Reviews

DOOM Eternal – Review

In 2016, id Software brought one of gaming’s most influential series back to life. The modern FPS owes a lot to the original DOOMand, similarly, DOOM 2016 (henceforth referred to as 2016) provided the shot of adrenaline the genre sorely needed. It was a love letter to a simpler time in games, where the aim really was just to Rip and Tear until you’re done. DOOM Eternal is about as perfect a sequel as you could hope for, entirely succeeding in expanding on everything 2016 did so well, without muddying the core statement of what it meant four years ago to have DOOM back.

DOOM Eternal picks up a few years after the end of 2016, Earth has been invaded by the armies of Hell and you, the Slayer, are the only one able to stand against the unrelenting demon hordes. Three Hell Priests are directing the invasion, and your first task is to hunt each of them down.

The first big change you’ll notice is how the story is presented. Cutscenes are more prolific and complex, and while the Doom Slayer doesn’t speak, he is a far more significant presence in the narrative. You can even see his face through the visor of his helmet. At a glance, the story is straightforward, this is DOOM after all, but the way they delve into the mythology of everything from Hell to the Slayer himself is just delicious. I don’t want to spoil a single thing, but rest assured that if you were a fan of the lore in 2016, both the flavour text of the codex entries and the story presented in-game, then you are going to absolutely adore what they’ve done with Eternal. Hells bells, just you wait.

The meat and potatoes of any DOOM game is, of course, the combat. The new elements Eternal brings to the table do not disappoint. id Software refers to their combat as a puzzle, with the Doom Slayer acquiring a variety of tools to solve a number of different problems (see: horrific hellspawn of various shapes and sizes). The most noteworthy additions to the Slayer’s arsenal are the equipment launcher, which can fire frag grenades, ice bombs and the Flame Belch (more on that later), and Blood Punch, an extremely powerful area of effect melee attack that slowly charges up as you kill demons. The weapons are largely the same as those from DOOM 2016, with a few tweaks here and there. The Super Shotgun, for example, now has a meat hook attachment that allows you to grapple to enemies from afar, zooming towards them with two barrels of death.

The combat puzzle in DOOM Eternal is just as wonderfully challenging and deeply rewarding as ever, with each new addition enriching the experience without ever over-complicating it. It must have been a tricky thing to balance during development, like playing with Jenga with a tower made of demon archetypes and weapon stats, but id Software has managed to pull it off: creating an intricate combat system that is an absolute blast to master. Don’t be put off by all this talk of mastering and challenge, there are multiple difficulty modes and the campaign eases you into things with regards to both enemies and weapons.

Managing your health, armour and ammo is at the core of every combat encounter and each of these resources is tied to a specific method of killing enemies. Health is obtained by performing a glory kill (a ludicrously gory melee finisher) on a weakened enemy; you get armour by shooting an enemy after lighting it on fire with the Flame Belch and refilling ammo is done by rending a demon in twain with your chainsaw. This system adds an extra layer to every fight and while there are health, armour and ammo pickups to be found in the world, you can’t rely on them if you want to come out alive, especially on harder difficulties.

A new addition to the combat in Eternal is the focus on the demon’s weak points. A Revenant, for example, has two missile launchers mounted to its shoulders, destroying these with the Precision Bolt modification for the Heavy Cannon will not only render it unable to attack from range but will also deal a huge amount of damage. In the midst of a fight, when you’re zipping around an arena trying to keep your distance from the heavy hitters and stocking up on resources, finding the time to safely disable one of these weak points is key.

As the puzzle adds layer after layer, each new enemy Eternal throws at you are designed to make you consider a different blind spot. A Mancubus is slow-moving but will utterly destroy if you stay within melee range. The Whiplash, a snakelike demon, slithers along the ground at speed and whips you from afar, making pinning it down with the ice bomb the best strategy. The Archvile will stay in one spot, surround itself with a shield of flame and buff any other demons nearby, leaving it unchecked is a recipe for defeat. Every enemy requires a slightly different strategy, and every enemy has its own role to play.

