2016’s Doom reimagined the classic shooter into a frantic but modern mould. The bloody escapades of the Doom Slayer were rife with bullets and guts. It was a grimy video game hamburger. Doom Eternal is bigger and bloodier, almost to the point of excess. It’s the same hamburger dipped into a vat of delicious special sauce. Except the serving size is so big that it’s hard not to feel a little sick afterwards.
Nonetheless Doom Eternal is incredible. It is a hellaciously bold step forward from the soft-rebooted series that will satisfy even the stodgiest of old school Doom fans. If you want to rip and tear, there’s arguably no better place than Doom Eternal. It also wants to juggle too many balls. There are additions to the combat system, a slew of unlockable items, online multiplayer pitting man against demons, dozens of gun upgrades, a lot more ancient lore, and story connections to older games that offer surprising revelations. Doom Eternal operates on a single maxim: more, more, more. Much of this works, some of it is a harmless annoyance, and a few things are actively frustrating. The frustrating parts don’t prevent Doom Eternal from being a great game, but they are there. They show themselves with every tutorial pop-up, cosmetic reward, or late addition to the game’s fabulous but increasingly busy combat.
Does it matter if most players are just here for violence and good times, as opposed to all that other stuff? Probably not. Doom Eternal lives by the strength of its shooting, and with a few notable competitors like Titanfall 2, there’s nothing that comes close to delivering this level of excitement.
Doom Eternal is set two years after 2016’s Doom. Earth has been invaded by demonic legions who have wiped out most of the population. These forces are led by a strange angel-like being called the Khan Maykr and a trio of “Hell Priests” that are responsible for summoning and empowering the horde. The Doom Slayer, our ever-helmeted and mindlessly violent hero, returns to Earth to hunt down the Hell Priests and put an end to the invasion. His quest will take him through multiple dimensions and reveal secrets about the life he lived before he became a legendary warrior. Narratively, Doom Eternal has more going on than what came before. The lines between legend and reality become less blurred, and closely guarded secrets and plots get revealed in the process. Who is the Doom Slayer? What really fuels “argent energy,” the seemingly infinite power supply that corporations sought in the previous game, which the Khan Maykr also seems to covet? If you somehow wanted answers to those questions, Doom Eternal’s story will deliver them, and it will do so with a clumsy confidence.
The premise is the same as ever: there are demons that need killing and countless ways for you to fuck them up beyond recognition. Doom Eternal contains the same core combat loop as 2016’s Doom. Wounding enemies will cause them to flash into a vulnerable state during which they can be annihilated with a “glory kill.” These astoundingly violent finishing moves, a canonisation of Brutal Doom’s fatalities, cause enemies to explode in a burst of blood and health pickups. You dart around, injure enemies, zoom in, smash their skulls in to keep your health up, bust out and keep killing. It’s hard to understate how satisfying this core combat loop is. There is just enough strategy at play. Should I waste time weakening zombie fodder so I can get some easy health back or keep focusing on that Arachnotron chasing me? Should I use my chainsaw now, cutting an enemy in half and gaining ammo pickups in the process, or save it until I have enough gasoline to bisect tougher enemies in the blink of an eye? This satisfying loop congeals into something that’s both incredibly deep and mind-numbingly simple. Sometimes you methodically choose foes, sometimes you bust out your rocket launcher and blow everything into sticky goo.
2016’s Doom combat was a straightforward but deliberate dance. Doom Eternal transforms it into an elbow-throwing pit mosh, building upon its core loop by adding on a variety of tools and tactics. These options are sometimes overwhelming. As more and more upgrades are unlocked, combat bloats with possibilities. It can be hard to track all your options when you’re getting bum-rushed by a Baron of Hell or blasted by a Mancubus. However, using these options to their full advantage can crank combat up ten to twenty points on the dial.
