A few months ago, I couldn’t have cared less about watches. They’re superfluous since most people have smartphones. Even if they’re a pocket away or across the room, voice assistants are becoming a standard feature to greater convenience…and laziness. Still, these wrist clocks refuse to be anachronized due to their unique craftsmanship and place in fashion. Even smartwatches have proven the traditional, analog variant will always be timeless. My recently purchased Citizen Chandler attests to this, thanks to a horologist friend.
My point is that we often can’t predict or know what we want. I didn’t discover some desires until they were sparked by someone or something outside of me. Heck, that’s not guaranteed since—in some cases—external stimuli initially did nothing to awaken some of my interests until I reached a certain point in life when they hit differently. It’s mysterious how this happens, and sometimes magical as an intense yet pleasant surprise. I experienced this with 2016’s Doom as a bona fide first-person shooter fan. I underwent that again with Doom Eternal.
Having fervently ogled Eternal’s previews and gameplay footage before release, I knew id Software could possibly deliver the greatest FPS. I shouldn’t’ve been surprised over a supremely crafted sequel that narrowly yet comfortably clears the developer’s own highly set bars. Eternal delights as much as (if not more than) its predecessor did by moving past my notions of what “near-perfection” with FPSs looked like with Doom. What can I say? I didn’t know what I wanted then, and Eternal is here to remind us that the franchise—and its genre as a whole—is capable of so much more than we realize.
title: Doom Eternal developer: id Software publisher: Bethesda Softworks release date: March 20, 2020 platform reviewed: PS4 (Screenshot courtesy of Bethesda; edits are my own)
I said in my Doom review that the game felt like learning a new exercise. It worked my first-person shooter muscles in ways they’d never been torn with gameplay characterized by greater speed, no reloading, constant movement, and the like. As I awkwardly familiarized myself with Doom, there was no looking back—the game had spoiled me with its one-of-a-kind combat and game feel. So, You’d think I’d ease right into Eternal, but I was clumsily adjusting to a slew of new mechanics, equipment, and level design all over again. And once I got the hang of things, I was entranced by and tense with every demonic engagement.
This is exemplified in the impact of the simple dodge mechanic. It’s like a short-range teleport that replaces the useless crouch mechanic from Doom. Regular strafing was satisfying enough to avoid projectiles in that game, but the dodge is far more satisfying in Eternal, and besides, you’re required to master it to play well against demons, who have quicker and tracking attacks in Eternal, respectively seen with the Hell Knight’s more aggressive nature (a much desired change!) and the Whiplash’s energy wave. Demons like the Mancubi were formally off limits at close range with their devasting fire or toxic bile attacks, but getting in their ugly faces is possible and encouraged since you can dodge in, perform a shotgun blast or melee attack, and dodge back out before you suffer their retaliation. You can close distances between yourself and a demon for a glory kill in the air or ground as well, but this can only be done horizontally, meaning you’ll have some awkward moments during combat and traversal where jumping doesn’t cover enough vertical distance to get some glory kill or swing across a pole just out of reach. This could have been addressed with dodging forward where your aim determines your vertical and horizontal trajectory, but this was likely prevented to avoid players dodging or, rather, flying through the air like Superman. An unfortunate but mildly inconvenient constraint.
Demons display battle damage with sections of their flesh ripped off by the impact of your weapon fire. It adds a lot of satisfaction when nailing a powerful blow, acting as a diagetic means to convey health bars. If most of their flesh is missing, they’re close to death! (Screenshot courtesy of Bethesda)
Whereas Doom’s platforming was boring (not the world or collectibles), the dodge mechanic in Eternal contributes to exploration’s more engaging, intentional role in the ebb and flow between platforming and combat. Timed dodges are required to avoid obstacles and reach moving platforms—all rare or nonexistent in the first game. Monkey bars play a part as well, but they’re often placed in arenas as well to swing across gaps or ascend to higher levels during combat, much like the exciting integration of the grappling hook between platforming and combat in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Speaking of that game, similarly climbable surfaces add a small yet appreciated dimension to traversal as well, and with the videogame classic of breakable walls thrown in, these doubly contribute to how well some secrets are hidden throughout levels. While I would’ve preferred that the Automap and upgrades not reveal all collectibles (trust the player to use their senses, modern games!), there are still plenty of good brainteasers despite knowing half of the collectibles’ locations. Again, it’s the challenge of how, not where, of scavenging for secrets that thankfully remains intact. As a small aside, inconsistent mantling returns with ledges not working here and there, but that doesn’t happen frequently enough to be a real concern.
