Devil’s in the details
When DOOM Eternal was announced and shown throughout various events, I only had one question: How do you follow up a game that was nearly perfect? DOOM 2016 is one of my favorite shooters of all time, not because as a game it is perfect, but as an experience there’s nothing I would change; no other game gives you the feeling of being an unstoppable, demon-killing machine, so what could ID software do to top this experience or to improve on it in a meaningful way? DOOM Eternal is the answer to that question; if DOOM 2016 was a reaction to shooter trends of the time with no reloading, ultra-fast and aggressive combat, a knowingly ludicrous and genuinely funny narrative, DOOM Eternal is a revolution of the shooter genre that (like most revolutionary games) manages to provide you with enough moments where you experience something you haven’t had before, something that is truly unique and intoxicating, but does not have the perfect pacing or coherency of the first. Eternal’s brilliance and its lowest moments are all found in the details of its new combat mechanics and flow, which make it better than 2016’s DOOM, but also less fondly remembered now that I’m done with the game.
Before we get into the details, I just want to point out some general remarks on various aspects of the game I won’t be discussing in detail here. Visually, Eternal is a massive step up from 2016 with detailed animations, impressive scenery, and varied yet consistent locations; sound design is top notch, especially in the music department as Mick Gordon keeps adding to his legacy as one of the best composers in the industry today. All these under an impressive amount of polish, as I had no stutters or bugs of any kind, even though there’s a lot of things happening in each mission. Narrative-wise, Eternal has a want to use the lore of the franchise to tell a more “straight-forward” story (meaning a story that is not just a series of jokes), which is fine and for every boring moment, I found a comedic moment to counteract that, so overall it’s fine. Lastly, you’ve probably heard about the Marauder and platforming already, but I will say that platforming was never frustrating for me (besides a small segment right at the end of the campaign) and didn’t really mind it as a break from combat.
Speaking of which, now I can finally discuss the thing I want to and get into the nitty gritty details of the combat mechanics and systems! First off, the basics: Doom Eternal’s guns look, sound, and feel punchy and impactful, making DOOM 2016’s guns look kind of tame in comparison. But the evolution comes from Eternal’s mix of genres to create a unique experience; in essence, Eternal is a mix of FPS, resource management, and MOBAs. You have the speed and thrills of first-person shooters, the tactical and quick-thinking decisions of resource management, and the different classes of enemies from MOBAs. With this mix, Doom Eternal is very slow to begin to feel fluid, because of the new tools at your disposal and the necessity of those tools; you essentially have three resources and ways to get those resources from your enemies. If you need ammo, you need to chainsaw enemies; if you need health, you need to stagger and glory kill enemies; if you need armor, you need to set fire to enemies using your flame belch, and then damage them to drop armor. Beyond this, enemies are now grouped like a MOBA, where some enemies are fodder and should be used to recoup your spent resources, some are more difficult and unique AIs, and then there are the player equivalent. This mix of genres alongside the determination of the devs to make each weapon distinct with its own uses and disadvantages, creates an experience like non other; when Eternal comes together and everything it throws at you (from mechanics to enemies) are no longer a test of your ability to recollect which button does what and which enemy is weak to which type of ammo, it is a blissfully violent orchestra with you as the conductor, and that is the best feeling I’ve had playing a shooter in a long time.
Once those first 6-8 hours were through, and I started getting to grips with the mechanics and the controls, and every decision flowed through me, Eternal is an almost religious experience; getting from no health, no armor, and very little ammo, to full everything in a few well-timed moves is an incredibly satisfying feeling. Fodder enemies like imps and zombie soldiers start out as moving targets, but end up as moving pit stops to refuel and keep going; that is a level of bad-assery I was not prepared for, because at this point you stop feeling like a killing machine and start feeling like a predator, picking your targets in a way that suits you and your whims, not your enemies. You switch through mods for weapons, grenades, you freeze enemies and shoot weakpoints with such fluidity that its hard not to feel a sense of amazement at your own skills; I am knowingly terrible at FPS games, yet this complex and ravenous-paced game made me feel like nothing could faze me.
I truly believe that Eternal’s combat is an evolution of the genre and hope to see more of it from similar games in the future, but as with most evolutionary titles, there are problems that need to be ironed out. 6-8 hours before you can get into the groove of a game is not the best statistic for a game – there are multiple people who have discarded the game, because they never felt that putting in that time would reward them sufficiently, and I can’t blame them for that. Beyond that, Eternal is a sequel to a game that wore its simplicity on its sleeve and adding this level of complexity is breaking the game in a few spots; where as new enemies have clearly marked weakpoints and visual disadvantages, most of the old enemies don’t and require that the player remembers their weaknesses rather than identifying them. Moreover, there were too many times where I felt like the game was too “harsh” on me; destroying the weakpoints of most enemies will lead them to become highly aggressive, close range enemies, but when you have dozens of other highly aggressive, close range enemies it can get overwhelming, especially since the alternative is to take massive damage from ranged enemies but deal with less close ranged ones.
If we are comparing Eternal with its predecessor, I think DOOM 2016 is easily my favorite; its simplicity and high-octane, easy to understand action alongside its story, are some of my favorite I’ve ever played. However, Eternal gave me a unique experience; I was not simply another all-powerful killing machine. Instead, I had the intelligence of a nuclear physicist, the attitude of a shrewd general, and the skills of an ungodly killing machine; I was grouping enemies and avoiding some, because they were just snacks and I was not done with the main course. That is a hell of a power-fantasy and unlike anything I played before; it’s a shame that this experience was not as consistent as I wanted it to be. Regardless, you should play both DOOM 2016 and DOOM Eternal, because they are both excellent games and modern classics that define the genre right now.