First and foremost is the addition of the Flame Blech, a short flamethrower attack that causes minuscule damage but has one key benefit: any enemy lit on fire will generate armour when shot or killed. It’s easy to dismiss the Flame Blech as a useless gizmo when you first acquire it. Glory kills make health generation easy and while Doom Eternal is a more difficult game than its predecessor, the early levels are relatively tame. There’s not an overwhelming need for armour when you’re already incredibly mobile and can rip gargoyles in half for a health-restoring blood shower. As the game progresses, the Flame Belch proves more useful. Enemies grow more aggressive and their compositions hold dangerous elite monsters. Learning to douse minor enemies in flames and blow them into armour-granting bits becomes much more essential. It’s a welcome tool, although it does highlight what’s bound to be a point of conversation and contention between players: is there too much stuff?
Because, to reiterate, there is a hell of a lot of stuff. In addition to the Flame Belch, players have access to frag and ice grenades that can blow up clusters of enemies or freeze them in place. Each weapon has two different variations that can be unlocked. The Heavy Cannon, a reliable machine gun, can fire miniature missiles or be used as a sort of sniper rifle. The Plasma Rifle can be upgraded with a powerful explosive wave ability or a lock-on microwave beam that blows enemies up when they die. There are runes to discover that unlock permanent powers, like the ability to slow down time when you aim in the air or increase your dash speed. Enemies have weak points on their body that are best handled by specific weapons and firing modes. Is that cacodemon opening their mouth? Better fire a grenade from your modified shotgun. That angelic priest is firing from a distance? You can instantly kill them with a Heavy Cannon precision bolt shot to their skull. Doom Eternal is awash in upgrades, modifications, and options that complicate the combat loop. On the one hand, these options grant players a variety of ways to deal with enemies. The possibility space is wider; you always have something available to deal with a specific threat and you’re given carte blanche to employ the tactics you want. This turns combat into a truly expressive experience, even if you’ll often find yourself relying on key tactics to deal with specific foes.
That sounds good, right? It is, but these flourishes and additions don’t come without complications, and at times, Doom Eternal’s combat feels almost too busy. The core loop that drove 2016’s Doom to success is occasionally lost in all of the cooldowns, subweapons, and supercharged “Blood Punches.” The special sauce oozes over the hamburger so much that you sometimes lose the beef’s flavor. I expect some disagreement on this point, but while I never begrudged Doom Eternal’s additions, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t occasionally lose track of when my ice grenades were off cooldown.
This problem is fixed in the moments when Doom Eternal demands the most of the player. In choice encounters, you’ll exhaust all your dashes and double jumps, fling a grenade on Flame Belch’d enemies for armor shards and grapple into an enemy’s face with your super shotgun’s meat hook attachment. If you’re playing on the default difficulty, these moments of intense performance aren’t as common as they should be. Doom Eternal takes time before it diversifies the enemy pool; the opening of the game is particularly tame. I found myself craving the moments where I could unlock Slayer Gates, which are hidden challenges featuring devilish monster groupings with boss enemies thoroughly mixed in for good measure. If you’re a Doom aficionado, it’s best to crack the difficult up right away if you want to get the most out of the combat. Doom works best when it is mean. It shines brightest in the moments that it follows in the footsteps of WADs like The Plutonia Experiment, or even John Romero’s recent Sigil.
All of this expressed in a single enemy new to Doom Eternal: the Marauder. Marauders are the most “modern” feeling enemy in the game, to the point that they could be right at home in an action game like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Marauders pose a unique challenge. Get too close and they will instantly blast you with their shotgun. Move too far away and they slice energy waves at you with their massive axe. When they want to be extra annoying, Marauders can summon a wolf-spirit to chase down the player. Their design bucks against the norm. Doom challenges are usually all about the player needing to be aggressive, but Marauders can only be attacked during key windows of opportunity, else they block everything with a powerful shield. Fighting one-on-one is busy enough. Drop one of these bastards into a horde and an encounter becomes truly difficult. Lord help you if there’s an arch-vile around who might revive fallen minions as well. Compared to older enemies like charging Hell Knights and soul-spewing Pain Elementals, Marauders feel over-tuned and arguably out of place. If Doom Eternal has “too many notes,” then these bastards are an entire symphony unto themselves. Nevertheless, it works.
