Doom Eternal Roundtable: Did Doom Really Need This Much Story?

Doom Eternal Roundtable: Did Doom Really Need This Much Story?

Caty, Joel, and Mike gather round to discuss the most hellish new game on the market.

Over here at USgamer, a lot of us have been playing Doom Eternal, the latest shooter from id Software. In our conversations about the sequel to 2016's unexpected smash, we all came to the same conclusion: There's something up with Doom Eternal. We pondered amongst ourselves: Where did Doom Eternal's story go so awry? Has the renewed emphasis on story and platforming this time around negatively impacted how we perceive Doom Eternal as a whole?

To answer these concerns, Guides Writer Joel Franey, Reviews Editor Mike Williams, and me, Senior Editor Caty McCarthy, opted to come together for a roundtable of sorts to discuss Doom Eternal. To talk about what we liked (the action! The art direction!), and what we didn't like (the platforming! The obtuse story!). And last but not least, to look ahead to the future of Doom; to theorize where the series can go from here.

Spoiler Warning: Caution, we go into heavy spoilers for Doom Eternal below.

What Do We All Think About Doom Eternal Suddenly Having a Big Story?

Caty McCarthy: What I Iiked about Doom (2016) was that it seemed to spit in the face of lore. With that iconic opening, where Doom Slayer emerges from a sarcophagus and immediately springs into ripping and tearing demons, it's Doom Slayer effectively saying "I don't care about sentimentality. I don't care about my past." He's just there to rip demons to shreds with his bare ass hands.

The story itself was simple: This corporation is so evil that it literally fracks hell. Now you have to take them (and all these demons) down. That was really it. Doom Eternal makes things more complicated; more dense. It loses the simplicity that made its predecessor effective and hilarious. In Doom Eternal, I can't bring myself to care; even the humor feels tuned to be goofier than anything else.

Admittedly, I'm pretty early on in Doom Eternal. At the time of this writing (March 19), pre-Doom Eternal's worldwide release still, I'm back on Earth hunting the final Hell Priest; or at least, searching for a clue for where they are back on Earth... again. (Aside: The skyboxes in this game are incredible. I love the decrepit skyscrapers, barely held together by giant tentacles, as dead mechs stand watch and demons fly through the sky. The art direction is really top notch in Doom Eternal.)

The thing the cutscenes and lore-heavy Codex entries immediately brings to mind is Wolfenstein: The New Order, MachineGames' own reinvention of the Wolfenstein series. The New Order humanized not just B.J. Blazcowicz, but the Resistance's fight against Nazi rule in an alternate history where Hitler won World War II. (And I lie in wait patiently for the last entry in the trilogy.) It's a fantastic revival of the series, but for Doom, I don't feel like I need to know the motivations underneath the Doom Slayer's helmet. I just want to blast some demons, y'know?

I don't think the new direction here really works for Doom Eternal. At least, not from what I've seen so far. I'm sure diehard fans are going to be super pleased—there's a lot going on here. I just find myself uninterested in it all. Everytime the camera steers away from my control, I just find myself reaching for my phone while I wait to do another one of those annoying first-person platforming sections that lasts too long.

If you want a full breakdown, Joel wrote up a full spoiler-y guide of all the lore presented in Doom Eternal here. | Joel Franey/USG, id Software/Bethesda

Mike Williams: I'll admit, there was a point where I started to really enjoy the Doom Slayer's reaction to this epic metal fantasy world that Doom Eternal puts him in. I previously compared the lore and background of the world to the older God of War games, and that's about where it lives. If this were God of War, the Night Sentinels, the Khan Makyr, and Deagic Council would be knights, gods, and monsters, and Kratos would be railing against them about his lot in life or his family. The Doom Slayer doesn't engage though, outside of a shotgun blast to the head. And I think that's where Doom Eternal works.

An earlier draft of my review compared Doom Eternal to Fast Five, the movie largely credited with bringing together the previous four films into something bigger and more mythic. It elevated what had been a series of solid action films. Without diving into spoilers, Doom Eternal reaches back before Doom (2016) to try and tie everything into this grand journey.

The thing is, most of these connections are delivered in Codex entries. Outside of one planet that's just background and a boss fight, I don't really feel like Doom Eternal leans too far into story. I honestly forgot there was a plot in some levels. This isn't Uncharted or God of War (2018), and I think they rode the line between no story and this universe they can build upon.

Joel Franey: As the schmuck who had to go back through all the lore and little documents of Doom Eternal, what surprised me was how oddly safe all the backstory was. For a series that revels in being over the top, Eternal's new lore just feels like the run-off from franchises like Darksiders and Spawn. If we have to do lore drops in this series, why is it so tame and predictable? Why is Doom Slayer not time-traveling through history and riding cyborg T-Rexes to fight demons alongside Florence Nightingale?