Level design for combat arenas has been equally expanded. My hope for more environmental interaction has been adequately answered with traps to exploit, smartly designed to be easily triggered with shootable switches. A fair amount of levels have more pitfalls and obstacles (like slime that slows movement, acid/lava that slowly damages you, etc.) that result in shifting levels of environmental awareness from arena to arena. Most of Doom’s levels brilliantly let players not worry about falling or being hurt by environments, but Eternal switches this up at times to make where you move just as important as how you fight. Unfortunately, half of these levels underutilize their unique makeups with surprisingly short engagements. A similar complaint in contrast to Doom extends to several of Eternal’s arenas, which have large pathways I only discovered after fights, like multiplayer maps with useless sections in the back or to the side that never receive traffic. They don’t ruin the arenas; they’re just a regretful waste of space. But what’s there and used is often of supreme quality.
There’s lava everywhere in this arena, forcing you to hop from platform to platform. I would’ve enjoyed seeing more places like this. Or that the engagements last longer, since there are a rare few in the game that are unexpectedly long. They’re the most fun because they start cropping up a few hours into the campaign, right around when players should be mastering the controls.
There’s no wasted space in the way of new mechanics with new and improved equipment. Instead of briefly putting down your firearm to toss a grenade in Doom, your over-the-shoulder launcher frees you of this slight yet notable inconvenience in Eternal, which made me use grenades more. You can also switch to ice bombs that freeze enemies in their tracks—a welcome tool to escape being cornered or briefly take the pressure off some demons’ hot pursuit. My favorite aspect to the launcher is the Flame Belch, which does exactly what it sounds like it does. What makes it special is that setting foes ablaze produces armor, which varies in quantity depending on the demon. In the first game, armor lies around levels and can be gained from glory kills with a specific Rune, but this time, glory kills exclusively produce health, whereas the Flame Belch only produces armor. It profoundly influenced my approach to encounters in how I would balance the two. My preferred method is torching and then freezing them in a group, topped off with a grenade or rocket to produce a glorious explosion of frozen meat, armor, and health. It’s an example of the Flame Belch being yet another mechanic, like dodging, that pushes players to further thrive in the fray. Of course, there are other mechanics that bolster this design goal.
Just like crouch, melee was useless in Doom, but instead of axing the mechanic, it was given a new purpose in the sequel with Blood Punch. It’s a jacked-up melee fueled by glory kills that sends fodder flying or seriously wounds and staggers heavy demons. It’s odd that the Doom Slayer’s “Doomblade” (is he Batman now?) doesn’t play a role with melee-oriented attacks though, besides making glory kills more entertainingly gruesome. It would’ve been neat had it been used for something like a bayonet charge or a close-range sweep attack, but alas. That’s what the Crucible—an energy sword similar to the one in Doom—somewhat makes up for as an instant kill weapon you need charges to use. Think of it as a super chainsaw to cleave large enemies in two…or three. Those charges are far more rare than gasoline for your normal chainsaw, which, by the way, has been streamlined in application since you can instantly saw enemies by pressing one button, rather than switching and then using it with the trigger button. id Software shows how streamlining control schemes is done, sitting alongside God of War (2018) with an equally advanced and smoothly mapped-out moveset. It’s worth mentioning that the audio design greatly contributes to the ease of controls more than the UI does with crisp, distinct sound effects that always alerted me when some moves had finished recharging. And I shouldn’t have to tell you how good Mick Gordon’s techno/metal score for the game that’s as eccentric and unique as you’d expect.
