My COVID-19 quarantine experience so far has been dominated by this game. Through all the anxiety, forced seclusion, and helplessness, I’ve spent much of that time killing demons and traversing obstacles in a game that was made to feel like a game. It’s undeniably a strong Game of the Year candidate for 2020, even if it’s not as perfect as I had hoped.
DOOM Eternal is the sequel to the DOOM 2016 reboot by id Software. The reboot exceeded expectations when it first came out and has brought the legendary developer back from the abyss of ancient gaming history. They pioneered the first-person shooter genre and made Quake II, the game that shaped my childhood. Now it looks like the new DOOM series is shaping my adulthood, as funny as that may sound.
This review comes in really late—about a month and half after the game had been released—because this quarantine has gotten me down. But at least this game has kept me company the whole time. At least I only had the demons in this game to fight against and not SARS-CoV-2.
NOTE: This is a full review, so here be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Expanding on DOOM 2016
This game expands on the lore that DOOM 2016 established. The plot is focused around various factions’ desire for argent energy. Also, more of the Doom Slayer’s past is fleshed out, and the backstory is chronicled in the dossier, which can be read at leisure.
The new DOOM having lore is something I both welcome and am indifferent with, if that was actually possible. I disagree with John Carmack’s notion that story in video games is like story in porn. That’s like saying seasoning is inessential to cooking a good steak.
DOOM Eternal is all about excess, opposite of the minimalism of DOOM 2016. Despite the difference, they both show the Doom Slayer as a force of nature. From converting a staunch skeptic to shooting the BFG 10K at Mars to reach its core, DOOM Eternal succeeds in depicting him as an absolute mad lad.
Portrayal of the Doom Slayer
While the narrative itself is super serious, the selling point is how the Doom Slayer only cares about killing demons and disregards everyone else’s motivations. Even if argent energy is great, the Doom Slayer doesn’t care because it comes from hell.
This flavor adds both mystique and relatability to the Doom Slayer, who is seen as a demon-killing demigod. But his human side is also shown, like how he likes bunnies and has a man cave inside his Fortress of Doom Solitude.
The visuals look brighter and more colorful than in DOOM 2016, which makes playing this game a bit more pleasant for me. While the previous game was great, I found its high contrast graphics dreary and tiring after hours of play.
It also has amazing art direction, from the gothic sci-fi stylings of the Fortress of Doom to the faux angelic edifice of the Maykrs’ realm of Urdak. The previous game had only three flavors at most—Martian surface, space installation, and hell.
Graphic Quality and Performance
It had been a while since id Software led the way in game engines, but they did well with id Tech 6 in 2016. This new iteration, id Tech 7, is made better thanks to their commitment to Vulkan.
My almost-five-year-old rig with an i7 4790K and a GTX 970 is able to play this game with high settings at 60fps nicely. I’m not sure how it works for lower end machines, but I’m sure it can surprise you with how it runs on potatoes at low settings.
That sounds even better when considering that speedrunners play this game at 240 fps as a standard. That’s a whole rabbit hole in itself, with exploits like “slope boosting” that are maximized by playing in ultra high frame rates.
The customizable interface reminds me of Deus Ex. While it adds some personalization, it doesn’t let players move or resize interface elements. That’s understandable since that level of UI customization in FPS is rare, if not non-existent.
However, if the interface made tracking equipment and ability cooldowns easier to begin with, there would be no need for that. However, it would’ve made the UI look a lot louder than it already does and having icons on the bottom is in line with conventional wisdom in the genre.
But I think sound cues are not enough, especially during the chaos of combat. I can glance down to check the cooldowns, but I may pay for it if I’m not quick enough.
Meanwhile, the dash icon isn’t necessary. As long as you know that the two dashes refresh after a second on solid ground, you can track in your head. Same goes for the Crucible since there’s already a charge indicator under the reticle.
Maybe a future mod can have them positioned or presented differently.
It’s much like the DOOM 2016 soundtrack, and it has some notable tracks. Mick Gordon and id Software music director Chad Mossholder did a good job, and they released a lot more tracks for this sequel, from 30+ to 50+. But that’s also where the problems are noticeable.
Mick Gordon got screwed over with this soundtrack. But even if we never knew that, I thought this soundtrack was a bit inferior as it blended too much into the background in this game. Also, there was no track as distinct or as motivating to the gameplay as BFG Division was.
The Only Thing They Fear is You is pretty good, though. It’s the only track that really stands out for me in this OST, but it doesn’t pump me up in the game like BFG Division did in DOOM 2016.
