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DOOM Eternal (PC) artwork

DOOM Eternal (PC) review

"It's Doom, Jim, but not as we know it."

Doom Eternal (PC) image

Here's a riddle: How do you improve upon something that's already perfect?

The answer is obvious: You can't, but that's exactly what Bethesda tried to do with Doom Eternal.

In a way, I sympathize. After the remarkable success of Doom 2016, they probably found themselves in a spot. The inevitable sequel was expected, but how to improve upon something that was so well designed, so highly acclaimed, so well received? How could they make lightning strike twice?

I can imagine how their brainstorming session went. Picture a bunch of well-meaning, highly talented and creative people huddled around a whiteboard, pitching as many ideas as they could. Then, instead of culling that list to a reasonable number, they decided to implement all of them. That pretty much describes Doom Eternal in a nutshell, and the result is a bit of a mess. Some of the new ideas work, but most of them don't. Thankfully, this game is built on such solid foundations that it was pretty much guaranteed to be fun regardless. The problem is that Doom Eternal is not a better game than Doom 2016 for many reasons, and that kind of sucks. I will be referring to Doom 2016 a lot in this review, as drawing comparisons between the two titles is the best way to articulate what went right – and wrong – with this game. Doom 2016 was already covered well here on Honestgamers, so if you're not familiar with that title, I would suggest you read up on it first.

Doom Eternal more or less picks up where Doom 2016 left off. Earth is being invaded by the forces of Hell, and it's up to the Doom Guy to stop it. It's a sort of redux of Doom II, but with many key differences. You will spend some time on Earth and also in Hell, but also on an extraterrestrial world called Argent D'Nur, where the Doom Guy apparently lived for a time. You will also travel to a dimension called "Urdak," a sort of heavenly realm corrupted by fallen angels. All of the monsters from Doom II are present, including the Arachnotron and Arch Vile, who did not make appearances in Doom 2016. Plenty of new varieties of monsters have also been added. The selection of weapons is similar to Doom 2016’s, but with the removal of the pistol and the addition of the Unmaker, a weapon we haven't seen since Doom 64. The Doom Guy also has many other tools and abilities at his disposal, which I will discuss later in this review.

For now though, let's discuss the story. Doom Eternal is extremely heavy on narrative, mostly revealed through collectible walls of text. These walls of text are sometimes several pages long, and are packed with information on the various alien races, sects, characters and important events you will need to know about in order to understand what's going on. This means that every time you find one of these collectibles, you have no choice but to stop whatever you're doing and read it. If you don't, you will be completely confused when the next cutscene rolls around. This is in sharp contrast to Doom 2016, which had a concise story that was simple, easy to understand and told entirely through cutscenes and audio clips. It had its own walls of text as well, but they were supplementary – not mandatory.

Doom Eternal (PC) image

Ugh. More homework.

But even if you do go through the trouble of reading through all of Doom Eternal's lengthy story bits – which at times read like Bible passages, presented in a sort of formal, stilted English – you still might not understand what's going on. The best example of this is when the Doom Guy encounters a character known as The Betrayer. This character only appears once, and he says a bunch of stuff about events and characters you have never seen and know nothing about. Only after this scene is over and you are utterly confused does the game present you with the accompanying wall of text to explain what you just heard. By then, you've already forgotten what was said, because apparently this scene did not involve you – the player. This sort of thing happens frequently throughout Doom Eternal. It's not that the story is bad, it's just not presented very well. It doesn't care if you're confused or left behind, it is far too self-important to slow itself down.

And yet it isn't. The Doom Guy's actual backstory is abject nonsense, and there are moments of silliness that are far in excess of the comic relief offered in Doom 2016. The Dope Fish makes multiple physical appearances in the game, for example. You will also find a myriad of plastic toys – much like you did in Doom 2016 – but this time you will also find vinyl records, which allow you to play various tracks from previous Id titles, such as Quake II and Wolfenstein 3D. You display this stuff in your "home" – a gothic space castle dubbed The Fortress of Doom (nope, I am not kidding, they actually called it that). Within it, you will find a man den containing a tricked out gaming PC, shelves for your toys, racks of badass guitars, and posters to accompany the vinyl records you've collected along the way. There is also a retro PC featuring fully playable versions of Doom and Doom II. None of this makes any sense, and it's not supposed to – it's designed to break the fourth wall and remind you that this is just a game, have fun, the story doesn't really matter.

But it does. Because unlike Doom 2016, this game has about as much lore as an entry in the Elder Scrolls series and you are required to know all of it. The story is ostensibly an important one, too – it contains heavy themes of sin, atonement, damnation and salvation. There is a horrifying subtext detailing how individuals lose their souls if their wills are broken and how the powers of Hell use this to their advantage. There's also a side plot about how even angels can become corrupted if they lose their conscience (a sort of allusion to the story of Lucifer). That's some heavy shit, and the gulf between the serious story they're trying to tell and the silliness they've included just for fun is much wider and deeper than it was in Doom 2016. Sometimes it's a leap too far.

Doom Eternal (PC) image

Hey, didn’t I kick your ass back in Commander Keen IV?