The Crucible is kind of a gimmick, but it makes for a fantastic substitute if you’re out of ammo for the BFG. I’m not complaining when I whip this out to cut a Cyberdemon down to size. (Screenshot courtesy of Bethesda)
Blood Punch is uniquely effective against the Cyber-Mancubus by removing its armor in one fell swoop, and that speaks for the designers’ aim to give weapons more deliberate strengths and weaknesses. Weapon usage in the first game was founded on the distance and speed of enemies for flexible interchangeability, but Eternal leans into these even more and makes certain weapons and equipment a must with prominent demon weaknesses. Pain Elemental giving you a hard time? Switch to the Ballista (a gnarly crossbow firing Argent energy bolts) or get in close with the Super Shotgun’s Meat Hook, which is a grappling hook that speedily pulls you into enemies. Words can’t describe how satisfying it is to use, but that’s beside the point. You could shoot the Cacodemon out of the sky piece by piece, but why not pull out the grenade launcher over your shoulder or on your shotgun, since the demon swallows explosives and is instantly staggered for a glory kill? Why not shoot off a Revenant’s or normal Mancubus’s rocket launchers so they adapt weaker but more aggressive attack patterns? Intentional weapon switching was instinctive before, but now you’ll be pulling out specific solutions for specific problems that turn the loose freestyle dances of Doom into more impressive improvisation in Eternal. I rarely experience time flying by when playing videogames, but because this game is genuinely immersive and entrancing, I was added an hour when I checked the time after playing for a single hour.
There are nearly double the amount of enemies in contrast to Doom. Some are puzzlingly underused like the Cueball (an ambient enemy that soars into enemies with an explosion) and Lost Souls, but most are evenly spread throughout the entire campaign with new ones still being introduced a few hours out from the ending. Encounters feel notably more diverse in composition with an impressive assortment of heavy demons and awesome variants of the Imp (the flying Gargoyles and teleporting Prowlers) that make them more distinct in abilities. Some enemies from Doom have been replaced like the Summoner, who is filled in by the Arch-vile from Doom II. The Arch-vile not only summons flame shields and can light fires under your bum, but also buffs the demons it summons. The Summoner only let in a trickle of weaker enemies. The Arch-vile spawns a massive wave of fodder and heavy demons all at once, but players can stop it if they make a beeline for him, making his influence on combat more felt than the Summoner, which—as you can surmise—is in more ways than one. The same goes for several enemies, with one of my favorites being the Carcass. It’s a humanoid demon on metal spider legs that can generate shields to not only protect itself and others, but also block your path so you get sandwiched by demons from behind. This enemy is a phenomenal achievement in AI programming, and in Eternal, demons are never idle or slow to react to your reflexes. There were some cracks in the AI’s consistency and presence in Doom. They’re imperceptible in Eternal.
The Prowlers are so much fun to fight against since they’ll disappear in front of you, only to appear behind your back. The Carcass even has a couple more tricks up its sleeve that I won’t mention! (Screenshot courtesy of Bethesda)
But one enemy has wrought ubiquitous scorn more than any other—the Marauder. These fallen Sentinel warriors are so cool with their Argent axes and Super Shotguns, essentially making them alter egos of the Doom Slayer, as Dark Samus is to Samus in Metroid. But as sexy as Marauders are, they ruin the flow and immersion of normal combat because they’re the only enemy impervious to nearly all types of weaponry. They can only be properly taken out with the Super Shotgun or Ballista when they swoop in for a melee attack that leaves them vulnerable for a second. It’s a singular, boring weakness, and by themselves, it’s why they’re easy enough to kill. The problem is that they don’t jive with the essence of the series’ offensive gameplay with their grossly defensive prowess. Unless you’re a highly skilled player, you have to ignore the Marauder in all engagements until he’s the last foe standing, especially since he can spawn a distracting hellhound that makes fighting him more impossible in normal combat. How would you feel if you were playing Dark Souls and fighting a group of tough, aggressive Undead when, suddenly, an Invader (online player) shows up? It’s one-sided and unfair. Eternal is similar in this regard when the Marauder shows up to wreck the party. I think he (or a group) with an expanded moveset and more health would’ve made for an absolutely phenomenal boss fight akin to the Hell Guards in Doom. But that’s not what we got.