The stuff we did get, we've all seen before: wars between Heaven and Hell, mega-corps being evil, blasting demons and doing the whole "what if Master Chief was in Event Horizon" thing that Doom (2016) did better. It's all fine, but it's not very exciting by now, and doesn't seem suffused with the same wry intelligence as its predecessor. In those opening scenes where you encounter the Hell Priests and they talk at you, I was waiting for our beloved Slayer to get bored and open fire, to cut them off in a haze of gunpowder and blood mist. But he just... didn't. They talked evil at him, then the Khan Maykr talked evil at him, and he just stood there posturing like he forgot what he came in for and didn't want anyone to realize. After Doom (2016)'s iconic intro, it can't help but feel like a step back.

Khan Maykr, talkin' evil. | Joel Franey/USG, id Software/Bethesda

Does Doom Eternal Retain the Black Humor of the Original?

MW: Most of the black humor is delivered through this UAC digital companion that you run across occasionally. Basically, it's a helpful digital assistant that gleefully tells humanity to submit to the demon invasion that's consuming Earth. The Doom Slayer doesn't really lend himself to black humor in my mind; he doesn't really engage with anything in a meaningful way. You only hear him talk once, and the rest is people reacting to his presence, like the Hell Priests or the surviving ARC scientists.

JF: Doom Eternal really does have a tonal dissonance, as half the story is wordy, mythic lore, and the other half is the punchy, fuck-you comedy of watching the Slayer tantrum his way across the universe. Luckily the latter half is pretty solid, and there's still something oddly endearing about the Slayer's one-track mind even now. He's here for the exact same reasons that we are—to kill demons and have fun doing it—and when the game recognises that fact, it shines. I'm a little less enthused about the meme-y, Easter Egg comedy that litters the Fortress of Doom, but levels like the BFG 10,000 are very funny and well-written, whether it's the whimpering scientists or just the audacity of destroying half a planet. If the game had all been working on that level, I think we'd have all liked it a lot more.

CM: On the brightside, I do still like Doom Slayer's attitude. He never answers in words; he responds with a cock of a shotgun. He still roughly punches anything he comes into contact with. He still loves to collect toys, for some reason. (Maybe it really does have more in common with Animal Crossing than we thought!) The humor of the previous Doom is alive in Doom Eternal, but it's goofier here. My personal bummer is that it loses the subtlety the last game had.

Does Doom Eternal Lose What Made Doom (2016) Special?

JF: A little bit, but it doesn't ruin the game. The combat is still top-notch, and they've evolved it in interesting ways, but the story clearly feels a need to try new things and it doesn't really work out. The reveal that Doom Slayer and Doom Guy are the same person is fine in theory, but Eternal didn't need a whole chapter telling us that. Likewise, there's no real reason for Hayden to make a comeback except that he was a character in the previous game. And the Icon of Sin, despite being a classic boss, isn't the endpoint that the game was building up to for fifteen hours—that was the Khan Maykr, who dies with a surprising lack of ceremony. Hell, I genuinely forgot that the Icon was the Betrayer's son, or that the Betrayer handed over a special dagger when you met him, only realizing these things in later playthroughs.

It's a shame, because the struggle to recall these moments reveals them for what they clearly are: boring. I'm not going to forget the intro to Doom (2016) or blowing up half of Mars any time soon, but I can't even remember why we went to see the Betrayer, or why we needed to fetch Hayden. So why spend time talking about these things? A bit of context is fine, but this is unnecessary bloat, and not the fun kind that you'd expect from this franchise.

*Jean Ralphio voice* Platforming is the wooooooorst. | Mike Williams/USG, id Software/Bethesda

Despite my gripes, I think time will be kinder to Doom Eternal's story as we all just accept it and learn to skip certain cutscenes, but it's disappointing that it's come to that. Hopefully the tepid reaction to Eternal's plot will ensure that the next entry will focus on the right aspects. Remember, this is a game where your hub area contains a looming, skyscraper-sized mech suit that is constantly being rebuilt and outfitted in the background... And you never get to use it. You don't even push it over onto a demon and squash them. Clearly priorities were somewhat askew.

MW: I admit, there's a loss of the purity you found in Doom (2016). That game had a very specific approach to "storytelling," in that it was entirely play driven. Doom Eternal instead offers the occasional brief cutscene and a whole lot of Codex entries to deliver the lore. The thing is, the Codex entries can be entirely ignored, and I actually did for the first half of the game.

