Some great games are clever exercises in thoughtful design while others are dumb fun, but Doom Eternal is the best of both. Yes, blasting and ripping demons literally in half with your bare hands is a gleefully, gloriously stupid power fantasy, and Doom Eternal teaches you how to do it better, faster, and in multiple ways as you go. It makes you a smart Slayer. Before long, you’ll be thrown into the meat grinder with dozens of Hell’s denizens at once, including resurrected Doom 2 favorites not seen in the 2016 reboot. Old folks like me remember the Pain Elemental, a semi-dangerous, Lost Soul-spewing cousin of the Cacodemon, and the demon-buffing, pyromaniacal Archvile, which, as in 1994, is one of the biggest threats you have to beat down. Scenes teeming with enemies that would make most other first-person shooters buckle under the pressure, either framerate-wise or gameplay-wise or both, are commonplace in Doom Eternal, and it takes them in stride. In fact, Eternal looks and runs gorgeously on my mid-range PC (i5 @ 3.5Ghz with 16GB of RAM and an RTX 2060), with monsters and environments alike looking much more detailed than they did in 2016.
And when you’ve got all those monsters gunning for you, Doom Eternal does something unexpected: it starts to get intellectual in the midst of its carnage. To be effective, you need to start to read the defense like a quarterback at the line of scrimmage, and timing is everything. On a basic level it’s the same game plan as Doom 2016, in that you can largely ignore the pissant zombies, soldiers, and imps at the start of a big fight – you might need to use them to farm for resources later. But in Eternal, many heavy-hitting demons like the Mancubus or Cacodemons have weak points you can exploit. For instance, aim for the former’s rocket-launching arms to disable its guns, then lob a sticky grenade from your shotgun’s secondary fire into the open mouth of the latter and he’ll instantly be vulnerable to a close-up glory kill (and there are dozens of new finishing animations this time around). This opens up a new level of finesse that rewards precision in the heat of battle rather than spraying everything with as much death as possible.
Doom Eternal (January 2019 Screenshots)
Also, Doom Eternal heard you like upgrades, so it’s upgraded its upgrades so you can upgrade while you’re upgrading. As before, weapon upgrades unlock alternate-fire modes and eventually mastery skills; collectible Runes grant up to three passive, hot-swappable bonuses like a speed boost after a glory kill; Sentinel Crystals give new abilities and up your max health, ammo, or armor; Praetor Suit tokens let you choose from over a dozen skills to augment, from grenade improvements to more detailed maps for unlocking secrets.
Meanwhile, any foe can be torched with the new Flame Belch suit accessory, causing them to perspire armor shards to help get you ready for the next fight – or save your bacon in the current one. Using it at the right moment is key to pulling off some great victories.Need ammo? If you can’t find enough around the battlefield, Eternal doesn’t just use the chainsaw as a kill-(almost)-anything, get-out-of-jail-free card – the ultimate melee weapon is once again an ammo generator that can put you back in the game after you’ve run dry and would otherwise be all but helpless as well. So, you can spend your fuel tank cutting down three imps and get fully restocked by a colorful ammunition shower – unless, of course, you choose to empty it in one fell swoop on that one last big guy making your life hell, instantly ending the threat in one glorious cleave. Collectively, these tweaks and additions are a refinement of the fantastic system that the previous Doom struck gold with, but they go a long way toward making the combat feel deeper and more multiple-choice.
Battles, then, become an elaborate, highly kinetic dance – and you’re Shakira at the Super Bowl. You’ll need every weapon in your arsenal at multiple points throughout the entire campaign, and that includes every double-dash move, every double jump, every monkey bar to swing from – a new feature that highlights Eternal’s focus on free-play level design. These are as much jungle gyms as they are battlegrounds thanks to the turbo-mobility that they give you; you can kill time soaring around, away from even the nimblest of monsters, if you need a moment to regroup and strategize.
The best new weapon, again echoing 1994’s Doom 2, is the Super Shotgun: a double-barrelled duck gun with a meathook attachment that, in a fittingly Doom-y twist, brings you to the target for an in-your-face blast rather than the other way around. That allows for maximum damage from the short-range sawed-off’s twin-shell blasts and also gives you even greater mobility. In all, there are enough new options that it seems like no two Slayers will slay the same exact way, and that makes for welcome watercooler talk with friends as well as genuine replayability.
Speaking of secrets, in traditional Doom fashion, Eternal is packed with them. Some tease you in plain sight and challenge you to reach them, while others are tucked cleverly out of the way. Most require your best double-jumping, air-dashing platforming skills in order to reach their location – first-person platforming is emphasized much more in this sequel, mostly to good effect. Rewards range from upgrade points to collectible Funko Pop-like toys of each monster, and the search for them becomes something of a reward in and of itself because of how much fun it is to solve each secret’s little puzzle – not to mention how they serve as a refreshing cool-down period after you finish off another big combat bowl.
Killin’ and Chillin’
Between missions you’ll return to the Fortress of Doom – the Slayer’s Earth-orbiting headquarters/mancave (which, hilariously, has an actual mancave in it that you shouldn’t skip). The Fortress is far too big and empty for what it actually offers, which isn’t much, but it does let you sample classic id Software soundtracks from the past 25 years – and I recommend that you do!
And yes, like its predecessor, there is an unexpected amount of actually respectable plot underneath all of the neck-snapping, eyeball-popping madness. Doom Eternal’s story is surprisingly fleshed out, though unfortunately you have to read most of it in menu-based text logs instead of the dramatic, scenery-chewing performance it deserves. I was happy to follow along at first, but by the latter third of my quest to save Earth and all of mankind I’d grown weary of reading log after log and just thirsted for more action. I hope a likely threequel either does a better job of integrating the story into the gameplay, or at least goes the audio log route like so many other games so I can keep playing while I listen to the backstory of the “Maykrs” and the Sentinels.
A 15-hour single-player game is nothing to sneeze at, but the rest of Eternal offers a lot. In addition to the meaty campaign, Slayer Gates and secret timed encounters hidden in each level serve up one-off rounds of extra challenge (and extra reward), while the Master Levels let you run the campaign again with a much tougher menagerie of monsters waiting for you at every turn. There’s also the 2v1 demons-vs.-Slayer Battlemode multiplayer, which is, on paper, a uniquely Doom take on competitive multiplayer; we’ll review that separately when servers go live on launch day.
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To me, Doom Eternal’s brilliance can be summed up in the road to its first big boss fight, about a third of the way through the Hell-on-Earth quest. It deliberately builds this battle up, taunting you along the way with glimpses of the enemy before it’s brought to life and unleashed upon you. And then when it finally is, and the difficult battle is won, you go through a portal and the gods that are set against you announce, “We’re not through with you yet!” and then you’re immediately launched into an even tougher battle. No respite, no health pickups, no ammo restock – you’re just right back into the fire. And when I persevered, I felt incredible. I’m talking actual, real-life-fist-pumping incredible; I’m not sure I’ve audibly celebrated more while playing a single-player video game – and returning composer Mick Gordon’s new (and once again fantastic) heavy metal soundtrack certainly deserves some credit for that.