The music of Mick Gordon is in my personal category of “doing something” music, like how lo-fi is work music for me. It’s not music I’d listen to by itself; it’s music that’s best listened to while doing something that suited it—namely killing demons. Mick’s talent is creating music that’s fit for the action and chaos of gameplay.
But the mixing in this soundtrack screams “loudness war,” the very thing that made me listen to less and less rock and metal during the 2010s.
Messing with another composer’s mixes is a cardinal sin in music, from what I know. In the pursuit of pushing the game out in time, they messed up a key component in the formula. Because of that, they won’t be availing of Mr. Gordon’s services again.
Maybe they’ll hire Sonic Mayhem again for the next game. Or Chris Vrenna, who did the Quake Champions soundtrack. But it won’t sound the same.
While its basic parts are from its predecessor, all the changes and additions makes it play differently as there’s a lot more mental multitasking involved here.
On one hand, you’ll have many factors to consider during a fight, like which enemies to prioritize, switching weapons according to the current situation, and remembering to replenish your ammo and use your equipment. Having to remember all that while shooting at demons can be overwhelming.
On the other hand, it can become a meditative experience, letting you flow and react according to the situation. Once you get that flow, wherein you don’t even have to think about doing the things that will help you survive the fight, then that’s when you’ll be able to really have fun.
But you’ll still get out of fights by the skin of your teeth in Ultra Violence or Nightmare if you play normally. That’s where you start digging into strategies developed over four years of new DOOM series. If you’re willing to do things like change your key bindings—which may be necessary—then do so.
The main one is quick-switching. Single-shot weapons have long reload animations, but if you can cancel them by switch weapons. Switch between the Super Shotgun and Ballista with every shot as quickly as possible. Now you have a lot more DPS to work with.
I’ll have to reinstall DOOM 2016 to use that there. I never learned of quick-switching until I was pushed to look for solutions because of the Marauder.
The dash is one of the most important additions to this game as it made combat and exploration even more dynamic. The double jump had been quite the sea change for old-school FPS, and the double dash makes movement and evasion a lot easier.
Many enemies that were challenging in the previous game would’ve been cakewalks if it had dashing.
Melee attacks no longer work to get easy Glory Kills from fodder demons. It was the one thing that you could count on in the previous game, but it has been removed since there are certain Runes and 1-Ups to keep you from dying right away.
You do get the Blood Punch in return, which can help kill multiple enemies or significantly damage heavy demons in a pinch. It’s alright, but having to get close for it makes it less effective. I never get to use it that much.
Weapons and Equipment
Most of the weapons are pretty good. The ones I end up not using are the Plasma Rifle and Heavy Cannon. I do use the Micro Missiles mod on the Heavy Cannon every now and then, but I’d rather save that ammo for the Chaingun.
The Combat Shotgun, the first weapon you get, remains relevant throughout the game. I found the Sticky Bomb mod useful against Arachnatrons and Revenants. However, I find myself using the Super Shotgun more, especially since the Meat Hook mod lets me gain more armor.
My main weapons are the Super Shotgun and Ballista, quick-switching between them for the most damage. My secondary is the Chaingun with the Mobile Turret mod. Every now and then, I use the Arbalest mod on the Ballista for Cacodemons and Pain Elementals, but the charge time takes too long.
If a Prowler or Whiplash crosses my path, I use the Rocket Launcher with the Lock-On Burst mod. I’d use it more to take out mobs if only the splash damage weren’t so painful, so I end up not using it as much as I should, especially with its burst damage.
The BFG is the superior super weapon, but the Unmaykr is pretty good against the Archvile. Therefore, completing all the Slayer Gates to get the Unmaykr isn’t a complete waste of time. Meanwhile, I kill Tyrants with the Crucible if I can.
Using the Chainsaw in DOOM 2016 was more of an afterthought. Having a Chainsaw that regenerates fuel makes it more useful. But this is useful only because ammo capacity has been decreased for this game.
Instead of one useful equipment and two useless ones, you get two good ones in this game. The Frag Grenade is much like in the previous game, but the Ice Grenade is even better. Having a crowd control is a nice thing to have in this game.
I shall now skip over discussing each of the enemies and go straight to the most controversial one.
He’s tough, but not complicated. I pity the dweebs who complained about him on the very first week of the game’s release. If they’re not feeling foolish for whining about the Marauder back in March 2020, then perhaps that’s because they’re bitches.
Even without weapon switching, you can take care of the Marauder with the Ballista once you know his triggers, namely what baits his run and what makes him summon the dog. Once you know exactly how to bait him into doing his melee attack on you, that puzzle is solved.
You can even clean up all other enemies while running away from him to then finish him off last, as long as you have enough space to do so. Even if the tutorials tell you to not use super weapons on him, use the BFG anyway to clean the area up.
