters are constant, high-octane adrenaline rushes, combining the twitch reactions you’d use in old school shooters like Quake with a more tactical approach where every enemy requires specific solutions. And whereas Doom 2016 had a hard time keeping up the variety between similar corridors on Mars and fairly repetitive landscapes in Hell, Eternal brings the player on a journey of many visual identities. Lava-filled hellholes on Earth, battles inside half-destroyed skyscrapers, even multiple encounters beyond Earth. There’s even a surprising amount of 3D platforming, as the new dash ability is put to good use between jump pads, springs, and climbable surfaces. There’s some Metroid Prime and Tomb Raider in the Doom formula now, and it works surprisingly well. While I’ll avoid going into the specifics, this is because the story of Doom Eternal takes a more meaty approach than its prequel did. You can still skip all cutscenes and they’re never too long, but between the pages of the codex you can find around and the encounters, there’s definitely a sense of something huge going on. The main reason is the implication of the Maykrs, a celestial alien race that were involved in many events in the history of Doom, and not just 2016 and Eternal. It’s a story full of ancient prophecies, legendary warriors and giant wars, one that connects itself masterfully to the classic games. Of course, those who are in for the shooty-shooty can take will appreciate the God of War approach: these Gods and demons talk big words, but at the end of the day they are but flesh, bones and blood. Lots of blood.
Where do we go?
Story in Doom Eternal takes a bigger role, but it’s entirely optional and, most importantly, still very tongue-in-cheek. The legendary Doomslayer has no issues walking out of the room while a demigod talks to him. His answer to legendary warriors talking trash? Blood, much of it. He does not speak with words, he gets his message across through ultraviolence. And the story takes some rather satisfying turns for long-time fans of the franchise, with some choices that will certainly be somewhat controversial, but also made with clear fan service in mind. The campaign is somewhat meatier than the previous installment, too. Alternating between the 2nd and 3rd difficulty out of 4 on my first playthrough, it took me 2-3 hours more than Doom 2016, and keep in mind I was already very much familiar with that game’s gameplay loop as I’ve played a good chunk of that again just before Eternal came out. The levels are still full of secrets, hidden unlockables and alternative routes. All of this rewards the players immensely with weapon upgrades, health boosts, runes and even weapon mods. All these features are much more streamlined and far less grindy than they were in Doom 2016, making for a much more pleasant experience. While the runes didn’t get major overhauls in terms of functionality, the weapon mods have some interesting addition. The most satisfying one has to be the brand new meathook on the double-barreled shotgun. Once upgraded, it allows the Doomslayer to hit an enemy with a chain, which he uses to inflame the enemy and to get closer to him in an instant, allowing him to land a well-timed shot or two in the face before retreating again. Such a viscerally satisfying addition, and it’s just one of the many really fun uses of the weapons.
Let’s go back to the levels, shall we? While they can be approached in a more linear way, there’s still a lot of exploration to be done, and the replayability is guaranteed by all kinds of additional challenges. Most levels in fact have various battle or collectible-related achievements that unlock useful batteries for the Doomslayer (more on that later), some of which are objectively quite hard to obtain on the first try. Even harder are the Slayer Gates, unlocked by a well-hidden purple key which truly tests a player’s resolve. These teleport the player in small arenas where he gets thrown an insane amount of enemies at an incredible level of intensity, much higher than the rest of the level they are located in. These challenges are not afraid to throw multiple prior bosses against the Slayer at the same time, and their completion is not something a newcomer should aim for anytime soon. I’d at least suggest unlocking all powers, mods and upgrading everything in your arsenal, then go back to the individual levels – a feature that is still very much available, but this time done via the Fortress of Doom.
