Doom Eternal Review
When the Doom series was given a soft reboot four years ago, no-one could have been prepared for the conviction with which it was spat out into the world. Gleefully, violently over-delivering, Doom 2016 was a headbanging, single-minded throwback to the original games, complete with a breakneck pace, over the top gore, and a crushing soundtrack of industrial metal. Not only eschewing a mandatory plot, but actively thumbing its nose at the current state of the FPS genre, there was an anarchic, irreverent tone which completed the package. Now, Doom Eternal is here to give us the next chapter on from that reintroduction — but with such big, bloodied boots to fill, how can it possibly measure up?
The short answer is, thankfully, “incredibly well”. For one thing, the gameplay is faster and more challenging than the previous installment, with the difficulty curve spiking a lot earlier in the campaign than expected. This is mostly due to the new weapons and abilities which the Doomslayer acquires, as mastering them is the single most important thing to progress. These aren’t just tacked on as a way to freshen up your arsenal, but are fully built into (and on top of) the existing run and gun, rip and tear formula. As in Doom 2016, your chainsaw is used to drop a shoal of ammo from your enemy’s corpse, and the glory kill (triggered when you melee a staggered demon) likewise gives you health. New for Doom Eternal is the shoulder-mounted “flame belcher” which sets nearby enemies ablaze for a short period, dropping armor points as they sizzle. Although two of these skills are returning, their importance is hugely increased now, as pick-up items are scarce even on the lower difficulties. You’ll need to be mindful of these abilities and their recharge times, and constantly on the lookout for weaker enemies to farm in this fashion if you want to be most effective. On top of that, once you upgrade weapons or abilities to deal out extra fire or stagger effects, every death inflicted can be turned into an opportunity to keep your reserves topped up in the heat of battle.
And what battles they are. Alongside familiar snarling faces from 2016’s outing, Doom Eternal has brought in modern versions of classic Doom II stalwarts like the Pain Elemental, Arachnotron, and Archvile demon types. The game’s AI no longer charges every enemy in the area towards you, Serious Sam style, which makes for some on the hoof decision making as the situation changes. Would you first attempt to dismantle Carcass, a biomechanical support type whose force fields play havoc with your grenades and rockets? Or perhaps it would be better to track down and dispatch the Archvile, whose psychic abilities are giving a damage buff to all demons in the arena? Many of these enemies now have weak points as well, which can be exploited for easy kills or dismantling their heavier weapons. Strategically taking out, for example, a Revenant’s jetpack at the start of an encounter makes it a lot more manageable, and while you’d initially be forgiven for just going in with both barrels at the closest target, by the end of the campaign you’ll need every advantage you can get. Doom Eternal rewards aggression, enemy prioritisation, and keen resource management — all three of which go hand in hand to create an exhilarating core loop of risk and reward, where the difference between life and death can be a split-second animation of you chainsawing the bejesus out of a Cacodemon.
One enemy stands out from this however; the Marauder, a new entry to the series. This demonised Doom marine has an incongruous move set and abilities straight out of a Souls-like title, which throws the FPS gameplay out of the window whenever one turns up. Extremely fast, and dangerous both up close and at long range, the only way to do damage is to counter his leaping attack at the last second. He’s a bugger when it’s just you against him, but a nightmare when thrown in the mix with other enemies — his health bar feels a bit too big for a normal enemy once you’ve learned to telegraph the moves, and the flow of the gameplay loses the rhythm under his constant, super-aggressive haranguing as you wait for your turn to strike back.
Fortunately, a new ‘Boost’ move can help you dodge around many attacks from a standstill, and can be chained in the air with double jumps and bars to swing and fling yourself around the battlefield, even climbing up marked wall surfaces. That’s right, the Doomslayer has gone a bit Mirrors Edge on us here, with some basic acrobatics plumping out the moveset. Beyond enemy encounters, these skills are honed through environmental puzzles and platformy traversal sections — packed with boobytraps — which punctuate your fights with the mortally challenged. Doom 2016 suffered from a fair bit of plodding in between the kerfuffles, so although these aren’t the most taxing to figure out, it helps keep the energy up and the momentum rolling onwards after the red mist has dispersed.
The verticality of the levels complements your new moves and brings the game further from the ‘killing jar’ feel of many flat arena shooters, but can end up feeling a bit lifeless at the start of the game. You’re generally either shuffled down a linear path without having to go out of your way for most secrets or Slayer Gates (ultra-hard encounters with a prize worth the effort), or put in an area too large to make good use of the room. No aspect is guiltier for this than the Doomslayer’s base of operations. This hybrid cathedral/spaceship is returned to after most stages for you to cash in collectibles for upgrade points, but the uniform sprawling staircases and generic computer consoles are a drag to navigate when having to flick a few switches before continuing the campaign. That said, the scenery in most levels is unabashedly epic — writhing bodies in cages, gargantuan demons and rusted mech warriors; a souped-up smorgasbord of thrash metal album covers telling you everything you need to know about the latest hellscape you’ve throat punched your way into.
To be honest that’s all I needed, but Doom Eternal peppers your rampage with plot beats and dialogue (the Doomslayer himself does stay mute, to be fair) surrounding the tracking down of three hell priests to turn the tide of the invasion on Earth. Seeing the Doomslayer so personally wrapped up in the plot, exploring his origins and glowering at bosses in third-person (skippable) cutscenes is a bit… boring? A quick squint at an otherworldly entity monologuing at a green armoured warrior, and you could well be playing Halo. For most other titles, the presence of a plot and cutscenes wouldn’t be even worth mentioning, but the tone of the series has definitely changed. Deep, meaningful lore is pushed to the forefront, as the quirky self-aware humour and the bullish violence of Doom 2016 has been quietly gagged. It’s the difference between a cult midnight movie and a summer blockbuster; the metalhead getting a haircut after being forced to ‘grow up’ a bit.
However, if that’s the sacrifice you pay for an intense, rewarding explosion of blood and rockets, it is absolutely worth the nitpicks. id Software has taken everything that worked about Doom 2016 and cranked it up a notch, but at the same time has sidelined aspects of the previous title which hamstrung the pacing. The new inventory and movement abilities gel seamlessly with the fast, intense combat which will have you coming back time and time again to master your weapons and push the difficulty higher and higher. Doom Eternal is a masterful follow up with few mis-steps, once again earning the claim to the iconic Doom name. Doom Eternal is not just standing on the shoulders of giants, but stamping on their necks in the pursuit of being the fastest, grisliest shooter on the market.
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