Eventually, all of these different systems build to something akin to a dance. You’re juggling the different weapons, equipment and abilities at your disposal, the knowledge of which enemy does what and where their weak points are, on top of keeping track of your health, armour and ammo while also making sure to never stop moving otherwise you will most certainly die. Then the music kicks in and the real world fades away as you become one with the Doom Slayer, an unrelenting weapon of rage and violence who will not stop until every last demon has been annihilated…

The level design is another aspect that is greatly improved, with some truly gorgeous (albeit often demonic and horrifying) vistas and intricate environments that twist and turn back on each other, linked together with platforming and exploration segments. A common complaint about 2016 was that in the latter half of the game especially, the aesthetic began to feel a little stagnant. DOOM Eternal steps things up in this regard too, with some of the late-game environments sporting a vibe that is unique full stop, not just unique for a DOOM game.

Between missions, the Slayer will return to The Fortress of Doom, an ancient castle space ship currently in orbit around Earth. This is a fully explorable hub level with progression items and special armour to unlock, a room to display your weapons and other collectibles, and the Ripatorium, a place to practice combat against demons the Slayer has imprisoned. This hub area is such a neat addition that absolutely did not have to be there, but one that I greatly appreciated.

There are a huge amount of permanent power-ups, secrets and collectibles to uncover in almost every level, from little toys of all the demons to musical tracks from old DOOM and Quake games. These are clearly visible in the environment but aren’t always simple to find, providing just the right amount of brainpower to locate. On the harder difficulties, combing the environment for any kind of upgrade is essential. Without upgrading your suit, increasing your max health, armour and ammo, or unlocking new weapon mods, you’ll have a much tougher time in combat.

Getting a lot of these upgrades and secrets requires some deft use of the new platforming elements introduced in DOOM Eternal. The Doom Slayer can now dash twice in quick succession in addition to double jump, there are specific bars he can swing from and even wall sections that he can climb. For the most part, these are a welcome change of pace, woven seamlessly into the overall design of a level, but they were also the main source of frustration for me during my playthrough of the campaign.

Platforming in first-person is always going to be a bit finicky, and that’s really the problem here. There are few sections where platforms would fall when you land on them meaning you have to do it quickly, but if you mess up and respawn back where you started, you then have to wait for the platforms to slowly rise back up again. Similarly, there’s a number of sections that involve swimming in poisonous muck and on more than a few occasions, despite my best efforts, I was unable to climb out of said muck, instead, Doom Guy floundered uselessly taking damage with every passing second. This game is all about flow and intuition and the platforming really is the only building block that doesn’t quite meld with this philosophy.

Mick Gordon’s soundtrack for 2016 is almost as tough an act to follow as the game itself, and yet somehow he’s outdone himself with DOOM Eternal. Not only are some of the best riffs from 2016 utilised to great effect here, but there’s also a surprising amount of diversity and experimentation in this new score. Of course, there’s still plenty of brand new and absolutely jaw-snapping heavy metal, but a decent number of tracks feel altogether new for DOOM. No matter what environment you’re exploring or enemy you’re fighting the music elevates the experience. Again, much like every other aspect of this game, it’s not just more of the same, it’s an evolution. Taking an idea further without ruining what made it great in the first place.

I did encounter a bug here and there: sometimes the lesser enemies would get stuck on the geometry of the level, not attacking or moving. Another quite annoying glitch made the orange flash that indicates a demon can be glory killed stop showing up. Nothing so prevalent that it ruined my time with the game, but noteworthy nonetheless.

My only other critique of this incredible game is that the very last level and boss fight were a little underwhelming. Not bad, by any means, it just fell a little flat after everything proceeding it. It’s difficult to discuss without going into spoilers. but there were also a couple of story threads that I felt were not adequately wrapped up in the end.

There’s so much more to say about DOOM Eternal: the way that everything about the weapons, from the art to the sound design, has been finely tuned to elicit maximum gratification, the beautifully animated and stupidly violent glory kills, the efficient and unobtrusive tutorial system. This game just knows what it is so precisely, and perfectly executes on everything it sets out to achieve. DOOM Eternal is arcadey but cinematic, silly but brutal, joyously gratifying but deeply challenging. It’s an evolution, a continuation of the ideas first presented in 2016, rather than a mindless rehash. DOOM 2016 brought the franchise back from the dead, in 2020 id Software has proven that DOOM is Eternal.

Rating: 9/10

DOOM Eternal was reviewed on PC with a code provided by Bethesda.