With the exception of the unique nature and grandeur of the final boss, it’s safe to say now that id Software doesn’t know what to do with bosses. The first game struggles with them since they’re bullet sponges you can circle with little to no issue. The Cyberdemon has its moments with attacks that briefly turn the gameplay into something out of a bullet hell game, but beyond that, they’re simple. The same extends to bosses in Eternal, and while they force compelling, specific movement at times (looking at the Gladiator), the depths are shallow. Adding one specialized use for a weapon in a boss fight is hardly compelling. You don’t even figure these simple weaknesses out for yourself since tutorials do the legwork at the beginning of fights. It’s honestly insulting to the player’s intelligence with a game like this, and the developer needs to realize that its bosses will remain uninspired if it’s afraid to incorporate robust movesets and multilayered weaknesses. The Doom games are hardcore. Their bosses deserve to be, too.
These guys have a wicked backstory that ties into the dramatic civil war amid the Sentinels, thanks to the Makyrs. I honestly wish id would have saved some of it for a prequel or the single-player expansions on the horizon. (Screenshot courtesy of Bethesda)
What is more hardcore are the combat challenges. Rune trials in Doom are specialized challenges with specific weapons and elements of gameplay. Eternal opts to stick with intense, timed combat hidden across levels with gore nests. There are also Slayer Gates take you to small, tight arenas that strain your skills with several minutes of vigorous combat. I looked forward to these more than the Rune trials because they felt less like filler. The rewards (Runes) for those Rune Trials are now scattered across environments, but Slayer Gates not only grant you weapon points to unlock upgrades to weapon attachments, but also go toward unlocking the Unmaykr: a weapon rivaling the BFG-9000. It’s reminiscent of older games that went the extra mile with meaningful, extra content and unlockables for completionists, not just cosmetic stuff. But there is plenty of that to find in levels, and in greater abundance, with the addition of cheat codes, music from games across id Software’s development history, and skins. Fast travel is also brought in as a quality-of-life convenience to go back and grab anything you missed after nearing the end of a mission.
These batteries are spent back at the Doom Slayer’s space base of operations called the Doom Fortress. Yes, that’s what it’s called. It reminds me of the hub worlds of the Spyro the Dragon trilogy in how you can do some minimal exploration and combat outside of levels to find a couple collectibles and unlock upgrades (with said batteries) or try out weapons and combat strategies in a practice arena. I haven’t spoken much about those upgrades since they’re largely similar to their counterparts in the original title with…well, more. You’ve got Praeter suit upgrades that improve the Automap, environmental resistances, and the launcher. Stat buffs to health, armor, and ammo reserves are upgraded with Sentinel crystals that are folded in with passive abilities (related to the launcher and drops) if you, say, unlock a combined tab of armor and health. You obtain weapon attachments the same way as before but can bypass some of their Mastery challenges with rare tokens. Weapon upgrades work similarly as well.
Just like the first time, there’s superb design language and environmental storytelling. You’ll even notice cleverly hybridized architecture for world building reasons.
I’m still convinced that chargeable, special glory kills would fit the Doom games so well. After you do a glory kill on a Marauder, why not unlock an ability where you instead briefly take the Marauder’s axe to send out a wave of Argent energy? How about sticking a grenade on a Pinkie that you spur in a selected direction like an explosive bowling ball? All the upgrades are fantastic, adding nuance and more tools to your kit for pseudo-RPG character building as you prioritize certain weapon attachments, suit upgrades, and the like depending on your playstyle. But…the idea for glory kills is there for the taking, id.
