Here’s some good news in these trying times: there’s a growing body of evidence that adrenaline can boost immune response. On that basis, playing DOOM Eternal is essentially medicinal.*
*(I am not a doctor in any shape or form and this is not medical advice. But you should still play DOOM Eternal).
The follow-up to 2016’s DOOM reboot, out this Friday 20 March on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Stadia, and even Switch (though that version is coming later), is everything you could want from a sequel: everything you loved from the last game but bigger and better in almost every possible way without sacrificing any of what made it work in the first place. If you loved DOOM then you will love DOOM Eternal even more. And if you didn’t love DOOM then you should probably get that checked out.
One quick disclaimer: this review is based on early access to the game given to me by Bethesda. Sadly that did not include the online multiplayer, so consider this a review solely of DOOM Eternal’s single player campaign.
Hell to pay
DOOM Eternal picks up a ways after the end of the original game, and things have changed a little. For one, Earth is now overrun by the forces of Hell. Billions are dead, and demons swarm across the planet, now scarred by flaming, continent-sized demonic sigils.
It’s a bad time to be anyone but the Doom Slayer, but luckily it’s a great time to be him. From the very beginning the game throws you straight at the forces of Hell, shotgun in hand (no measly pistol this time, thankfully) as you wage your assault against the first of three Hell Priests overseeing the invasion.
As before the name of the game is charging headfirst into the fray, with melee Glory Kills and your trusty chainsaw helping you to recover health and ammo so long as you’re aggressive enough to keep pushing forward.
The obvious-in-retrospect addition this time around is the Flame Belch, a shoulder-mounted flamethrower that generates armour as you deal damage to burning enemies, completing the resource trifecta for combat.
That’s not the only new addition though. There’s the Blood Punch, an AoE melee attack that’s charged by Glory Kills. Ice Bombs are a new type of grenade that freeze enemies in their tracks. The Ballista may be the only new weapon, but with tweaks to the weapon mods there are some new twists across your armoury. There are also new demons to kill, old favourites joined by the likes of the Doom Hunter, Gargoyles, and these infuriating snake motherfuckers:
Like a bat out of Hell
And I haven’t even talked about movement yet. Untempered aggression was the conceit at the heart of DOOM’s 2016 revival, encouraging you to always keep moving, usually towards the biggest, most dangerous demon around. With DOOM Eternal that mobility is taken to the next level.
The double-jump is joined by a double dash – which can be performed in the ground or in mid-air – while new environmental features like monkey bars and climbable walls encourage you to zip around and above the level freely, in turn allowing the devs the freedom to introduce more verticality to level design, both in the combat areas and the varied platforming segments.
The result is that I spent most of my time in DOOM Eternal running and jumping around like a bloody idiot, dashing and swinging above demons’ heads, only to drop down chainsaw in hand, then scoot off again like an over-aggressive Energizer bunny. The game now plays much more like parkour classic Mirror’s Edge, except every now and then you rip out something’s eyeball and shove it back down its own throat.
If there’s any fault to be found here, it’s only that it occasionally feels like there’s too much to do. Feature creep is real, y’all, and the simplicity of the first game’s combat is lost slightly as you try to juggle five or so cooldown timers.
All too often I’d hit the end of a fight only to remember that I forgot to use Flame Belch even once. There are a hundred things to think about, and the breakneck pace doesn’t leave much time to strategise. Executive producer Marty Stratton likened it to “combat chess,” and it’s easy to see why, though this added complexity remains a double-edged sword.
Hell on Earth
Not every change is purely mechanical though. There’s a greater emphasis on story this time around – I know, story, in a DOOM game! – though as before paying attention to the plot is strictly optional. What’s there is fun though, delving deeper into the lore of the Sentinels and Argent D’Nur, introducing more cosmic threats, and even exploring the past of Doomguy himself.
Even if you tune out of the cut scenes, you’ll probably welcome the added variety that the expanded plot brings. While the last game veered back and forth between Mars and Hell, Eternal darts around Earth, Hell, Mars, Phobos, and more. It’s fair to say that environments do still get a little samey by the time the credits roll, but the problem is much less pronounced than before.
Beyond the head-down charge through the main story, there’s more to do besides. Secret Encounters offer (very) brief timed challenges against a set group of opponents, while the six Slayer Gate encounters are amped up arena brawls against wave upon wave of demons – and often used to intro new opponents before you ever even encounter them in the main campaign.
Upgrade trees cover weapons and weapon mods; health, armour, and ammo; Runes with select buffs; and Praetor points to improve your abilities and grenades. You can just throw upgrade points at your weak spots or build for a specific, focused playstyle, with plenty of flexibility.
Throw in the multiplayer mode (which I haven’t tried), the ability to replay every mission with cheat codes applied, the wealth of collectibles and unlockables, and a silly number of difficulty modes, and the devoted will find that while the game isn’t quite eternal, it should last a lot longer than the 15-hour (ish) campaign.
DOOM was one of the best games of 2016. DOOM Eternal is better.
The original has been improved upon in almost every conceivable way, with familiar ultraviolence that’s been subtly enhanced throughout by expanded movement and combat options, along with a richer plot, more diverse level design, and even more replayability.
Only the truly puritanical will find anything to dislike in ripping and tearing through the hordes of Hell once again.
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