Bosses, on the other hand, never reach such lofty heights. This is especially true with the final two boss battles. There’s little strategy involved in them except shooting at a slightly bigger enemy, and while that arguably makes sense for Doom, the results are boring. The sights are grand and there’s plenty of blood bits, but it never feels as complex or gratifying as it should. Difficulty comes through waves of minions and hazards that limit where you can move. Instead of monumental battles with titans, these are confusing and messy showdowns with foes you don’t really give a shit about. You’ll die, sure, but rarely at their hands. Usually, a spare imp or strange angelic priest will swoop in through a blindspot. That’s Doom Eternal’s combat, for good and ill. Loud, busy, and excessive regardless of the consequences. You either fall in line or get gibbed.
This is also apparent in the game’s multiplayer “Battlemode,” a one-versus-two match in which one player is the Doom Slayer and the other two play as demons. It’s often a fun challenge but the fact that Doom Eternal pushes this forward as the main multiplayer option and not simply a deathmatch mode is puzzling. In Battlemode, the two players who are demons get to team up with AI enemies so that the Doom Slayer can perform glory kills to earn health or chainsaw for ammo. But the chaos, while occasionally fun, started to bore me after a handful of matches. It’s another case where more doesn’t mean “better.”
There’s also a Dark Souls-esque invasion mechanic – to be released in a post-launch patch – that will let players “invade” someone’s story campaign as a demon and try to take them out. That sounds cool on paper, and while I’m sure it might be fun from time to time, I also find myself scratching my head at it. To paraphrase my bud Adam Jensen: nobody asked for this. I admire the attempts to experiment with the Doom format, but I can’t muster any excitement for what that experimentation has ended up looking like in Doom Eternal’s multiplayer. Doom 2016’s deathmatch modes were met with derision on release, but sometimes all you want to do is drop into a free-for-all. The classics are classic for a reason. You can have your Battlemode, Bethesda. But I’d also like the option to simply jump into arena with some people and some fuckin’ guns, y’know?
The idea of “more” somehow being better is the culprit behind Doom Eternal’s most exhausting decisions. . The things I like the least about Doom Eternal are the wrappings surrounding combat. On the mild end of the spectrum, that means the excessive upgrade trees and weapon modifications. Sometimes a shotgun should just be a shotgun. But in Doom Eternal, it’s all about the upgrades. This happened in 2016’s Doom as well, but there’s way more of it here. You’ll gain upgrades for your guns. You’ll gain upgrades to your power suit. You’ll gain upgrades for your runes. You’ll gain upgrades for your punches. There’s fast travel for exploring levels and a base to explore between missions. These additions feel unnecessary and sometimes pointless. I was never excited to find an upgrade hidden in a secret location. It always felt like a chore when I earned upgrade points or found energy cells to unlock one of the many locked doors in my home base. It’s one thing for Doom Eternal’s combat to churn with options; it’s more annoying when everything around it also feels so busy. For a game about blowing shit up, there’s a lot of menu navigation. In the worst cases, there are pop ups about how to unlock such-and-such feature and even messages on how to defeat bosses. Many of these notifications can be disabled, but the associated web of collectables, progression systems, unlockable skins, and bonuses is harder to ignore and it adds little that’s worthwhile to the experience.
Doom Eternal’s story is muddy and not told well. World-shaking stakes and brutal displays of villainy mix with a presentation that is disjointed and assumes far more investment on the part of the player than will likely exist. While die-hard fans might be content to speculate about the true nature of cyborg scientist Samuel Hayden and the nature of Doom’s cosmology, the fact of the matter is that it’s just not interesting.
Doom Eternal takes the lore of 2016’s Doom – which mostly entailed hazy religious texts and legends of the near-mythical Doom Slayer – and makes everything more explicit. It confirms a fan theory. The Doom Slayer isn’t just anyone; it turns out that he’s the hero from the original Doom, Doom 2, and Doom 64. Following those games, he wandered Hell until he was found by the Maykrs and eventually joined an ancient order of demon slayers called the Night Sentinels. The Maykr society faced upheaval and a mysterious hooded-man imbued him with otherworldly strength.
