The Slayer returns to glory kill the world yet again in Doom Eternal

Bethesda has had a rough track record for the last couple of years. After a successful release with Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, their following games Rage 2, Fallout 76, and Wolfenstein: Youngblood have each landed less than favorable reviews. They need a big hit to put them back on the board, and while I didn’t love Doom Eternal nearly as much as its predecessor, it’s bound to please even the most bloodthirsty of FPS fans with its unmatched sense of speed and brutality.

Doom Eternal is a commemoration of everything that Doom has been in the past thirty years. Its complete veneration to everything that came before it is evident from the very beginning, as it brings back and revises characters that weren’t in the previous Doom reboot in some brilliant ways. Gone — for most of the time you’ll be playing, anyway — are the dull metallic industrial look from before, in favor of a bloody mix of urban and medieval as the game opens up with the mythical Doom Slayer standing in his imposing space station/castle overlooking an Earth under siege by the forces of Hell.

It doesn’t take long before things get going as you beam down to a city turned warzone and your journey for the liberation of your homeworld begins, along with the expected and trademarked ‘ripping and tearing’. Doom Eternal expects you to keep up with it from the very get-go and only ups the ante the further you get into it. If 2016’s Doom proved to be too much for you, you’re probably not going to get very far in this one as it’s way faster and more brutal than anything that has come before it.

Rip and tear indeed.

I feel no shame in admitting that a few hours in, I turned down the difficulty because I was getting my ass handed to me in the early to mid sections of the game. The pacing in Doom Eternal is relentless as you’re urged to keep moving and perform a lot of different actions at the same time. The chainsaw is back and mostly performs the same function as in the previous game — that is, to get more ammo out of the demons you kill and keep the dance going — but since there’s a notable resource scarcity this time around, it’s put to use way more often.

The same goes for melee glory kills that can be done when enemies are staggered and start glowing, giving you much needed health boosts during combat. The non glory kill attacks have gotten a noticeable nerf, and don’t do nearly as much damage as before, so don’t do like me and try to punch even a lowly zombie to undeath, you’ll only get whacked yourself. That in turn makes the emphasis on managing crowds of enemies that much important, and the designers of the game make it evident when pumping in fodder demons for you to farm during encounters since pickups are few and far between.

Doomguy feels a lot more nimble this time around thanks to double jump being available right from the beginning of the game and the new dash ability. Those abilities, along with now being able to grab certain walls, give way to a whole lot more platforming than we saw in the last Doom game. For the initial hour or so of playing and during my E3 demo last year, I absolutely hated jumping around in first-person and ended up getting used to it. It’s just there as an extra layer of interaction with the maps and not much else.

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Slayer, Baron of Hell. Baron of Hell, Slayer.

As with the previous Doom, there’s plenty to upgrade this time around too. Even more so if that’s possible. Returning to your arsenal are mods, and with them, upgrades that you spend weapon tokens on, which come from completing combat arenas and boss fights during levels. When you unlock all of the upgrades for a particular mod, a challenge pops up that has to be completed before that function is mastered. New this time around, though, is that you can forgo doing that by spending a mastery coin, which in turn is rare and somewhat tough to come by.

You can also put in a couple of different currencies into your abilities: Praetor suit coins can be used to improve your base abilities tied to grenades, the new ice cannon, or simply finding your way through levels by marking collectibles on your map or making platforming slightly snappier. The second pickup are special stones that like the first reboot game boost your three base stats, health, armor, and ammo, but this time around there’s a slight twist to your progression as you can now make combos along the way and unlock special perks by putting in these improvements in a certain order, thus making enemies stagger for long periods of time, for instance.

A lot of these improvements come from simply playing through the game and fighting as it’s intended, but some are locked behind having to find collectibles thrown around stages. Similar to Doom 2016, the map does a tremendous job in letting you know exactly where these are, so whenever you feel like taking a break from all the chaos, you’re free to look around and find these trinkets. And if you’re into this sort of thing like I am, you’ll be happy to know that there are a number of new additions to just finding figurines, given that there are now records and even diskettes to find. The former unlock music tracks from older id Software games (some surprising deep cuts there!), while the latter are tied to cheats that can be used when replaying previously beaten levels, letting you explore them and unlock progress as you see fit.

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I don’t know if I shoot these guys or hug them. I mean, look at them!

The only part of the game you can’t access when going back to levels are the slayer gates, this game’s version of challenge rooms that really push your skills with a barrage of demons that come in waves and don’t give you a look of room to breathe. The reward for all the mayhem is giving you access to a special gun after you see all of them through. It’s not as simple as just finding the gate and stepping through it, though. Like Darksiders Genesis, you have to find the key, which is usually hidden somewhere close by. I liked trying to beat the couple of these that I ran across, for sure, even if some of the challenges felt a little on the cheap side. Come on, two marauders one after the other in that particular one I ended up quitting on? Ugh.

Yeah, I have to talk about the marauder. It’s an enemy that comes relatively late in the campaign, about 2/3s of the way in. He’s a real pain. Basically the Hell version of the Doom Slayer, he carries around a shield on his back and a shotgun and mace in each hand. He can defend from just about anything you throw at him in any range, forcing you to counter his attack at a specific time in order to get your only chance to damage the bastard. Did I mention he has a flaming dog at his disposal? I won’t say the fight is a game stopper, but it’s real tough to deal with, and you’ll know that things are about to get rough when he beams in during an encounter. Once he’s there, you have to change your approach and prioritize taking him out.

