It's always interesting to see something trying to break free of its foundations. Doom (2016) re-established the core of the franchise—heavy metal album cover aesthetics mixed with high-speed, high-tension gun murder. Doom Eternal wants to be the second landmark album after an amazing debut—the game version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid.
The sense of scope and scale this time around is nothing short of stunning. From the moment the Slayer steps out into the demonic invasion of Earth, where a massive Titan is stomping around the husk of humanity, you already feel like Doom Eternal is aiming to be much bigger. Doom Eternal sells the feeling of an entire universe under siege, and it runs at a clean 60fps on my PC with a 2060 RTX.
This all sets up Doom Eternal as bigger, gorier, and more intense than what came before. When you load it up for the first time, you get a monologue from King Space Viking (not his real name), the collective cries of the human race, and the Doom Slayer preparing for the death-dealing in a goddamn floating castle in space, The Fortress of Doom. Before you were one man on a crusade, now you're one man with a gateway to the entire universe.
I honestly thought I had missed something. Was there some novel or comic I forgot to read? It's an entire game that starts in media res, id Software saying to the player, "This is what Doom is now. Enjoy the ride." The adventure is partially the tongue-and-cheek black humor of Doom (2016), but there's also a deep vein of mythology, where Doom Eternal expects you to nod along to the machinations and history of the Night Sentinels, the Khan Makyr, and Deagic Council.
It's a weird mix of tones, as present villains and heroes long dead deliver deadly serious monologues, like small scenes filling the space in a heavy metal concept album. The Doom Slayer himself never speaks, and whenever he meets someone—human or demon—they respond with an intense fear of this living force of nature. There's something oddly fun in the Slayer answering high-minded speech with the barrel of a shotgun.. It's almost like he's spitting in the face of his own story, and I loved it.
It's the moments when Doom Slayer breaks out his trusty shotgun, rather than the lore-heavy exposition, that serve as a reminder why Doom is consistently lauded as one of the best modern shooters today. Its combat is breathless; its encounters functioning like a string of mini-puzzles in which you try to keep your momentum going as long as possible. As in the original, Glory Kills—special melee finishers you can use on staggered enemies—and the Chainsaw allow you to react to how a fight is going, and determine if you need health or ammo. Doom Eternal further expands on this concept with a shoulder-mounted flame thrower, called Flame Belch, that causes torn bodies to drop armor pickups. It's a simple inclusion, and one that works well because it fits seamlessly with the existing Glory Kill/Chainsaw system: you can light an enemy of fire, and then decide if you also need health or ammo in addition to armor.
On top of these additions, Doom Eternal adds two new weapons. On the lighter end is the Ice Grenade, a variant of the Frag Grenade that's far more useful. Being able to move while keeping your enemy in one place is fantastic, and there are further improvements that increase the damage and health drops from frozen enemies. It's a lovely weapon. The second addition is the Blood Punch, a melee attack charged by Glory Kills that creates a demon-killing shockwave. Doom (2016)'s interconnected core combat mechanics were a revelation in the intense amount of control they offered, and Doom Eternal iterates on these systems without adding too much complexity.
Most of the actual guns from Doom (2016) return for Doom Eternal, though some don't make the cut. You get a total of eight weapons this time around: Combat Shotgun, Super Shotgun, Heavy Cannon, Plasma Rifle, Rocket Launcher, Chaingun, BFG-9000, and the Ballista. The latter is one of the truly new weapons, a single-shot, long range weapon that can also be modded to produce a scything beam of charged energy. Doom's weapons were great, and some consolidation in Doom Eternal is an improvement, with the weapon mod secondary fire modes and weapon mastery system allowing you to tailor the arsenal to your playstyle. Once you unlock the mods and additional tweaks that work for you, Doom Eternal's weapons feel nearly perfect.
You'll need to use nearly every weapon Doom Eternal has to offer, because enemy weak points are still your primary focus. At higher difficulty levels, you'll need to know that a Pinky dies fast when hit from behind with a Super Shotgun, or that you can strip a Cyber Mancubus' armor off with a well-paced Blood Punch. In the most pitched fights, you'll find yourself switching to a Plasma Rifle to strip away a shield, headshotting a Hell Knight with the Arbalest, and then lighting a pair of Imps on fire to dispatch them with a Blood Punch for sweet, sweet health and armor.
Every enemy is visually distinct and sports some great designs, so even in a firefight, you'll know exactly what you're up against. Even monsters that are largely the same like the Cacodemon and the Pain Elemental—both floating, single-eye demons—are very easy to tell apart. Where the level design struggles with visual readability at times, the enemy design absolutely nails it.
With all the weapons and tools at your disposal, and knowledge of your foes' weakness, Doom Eternal can approach that wonderful feeling of flow in combat. I hit certain moments where everything just fell away, and I was just trying to survive a few more seconds. I'd be white-knuckling my mouse, hoping that I could strafe dash away from an Archvile and chainsaw a zombie for some ammo, only to see an Arachnotron spawn in and have to switch to the shotgun. The Doom dance remains. There are not many shooters these days as absolutely frantic as Doom Eternal, and id Software hasn't ruined it. It's still goddamn fantastic, and a testament to the long first-person shooting history of the studio.