There's been some talk about the cutscenes, but the truth is, watching the footage of my playthrough again, the cutscenes are rather short. While they try to deliver the mythical scope of something God of War, they're much shorter so that Eternal can straddle the line between Doom (2016) and what id Software can expand on. The pacing of the game is more broken up by the composition of Doom Eternal, which is: combat arena to platforming/exploration to combat arena to platforming/exploration, and repeat. I'd gather that was less a desire for storytelling, and more wanting players to breathe for a bit. It's a welcome thing later in Eternal.

The one level that does stop things in its tracks is Sentinel Prime, which is almost entirely handed over to delivering lore and platforming. They try to blunt the pain with one of the bigger boss fights, but you're still dealing with 10-15 minutes of sustained cutscenes and Codex entries prior to that. If there's anything I'd fix about Doom Eternal, it's that level.

CM: I think to an extent, yes. Doom (2016) was an unexpected, audacious game. It was funny; it was violent. It had some of the smoothest first-person shooting around—and that was even with Titanfall 2 coming out the same year.

Doom Eternal doubles down on things I didn't like about Doom (2016), like the platforming. (There are so many long platforming sections!) Doom (2016) most importantly has what Doom Eternal lacks: remarkable pacing. It was kill room to kill room, with little fluff in between. Doom Eternal lets you pause, which some I can see taking as a positive, but for me, the adrenaline from each fight made me just want to jump immediately into the next one. I appreciate pumping the brakes every now and then, but there's just something off about the way Doom Eternal does it. It's too frequent.

That said, the action itself is still great. I love the Flame Belch for armor, the Glory Kill for health, the Blood Punch for crowd control, the chainsaw for ammo. It's all a big puzzle that works perfectly together, and makes each fight exhilarating. I've been playing on Ultra-Violence, occasionally knocking down the difficulty to Hurt Me Plenty if I'm finding myself having a lot of trouble—give me a break, life's short, and I'm not reviewing it. It's definitely a harder game, in my opinion, than Doom (2016) was.

So it's weird. When I consider Doom Eternal holistically, I'm left a little disappointed by it so far, from the off-kilter pacing to the big lean this time around on an inscrutable story. But when I'm in the midst of its battles, I'm having a great time running and gunning and monkey bar-ing. It hasn't had that wow moment like I had multiple times in Doom (2016), but I guess it's like the cliche goes: lightning never really strikes twice.

Whiplash, seen here on the left, is a brand-new demon introduced for Doom Eternal. | id Software/Bethesda

Where Does Doom Go From Here?

MW: Doom (2016) is a soft remake of Doom and Doom Eternal is the same for Doom 2. The easy answer is a soft reboot of the next game, right? The question is what do you consider to be the next game? Final Doom, Doom 64, or Doom 3? I'd probably say Doom 64, a port of which was actually released alongside Doom Eternal. But that port includes additional levels linking its campaign to Doom (2016), so that's out.

Alternatively, perhaps Doom Eternal was id Software stepping out into open air, with no parachute beneath them. What is an id Software sequel, with no previous Doom game to root themselves in? Whiplash, a new demon introduced in Eternal, is one of the few wholly original creations. Perhaps, it's time for id Software's artists to truly be set free. The Doom Slayer has defeated the forces of Hell on Earth, but he's got a Fortress in space that can teleport him anywhere. One man in an ongoing war against demons across the cosmos.

CM: I haven't played Doom Eternal through to the end yet, so plot wise, I can't really say. There will probably be a Doom 3 of sorts though. All I hope is that for the next Doom, that it tones down the annoying, precise platforming sections. Please, id Software, I beg of you. At one point I even lost two extra lives just trying to hop and grab through a section. Jumping and dashing and grabbing is somehow more deadly for me than being face to face with a giant spider demon with a turret on its back. That is not how it should be.

JF: The only thing that Doom hasn't really done yet story-wise is THE Devil himself as a character/enemy, though we know he exists through a few clues from Doom (2016). I'm guessing that's the next obvious step. There's also a few unresolved threads left over from Eternal, but they're probably best left ignored at this point.

Above all else, I wonder how long Doom's frantic, foaming madness is really sustainable before it tires itself out. The obvious solution is to keep ramping it up to the point of comic absurdity, but Eternal suggests that's not quite the direction that id Software currently have in mind. Still, there's no reason to suggest that change is impossible, and I feel like the relatively neat ending of Doom Eternal leaves the series open to moving in any number of directions. As long as the combat remains solid and there's a hard dialing-back on the platforming, I'm still down to slay.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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