What does all this lore add to the proceedings? It’s hard to say. Doom Eternal drips with an unearned self-seriousness. It bends and twists to weave a larger canon without any real purpose besides adding artificial weight to the story. Where MachineGames reimagined Wolfenstein’s B.J. Blazkowicz into a world-weary soldier and used its Nazi-packed setting to mix pulp and social commentary, Doom Eternal begs to be taken seriously without any real reason to oblige.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too, and Doom Eternal shifts between far-out Heavy Metal hijinks and storied lore without combining the two into a coherent package. It’s easy to say that this doesn’t matter. After all, Doom’s all about the shooty times. But 2016’s Doom proved that it was possible to have all the zombie-smashing you wanted while weaving in a few interesting ideas. The Union Aerospace Corporation’s thoughtless dash to harvest Hell energy to fuel technological progress was tinged by real-life concerns about global warming, allowing Doom to develop a pointed if straightforward satire of corporate culture. Lore codexes filled with ancient legends of the Doom Slayer painted a meta-texual story about Doom’s cultural cachet. The franchise might as well be a religion to some players. Why not make that explicit within the fiction? Those things worked as spice adding a light but never superficial kick to a straightforward shooter story. Doom Eternal’s world of Hell Priests, ancient Betrayers and warrior orders ultimately feels hollow. It’s not silly or self-aware enough to take lightly. But I also can’t take it seriously and won’t let the grand twist of the Doom Slayer’s identity sucker me into thinking that there’s more going on here than there actually is.
This said, the campaign itself is remarkably well-paced. The middle segments drag somewhat but Doom Eternal’s levels and world design ramp up in quality with each passing segment. 2016’s Doom had one glaring sin: it was too long and too drab. Dank steel hallways eventually gave way to Hell’s brownish tones and increasingly bloated combat encounters. Embracing the lore might not work for Doom Eternal’s narrative, but it works wonders for the world design. There are crumpling cities and demon-packed battles through strip malls, Hell valleys littered with wreckage of giant robots and aging titan corpses, a battle through space as massive laser cannons blaze through the stars, and forays into alien dimensions that feel lifted from Destiny. The levels are more imaginative and varied than what came before. In stark contrast to 2016’s Doom, the back half is actually far better than the start. Combat intensity peaks, guns shattering through ancient courtyards and demon sieged skyscrapers. Doom is a series full of iconic levels. Top tier level design and player-creation have allowed for its longevity, unlike other franchises that fizzled out over time, like Turok or F.E.A.R. . I’m happy to say that many of Doom Eternal’s levels – though far from competing with old-school classics – still kick ass. I won’t forget them any time soon.
All of this is pulled together by some of the best sound design I’ve heard in a game. Shotguns blast with a chunking clunk, skulls split with slimey slices. Energy weapons rev and thrum with terrifying power, and demons screech with ferocious roars. Weapons in Doom Eternal don’t always have the sense of impact that you might expect, but they certainly sound as powerful as they should. Underneath all of this is a brilliant soundtrack by composer Mick Gordon. The low moments pulse with an uneasy bass and battles explode with intense guitar pounding. I appreciate Doom Eternal’s combat and often found myself enraptured by its vistas, but if there is a singular thing for which it should be recognised, it is the sheer quality of the soundscape.
Doom Eternal’s philosophy is simple: make the most intense experience possible. That mostly works out. Combat, while occasionally busy, is sure to satisfy even the most voracious of shooter-mavens. The ripping and tearing is as good as it has ever been. There are a few sticking points – a shaky story that’s hard to engage with, the few moments when style trumps substance, a glitch here and there – but there’s no denying that the highs are among the highest you can experience in any first-person shooter. Crank up the difficulty, throw your elbows around, and embrace the chaos. From the deepest diehards to fresh-faced demon slayers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Blood, guts, music, mayhem. You might get the occasional bloody nose or interrupted by an unwanted tutorial pop-up, but there’s nothing else like it.