The BFG makes the Marauder put up his shield to block the beams, which can make him turn his back on you. That gives you a free hit, and you can take it from there while the BFG kills off all the other enemies.
From being the most annoying enemy in the game, the Marauder becomes the most enjoyable enemy to fight once you know how. If you still can’t get a hang of fighting him, you may want to get some practice. There’s an easy way to do that while there isn’t a custom fight mode (yet or never).
You can load up the Taras Nabad mission and practice fighting the Marauder at the early part. Every time you get a Glory Kill chance or kill him without killing the other enemies (the Cacodemon), reload the checkpoint and do it again.
Here’s a look at all the other bosses. Once I learned that there’s no need to take out the Doom Hunter’s energy shield with the Plasma Rifle, he got a lot easier to deal with. Just Chaingun his carriage until it blows up, then hit his floating torso until he dies. He takes two Crucible hits to kill, so only slice him once he detaches.
I can’t help but compare the Gladiator with the Hell Guards in DOOM 2016. The Hell Guards were a lot more difficult, and that’s not only because there were three of them. Getting used to the Gladiator was much easier, most likely because he was designed to be that way.
Meanwhile, the difficulty I found with the Khan Maykr fight was trying to hit Maykr Drones in the head. She’s big and visible, although having to look up all the time is hard. The Maykr Drones made things a bit more annoying, but at least they’re good piñatas.
The Icon of Sin fight is even easier, but also even more tedious. You can just hang in the back and kill whatever comes at you with the Crucible, but you have to come out and hit a body part or you’ll die by attrition. As long as you do things quickly enough, you should be alright.
After finishing the single-player campaign, there are a few ways you can keep playing this game. There’s the mission select for getting secrets and progression you missed the first time, with the option of activating cheats you’ve picked up. It’s present in the previous game, and it’s still a good idea.
The Ripatorium is a practice level where you can practice fighting demons. This is the closest thing you can get to an endless challenge mode, but you don’t really die in it. If killing demons is enough for you, then it should be good.
Master Levels are good, but there are only two upon release, with one of them only available with pre-order. How hard is it to make these? It’s just mission levels with different enemies.
A true endless challenge mode would make this game truly “eternal.” Devil May Cry has Bloody Palace, and this game needs something similar.
Then, there’s the multiplayer, which looks alright, but I’m not that into it.
Battle Mode is an interesting take on asymmetric multiplayer. One Doom Slayer versus two demons of different types is a good idea. I just can’t get into it since this isn’t the competitive mode I enjoyed. However, they did try doing that in the previous game, and it didn’t work out.
I remember playing the multiplayer beta for DOOM 2016, and it was deeply concerning at the time.
The lack of regular deathmatch is still disappointing for me, but it’s understandable. Adding deathmatch in this game would have made Quake Champions moot, as if it isn’t already.
- More of everything from previous game
- Looks brighter and more colorful than previous game
- Expands on lore from previous game
- Additions enhance combat and exploration
- Resource scarcity make pickup mechanics imperative
- Wider variety of locations
- More useful weapon mods
- Marauder, buff totem, and archvile add urgency in fights
- Battle Mode is interesting take on asymmetric multiplayer
- Great soundtrack by Mick Gordon
- Runs well thanks to engine and use of Vulkan
- Exploration is a mixed bag
- Forces you to slow down in between fights
- No deathmatch
- No endless challenge mode
- Only two master levels on launch
- Interface could be better
- Bethesda.net disconnections
- Mick Gordon got fucked over
- Not really that “eternal”
DOOM Eternal has almost everything I want in a game. It’s just missing the competitive multiplayer and endless mode that would’ve kept me playing it for years to come. But as far as its single-player component goes, it’s pretty much airtight for me.
Its gameplay is an exercise in crisis management. Playing it well isn’t about doing things perfectly, but prevailing despite not doing things perfectly. DOOM Eternal is gameplay loops on more gameplay loops that you must make efficient for yourself. Trying to make sense of them is a journey onto itself, and actually doing so its own reward.
It’s similar to StarCraft with how you have to juggle several tasks at once to manage your resources and your army. But instead of an army, you have your weapons. Instead of minerals, gas, and supply, you have your health, armor, and ammo.
Being able to manage all that and kill enemies quickly is the meat of the gameplay. Being able to do it easily and even stylishly as you get better at it is what really makes it similar to character action games. You play as a badass killing baddies with cool weapons and abilities.
The Doom Slayer may be much less verbose than Dante, but they both like killing demons while looking cool. Along with their many other similarities, that’s why I can say DOOM Eternal is essentially a first-person character action game.
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