All that said, the heightened narrative focus on story does impact the pacing of Doom Eternal. There's more downtime between battles now. You spend more time hunting for collectible items new and old—Sentinel Crystals, Runes, Weapon Mod Containers, Keys, Toys, and Cheat Codes. Some of these improve the Slayer directly, unlocking improved health or other special bonuses, while others are to give you enhanced challenges, like the Slayer Gates or Master Levels. These items are hidden behind weird jumps, hidden walls, and other obstacles.
Platforming is a bigger part of the experience now, and while it fits seamlessly into the campaign, it's not always great. I occasionally found that the level design and environmental art would obfuscate the way forward. There was one section where I had to jump from platform to platform, with whatever platform I was currently on falling into the void—a conceit hearkening back to the days of Mario on the NES. On two of the jumps, I couldn't look around in time to know where the next jump was, meaning I had to take a leap in a random direction or just fall into the bottomless pit. The penalty is just some health, but that doesn't excuse it not having a clear way forward.
This all adds up to an overall experience that's not quite as pure or tight as the one in Doom (2016). I did appreciate the down time in certain levels, as some of the battles can get so intense that I need the break to unclench my muscles and relax. Getting a chance to use the Doom Slayer's movement capabilities—double jumping, or the all-new double dash and wall climb—for more than just dodging is enjoyable, but I think more work was needed to bring the platforming up to the shooting's level. Regardless, Doom Eternal still leans heavily on shooting in combat arenas versus platforming, and the successes there crush the skulls of smaller sins in the level design.
The Demons Take Over Multiplayer
With all that said, let's dive quickly into Doom Eternal's multiplayer. Doom (2016) featured a fairly traditional multiplayer offering that included Deathmatch and King of the Hill modes. These pit players against each other as their own flavor of the Doom Slayer, with weapon pick-ups in each arena.
Doom Eternal, meanwhile, is trying something different with its Battlemode, which is a 1v2 competitive mode where one player is the Doom Slayer, and the other two are demons. The Doom Slayer wields all of his abilities and weapons from the campaign. In contrast, the demon players can choose between Archvile, Mancubus, Marauder, Pain Elemental, and Revenant, each with their own basic attacks, and the ability to summon lesser demons.
After the demon players choose their chosen unholy soldiers, the match begins. The Doom Slayer starts with a full loadout of every weapon with the exception of the BFG. Both sides begin to hunt the other, the Slayer bouncing around like a murder pinball and the demons attempting to summon enough forces to make the Slayer break a sweat. There's a brief moment of coolness, playing as the Marauder and summoning an Arachnotron to fight alongside you, but it unfortunately doesn't last.
From my time in Battlemode, I found that the Doom Slayer holds most of the cards. The demons cannot heal, and the lesser demons are at a disadvantage against a veteran Slayer. This means that the demon players have to coordinate more, while the Slayer can just zoom around the battlefield, throwing rockets around and chainsawing lesser demons for health. Across 10 matches, I found the Slayer only lost twice.
As with Doom (2016), Id Software clearly prizes the single-player campaign, with Battlemode feeling like an afterthought. It's two players as demons versus the Slayer, which isn't even all that conceptually complex. Battlemode just feels poorly tuned and lacking in longevity. Doom Eternal's Battle Pass-style progression is shared between campaign and Battlemode, meaning you don't even really need to play it. The planned Invasion multiplayer, which lets you invade another user's single-player experience like Dark Souls, sounds like it fits in with Doom Eternal's best content much better than what's on display here.
Ultimately, Battlemode is it's such a small part of the overall experience that I'll probably forget it entirely as I continue to replay the excellent single-player mode. Doom was a nearly-perfect ode to digital brutality in 2016, recasting the original Doom games in a new image. It was fast and vicious, with the perfect mix of FPS combat, story, and level design. It also didn't overstay its welcome. Doom Eternal mostly manages to avoid the bloat that plagues other sequels, but it also roughs up that perfect pacing with more lore, sometimes muddy platforming, and more collectibles to find. Doom Eternal survives to the end, fist raised in triumph, it just takes a few more hits than its predecessor did to get there. Still, as Space Viking King says, "You remain unbroken." Doom Eternal is certainly not broken, and in these trying times, I think we all need a little "rip and tear" in our lives.
Doom Eternal builds upon the excellent foundation of Doom (2016) with a mess of demons, Glory Kills, and great weapons. Most of what made Doom great is carried forward into Doom Eternal, with new mechanics like an armor-filling flamethrower and the room-clearing Blood Punch. Eternal wants to be more though, so it adds to Doom Slayer's story and adds more twisty levels to explore, which puts some bumps in the tight pacing of Doom (2016). Nevertheless, it'll still feed your need for that rip and tear.