Id Software’s return to Doom in 2016 was a phenomenal update of the franchise’s classic shooter formula. It was fast and intense, full of huge monsters and scorching metal tracks, modernizing the feel of the 1990s original while adding some new-school flourishes. Where Doom 2016 brought the original Doom into the present, Doom Eternal feels like a big step forward in making the franchise something new: It’s a master class in demon dismemberment after the introductory course to ripping and tearing of four years ago. Like its predecessor, Doom Eternal makes you feel like a monster-shredding badass–not just because you’re the strongest Doom Slayer, but because you’re also the smartest.
Doom Eternal is all about effectively using the huge amount of murder tools at your disposal. Health, armor, and ammo pickups are at a minimum in Eternal’s many combat arenas, and the game instead requires you to earn these by massacring monsters in a variety of different ways. Stagger an enemy and you can tear them apart with a brutal glory kill, which refills your health; douse a demon with the new flamethrower and they’ll start to spout armor pickups; or cut them in half with the chainsaw to grab some much-needed ammo.
In order to stay alive, you can’t just run around blasting madly, expecting to tear through everything in your path; you have to run around blasting rationally to keep yourself at fighting strength. Keeping all your numbers up means continually rotating through your glory, chainsaw, and flamethrower kills while also making sure you’re using the right gun for a particular job. Many of the toughest enemies now have weak points that allow you to snipe off their most lethal weapons, and you’ll need to assess threats and knock them out quickly.
At first, it seems like Doom Eternal provides an altogether unwieldy list of things to manage. Between all its weapons and tools, their various ammo counters, and your health, it can all become overwhelming. With so much to keep in mind at all times, it takes a bit to get accustomed to Doom Eternal. And constantly pausing the action to pull up your weapon wheel to check ammo counters and decide which weapon to use on the monster about to tear your face off can feel antithetical to Doom’s run-and-gun, rip-apart-everything approach.
Once you get the hang of it, though, all of Doom Eternal’s many elements come together in a cascade of mayhem that makes you into the brainiest killing machine around. This isn’t the kind of shooter in which your twitch reactions and aiming skills will carry you through; Eternal is a game in which you have to be constantly plotting your next move, executing a calculus of carnage to keep yourself alive and make everything else dead. Every moment is about analyzing the battlefield to find the next enemy you can stagger and slice apart for health or ammo, figuring out which enemy is your top priority and what guns you’ll need to take it out safely, and where you need to head next in order to take the shots you need or keep the creatures chasing you from getting their own chance to rip and tear.
The mental math of figuring out how to keep yourself alive is a big part of what makes the game fun, but it’s the improved mobility that really lets Doom Eternal kick off a metal guitar solo and start shredding. Every big battle takes place in a multi-level arena adorned with jump pads and monkey bars that let you get around quickly, and you also have a double-jump and horizontal dash move for avoiding attacks and crossing distances. A few arenas have their irritations, especially those where it’s easy to trap yourself in a tight corner or back over a cliff, but mostly, Eternal’s level design provides plenty of opportunities to zip around like a bat out of hell, constantly finding your next target and assessing if you need to set it on fire, freeze it, cut it in half, tear it apart, or some combination of all of them. It all makes just about every fight feel like a speeding train seconds from going off the rails, with disaster only averted because you’re so damn good at killing stuff. Once you get the rhythm of Doom Eternal, it becomes a brilliant extension of what made Doom 2016 so cool.
Between battles, you spend your time using Eternal’s mobility to navigate its sprawling, twisting levels, and to uncover myriad secret locations that hide upgrades and weapon mods. There’s an even bigger emphasis on platforming than in Doom 2016, and puzzling through the environments to get around provides a welcome breather between fights. Some of the platforming can be a bit trying at times, especially when you need to clear big gaps to grab distant monkey bars or hit sticky walls you can climb. For the most part, though, navigating the environment is almost as much fun as smashing through Hell’s armies. These portions are also pretty forgiving, thanks to the fact that falling into the abyss now only penalizes you with a small loss of health instead of instant death.
The campaign took me around 16 hours to complete, and that included tracking down the vast majority of secrets and completing a lot of the optional fights that earn you additional upgrade points. Running throughout is a pretty involved story, which feels like a fundamental shift from the satirical, jokey tale of Doom 2016. Where that game put you in the Praetor suit of a Doomslayer who literally destroyed the radios trying to provide context for his endless massacres, Doom Eternal is much more self-serious, constantly spewing proper nouns and character names as if you’re intimately familiar with all the actors leading Hell’s invasion of Earth. Some of the humor of the last game remains, but the majority is all pretty tough to follow if you don’t spend time reading through the many collectible lore drops scattered around every level. Thankfully, keeping up with Eternal’s confusing plot isn’t really a necessary component of enjoying the game.
In addition to the main campaign, Doom Eternal also includes a multiplayer mode called Battlemode. It foregoes the more traditional deathmatch approach of Doom 2016, in which a bunch of players grab the Doom Slayer’s weapons and shoot each other, for an experience in which one combatant takes on the role of the Slayer, fighting a team of two opponents who play as demons.
The Slayer-versus-demons approach of Eternal’s multiplayer helps maintain the puzzle-like feel of its combat, while ratcheting up the challenge by giving demons the ability to strategize and work together. Demons also have a bunch of special abilities–they can summon smaller enemies to fight for them, block the Slayer’s ability to pick up loot for a short time to stop them from healing, create traps, or share buffs. Battlemode is an interesting take on Eternal’s battles, requiring you to use all your skills against intelligent enemies as the Slayer and to execute coordinated assaults as the relatively weaker demons. Playing as the demons puts things at a slower pace but captures a different, more tactical aspect of the battle calculations that are central to Doom Eternal’s gameplay.
Eternal’s multiplayer is a fun change of pace, especially with the opportunity to play as the demons, but its steep learning curve means it’s a bit alienating to drop into, particularly if you haven’t put significant time into the campaign. There’s a lot to keep in mind no matter what role you take on in Battlemode, making it a tough multiplayer experience to get good at. The mode also doesn’t add too much variety to the Eternal formula–for Slayer players, it’s mostly just a more challenging version of Eternal’s campaign. Taking on the demon role lets you try one of five different hellions, but while each plays a little differently, the gist of each is pretty much the same: Summon demons, shoot the Slayer. Battlemode is a nice diversion, but it’s not the major draw of Eternal by any stretch, and the novelty of facing off against other humans doesn’t add much to the game’s underlying formula.
Though it can take a bit to get the hang of it, the intricacies of Doom Eternal’s combat, combined with its enhanced mobility and option-heavy level design, create a ton of white-knuckle moments that elevate everything that made Doom 2016 work so well. Its combat is just as quick and chaotic, but requires you to constantly analyze everything that’s happening in order to come out victorious. Once you get the hang of the rhythm of Doom Eternal, it’ll make you feel like a demon-slaying savant.
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