For the fans
This are serves as a hub, and it contains as astonishing amount of easter eggs, secrets and callbacks to previous gamesThroughout the levels the player can find vinyls, which in this place unlock playable songs from soundtracks of iconic id Software games from the Doom and the Quake franchise mainly, without forgetting titles like Wolfenstein 3D or the Commander Keen franchise. There’s an arena where the Slayer can train on ever-respawning monsters called the Ripatorium. He’s even got a mancave full of toys, badass guitars, an old school PC capable of playing the classic Doom games in full (I kid not, both Ultimate Doom and Doom II are fully available inside the game), and even a glorious portrait with Daisy on it, the original game’s protagonist’s pet rabbit that was killed when Earth was first invaded. This hub is a brilliant piece of fan service and serves as a nice breather between two high intensity levels. It can also be used to select any mode or variant freely. Like the Master Levels, two of which can already be accessed for players who pre-ordered and who played on launch week: these are just remixed versions of existing levels where every enemy was replaced by a different one, usually a bigger and badder alternative. Each level can also be completed again on any difficulty, even using cheats which don’t disable progress. Cheat codes can be found all around the levels, and finding all of them is crucial to unlocking the playable Ultimate Doom on the old school PC.
Before moving onto the multiplayer component of the title, I’d like to spend a paragraph on the impressive customization and accessibility options of Doom Eternal. A frequent criticism I’ve read prior to the game’s launch was how bright and colorful and busy the game’s default HUD is. This is not an issue, though: not only there’s many color sets that can be used (including a brutal blood red one that I used myself for most of my playtime), also every single element of the HUD can be removed, all the way down to the crosshair. Text sizes can be changed, there’s all kinds of colorblind options, the level of motion blur is fully customizable, the menu background can be switched between various dynamic worlds based on in-game locations, the keys can be rebinded, the field of view slider can be ramped up all the way to 110… few console games allow the level of customization id Software’s new shooter allows, and hopefully this can turn into an industry standard soon enough. Along with the game having multiple difficulties, including the legendary permadeath mode Ultra-Nightmare, and even an optional armor that activates after many deaths that allow less skilled players to overcome hard obstacles, the development team’s main focus seems to have been allowing everybody to have fun. Even those looking for a multiplayer experience, seemingly.
But wait, there’s more…
Doom Eternal loses a lot of game modes compared to Doom 2016. Some are coming down the line like a Dark Souls-esque Invasion mode, but the entire arena multiplayer aspect of the previous game, the point-based Arcade mode and the SnapMap level editor are all gone. This is partially compensated by a bigger and more ambitious campaign, but id Software also developed a brand new multiplayer experience in-house. It’s called Battlemode, and it’s a rather unusual asymmetrical mode in which one player controls a fully equipped and upgraded Slayer, while two players choose between 6 available demons, trying to work together to kill him. The Slayer’s gameplay very much mimics what’s found in the campaign, but the demons have all kinds of never seen before powers, including the possibility of spawning other smaller demons to disturb the Slayer and healing abilities. On paper it’s a very hectic mode full of exciting moments, but for now the balance seems a bit all over the place, with many cheese tactics and questionable design choices dominating higher level play. One interesting mechanic seems how both sides can activate a new power in the first three rounds each (the first to win 3 rounds takes the overall win), from giving the Slayer a BFG to drastically increasing the demons’ health pool. It makes for battles that can be turned around from one round to another, although it seems that even here the same powers are dominating.
The game even has a free Battle Pass system which encourages people to grind this multiplayer mode to unlock new skins and other cosmetic elements – an addition of questionable utility in such a game, frankly, where most people will log off after the end credits and not touch a multiplayer mode that clearly feels like an afterthought. At least said multiplayer has the good old Slayer gameplay, and underneath it the brilliant Mick Gordon soundtrack that combines blasting metal and industrial sounds to brilliant results, just like in the campaign. Those who pre-ordered the game can even access the excellent Doom 64 port made by Nightdive Studios, a game that can otherwise be bought separately for 4.99 USD. This is the first time this Nintendo 64 exclusive chapter was ever officially ported to any other system, and with all kinds of graphical customizations available it’s a very impressive port all around.