Prioritization is the main strategy for Doom Eternal as a whole as the combat hinges on you making decisions in regards to what to focus on and destroy, and how you do it. As mentioned, enemies teleport in at all times, forcing you to adapt on the go and keep the dance going until you come out victorious. Specific weapons and mods excel at taking down particular enemies, which this time around have weaknesses you can exploit and make them behave wildly different, possibly giving you the opening you need to send them back to the devil in pieces. I certainly felt much weaker in this game than I ever had in the last one, and as I mentioned, I plopped the difficulty down while making my way through the story. Enemies pack a lot of punch, for sure, as you are constantly in need to refill your reserves, which helped keep my anxiety at the top throughout my time playing the game.

Things are not looking good for Hell grunt #4962987!

Having a hub to come back to in between levels is a fun way to cool off from a especially tough mission, and all in all, I think id did a great job at constructing the Fortress of Doom. It’s as expected comically put together, with basically an office for Doomguy to relax, with all his comics, books, and figurines in display, along with his guitars, old armor from the previous Doom, and even a 486 computer where you can play the first games if you manage to find all of the cheat floppies. The rest of the castle is similarly well done, including shrines that you can access by spending sentinel batteries you find in levels. Be it extra armor tokens or new weapon mods, or even special skins that change your character’s looks, there’s plenty of reason to dick around and explore this map every now and then.

Then there’s the dungeon, where you can practice combat as you see fit without having to worry about burning through any resources. At first, you’re brought there as an objective, but as the game progresses, you are free to take the elevator down and go for broke as long as you like, at any time. I found this spot to be useful right around when I upgraded a mod and wanted to get used to it in my rotation, without having to worry about failing. Considering that there are a number of new gameplay elements that get introduced all the time throughout Doom Eternal’s 12-15-hour adventure, it’s a welcome addition that’s surprisingly useful and not at all a throwaway.

Outside of the single player campaign which is already packed and intense itself, id has once again included adversarial multiplayer to the game. Instead of the usual deathmatch, though, Battlemode is all about asymmetrical 1v2 combat, putting a lone Slayer up against two player-controlled demons, all the while computer-controlled enemies attack them. There are currently five types of Hell soldiers to pick from, and each of them offers a suite of abilities to use. I’m usually not at all fond of this type of game mode, but I see how it can potentially be fun when played with friends and/or people I know. With randoms, due to the lack of communication between partners or the loneliness of playing by myself as the Doomguy didn’t really feel like my idea of online gaming fun, but the mode is there for anyone looking to keep Doom Eternal in their hard drives or disc bays for a little while longer. 

There’s a surprising amount of lore in this game, and hey, it’s not terrible!

In many ways, Doom Eternal is an extension of what was set by 2016’s excellent revival of the franchise. id have laid down a frenetically-paced action first-person experience unlike any other you’re likely to play, one that requires — no, demands — your constant attention and concentration, which sometimes felt a little too much for me. For the last stretch of my review playing of the game, I spent a coronavirus-induced quarantine afternoon finishing off the final handful of levels and was absolutely smashed when I was done. 

And that was playing in the second to last difficulty option. I’m certainly glad I was able to play and finish it for sure, but I’m not particularly looking forward to going back, unless it’s with cheats on in order to clean up the rest of the collectibles I’m missing. The feeling I got from closing this off was more of relief than anything else, and I know how this sounds, that I hated my time playing. Nothing stands farther from the truth than that, but it’s the best I can describe how I’m feeling not even a day after being done with the campaign. I certainly enjoyed my time playing, but putting it in comparison to the previous Doom, which I also beat for the first time a couple of months ago, I don’t feel nearly as anxious to jump back into the fray.

On the other hand, I can totally appreciate the reverence that Doom Eternal holds for everything Doom that has come before it. Its story, for one, is surprisingly detailed, and goes into how the Doom Slayer came to be the powerhouse that he is, and I found myself wanting more of it as I read through the many documents found in levels and listening to the logs going on about his legend. Safe to say, for a game like Doom to have writing that’s interesting enough for it to warrant paying attention to is something that id is to be commended for. Then again, if you’re here purely for the blood and guts, you can ignore everything and have at it.

I don’t love this multiplayer style, but it’s there and it’s totally playable.

Technology-wise, this is yet another fantastic piece of gaming. Utilizing the new id Tech 7 engine, Doom Eternal blows the previous game out of the water in terms of sheer visuals and effects, especially with HDR turned on. Monsters look even more horrifying than before, and as you shoot them, bloody chunks come off revealing bone, flesh, and muscles. Environments, for as straightforward and a little too built like corridors with invisible walls, are just goddamn gorgeous and varied. I had a blast experimenting with the arsenal, and while it’s not as numerous as 2016, manages to be varied and positively useful all throughout. Mick Gordon’s work in the soundtrack continues to be amazing and helps set the tone throughout the game.

For as much as sense there is setting fire to a demon in order to get armor pieces, having the option to approach encounters in an assortment of ways and setting into my style of play felt natural, even when failing and retrying any of the encounters to death. The new Doom will push you in ways very few games do, uncomfortably so at times, and it’ll be up to you to react. I would’ve appreciated a little less hand-holding when it came to in-game tips in regards to how to approach certain enemies, but then again, knowing what to do and actually doing it are entirely different things.

To me, the biggest compliment I can pay to Doom Eternal is how much recognition from today’s developers for what’s come in the past is all over their new game. I grew up playing id’s FPSs and nearing the second half of my thirties now, getting to experience such a loving homage to something I feel is part of who I am today as a person is positively incredible. Even if I’m not exactly lost in love with playing the game itself, I can appreciate what it represents and how far the series has come since its humble beginnings.  

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