What the developer hardly needs advice on is the breathtaking art direction. Think of it as—stay with me here—the difference between Frozen and its sequel. Doom largely worked with three types of environments: the futuristic, industrial hallways of the UAC facilities, the surface of Mars, and the depths of Hell. Eternal has these and far more on a monolithic scale, doubling on environmental and color diversity. It brings home some of the first game’s epic fantasy vibes from the lore with the levels of Taras Nabad and Sentinel Prime to show off ancient, techno-medieval castle complexes. Nekroval delves deeper into the horrors of hell with a fiery castle of its own, and in between the epic fantasy are levels pulled straight out of an 80s cartoon with the Cultist Base and Doom Hunter Base, where you roam an Arctic-bound demon facility with skull designs on every possible door and archway. The direction is cheeky in its pulpiness, but the art team obviously had more fun and creative freedom in exploring a gamut of colors and architecture. Visually, Eternal is better for it with little hiccups in performance to boot.
The backdrops of levels are so much more rich and stunning in detail in Eternal than they are in Doom. Environments got a little too samey, but not this time.
In terms of story, I’m both elated and conflicted. The game leans harder into the ironic B-movie feel of Doom with even more preposterous situations that are simultaneously epic and hilarious. You’ve still got the amusing dialogue between Samuel and the Doom Slayer as their respective rationality and foolhardiness butt heads, too. Naturally, id Software is more intentional with this tone in Eternal, but I can’t shake the feeling it’s all a bit much. The “mortally challenged” joke and overall UAC propaganda is less deft in writing and delivery compared to what you hear and read in Doom. There’s this direct messianic worship of the Doom Slayer that doesn’t feel as smartly portrayed either. And as much as I love the lore, id Software up and abandoned the chilling mystery and intrigue by playing all their narrative cards with Eternal. “The History of the Sentinels — Part IX?” I loved the lore in Doom for how it teased greater depth to this universe, but there’s little left to the imagination here, as thorough and interesting as it all is.
The backstories of the Doom Slayer and main antagonists are an absolute treat to watch unfold through cutscenes and dialogue, but context is more necessary with lore entries since most characters like Samuel Hayden and the Khan Maykr talk more for the sake of exposition, whereas Doom largely had its mind on the present by highlighting the dynamics and tensions between the three main characters (the Doom Slayer, Samuel, and Olivia Pierce). In other words, players didn’t need context to understand the important stuff going on, but Eternal doesn’t feel free from that. There’s not enough time spent with several key figures like the Betrayer (who acts as a McGuffin delivery boy for one cutscene) and the Maykr society, which I would’ve loved to have had more time observing and, heck, even fighting, since id Software decided these guys shouldn’t join the ranks of the only Maykr enemy type. It partially speaks for what I said earlier about Eternal feeling like a bit much, even if the gallivanting pace and juggling of more characters and lore had me wide eyed at all times. It’s like how I love my Oreos. Double Stuf is just right, but Mega Stuff is pushing it, and The Most Stuf? It tastes good, but I’d soon rather go back to Double Stuf. Ah, stuffed. That’s Eternal’s story and my feeling toward it.
“C U L T I S T K E Y.” Makes me chuckle every time.
id Software’s game producers and designers should be praised for improving upon the clear, confident vision set in stone by Doom. The smart additions and tweaks to the sequel reinforce the speedy, aggressive identity of the franchise’s gameplay, and the level design with platforming and arenas play huge roles in this success with unexpected and requested features alike. It’s a more artistically mesmerizing, galactic tour de force as well, even if aspects of its overall narrative and tone are respectively bloated and overly enthusiastic. In summary, Doom is like a bicycle with the training wheels taken off. Doom Eternal is like transitioning to a motorcycle—it’s faster, louder, and badass beyond belief.