That aside, the core gameplay is built on the same foundations laid out in Doom 2016, and it feels pretty good. You will shoot a lot of monsters and perform "glory kills," where you rip monsters apart with your bare hands and gain back health by doing so. To restore armor, you now have a flamethrower that strips armor shards from enemies. The chainsaw more or less works the same way it did in 2016; sawing an enemy in half will reap a cornucopia of ammunition. Similarly, the Doom Guy's "equipment" has been slightly changed and streamlined. The holographic decoy and siphon grenade are gone; instead you have a "freeze grenade" that can stop a group of enemies in their tracks. The classic frag grenade has also been kept. All of these mechanics work as intended and feel great.

But... That's probably where they should have left things. They've added a slew of additional mechanics that don't add much value and just make the game more complicated. You now have a "blood punch" that can eliminate an entire group of enemies in front of you, but it is charged by glory kills and therefore not reliably available. You also get a grappling hook – which is curiously attached to your super shotgun for some reason – that also lights enemies on fire, just because. Later in the game you get a nifty magic sword called The Crucible that can kill most enemies with one hit; however, it has very limited charges and basically fulfills the same function as the chainsaw (minus the ammo drops). These mechanics more or less work fine, but again, they just add an unnecessary layer of complexity.

Then there are the new movement skills. In addition to the double jump you had in Doom 2016, you can now obtain a mid-air hover ability that slows down time (à la Max Payne). There's also a dash ability, where you can boost yourself quickly in any direction, even while in the air. You will also find gold tokens floating in the air that will refill your dash and allow you to keep going (there's something very Mario Bros. about this). There are also "monkey bars" to swing from (à la Mirror's Edge, but with less tactile feedback). You also now have the ability to scale walls, but only specific walls marked with pitted surfaces (à la Tomb Raider 2013). All of this sounds fine on paper, but it throws the doors open for elaborate platforming sequences, of which there are many. You will fail these sequences over and over again, because that's what happens in first person shooters with platforming sequences. It is not a winning game design formula for a reason (and no, Mirror's Edge doesn't count, that game was more about the running than the jumping). Thankfully you will not experience "true death" in the sense that you have to load a save when you fail; you just lose some health and teleport back to the nearest checkpoint. Still, there is nothing fun about these sequences. There was a little bit of platforming in Doom 2016, but it's nothing compared to Doom Eternal. I estimate at least half the game is taken up by these sequences alone. Eventually it got to the point where I audibly groaned every time I reached one of these sections because I was sick of having my fun interrupted.

Doom Eternal (PC) image

God fucking damnit.

Then there's the swimming sequences. Yes, that’s right – they added swimming to a Doom game. You don’t even fight in these sequences, all you do is complete some very simplistic puzzles while doing the breaststroke very, very slowly. Occasionally you punch a block and it triggers a cutscene where water drains somewhere or something, but that’s it. Your radiation suit provides your supply of oxygen, but it runs out in basically 60 seconds or so, so you must renew it by picking up little underwater tokens (much like the mid-air tokens you were collecting while bopping along like Mario). These sequences reminded me of the idiotic zero-atmosphere sections of Doom 3, where the Doom Marine steps out onto the Martian surface for a few seconds and then suddenly finds himself gasping for air. There is absolutely nothing fun about these sequences – Nothing. Thankfully, they are not as common as the platforming sequences, but they are long, boring, and serve only as meaningless filler.

And between the platforming and swimming are highly curated combat sequences where you are trapped in a small arena with hordes of aggressive enemies. This is where the actual fun takes place, although you will find that the Doom Guy's new toys and movement mechanics make it a bit of an inglorious mess. You can’t rely on your favourite weapons, as they have such gimped ammo capacities that they basically run dry in a few seconds, so you have no choice but to rely on the other tricks in your bag. These include the aforementioned grenades, flamethrower, chainsaw, grappling hook, blood punch, sword, et al. The end result is a blur of frenetic activity where you are careening through the air while throwing grenades, grappling onto enemies, punching them in the face, chainsawing them, lighting them on fire, ripping them apart, shooting for a few seconds, swapping weapons, swinging from monkey bars, frantically grabbing extra items off the ground, etc. Staying moving at all times is necessary, or else you will get backed into a corner and juggled to death by six different enemies at once. The game forces you to play in a very specific way, and it does not negotiate. Again, it is fun, but less so than Doom 2016.

There's also a new enemy called a Marauder who is so annoying that he deserves his own paragraph. He is basically a big horned dude armed with an axe, shotgun and shield, and he is accompanied by an annoying dog. His shield renders him completely invincible to all damage (except, perhaps, from a well-aimed blast from a BFG). In order to circumvent his shield, you have to wait until he lunges at you with his axe. He will only do this at mid range; if he is too far, he will fire an infinite stream of energy projectiles at you. If he is too close, he will infinitely shoot you with his shotgun. However, if he is at the exact right range he will lunge with his axe, and if you shoot him at that exact second you will hit him. If not, you will inflict zero damage and he will punish you by spawning another dog. There's something very Legend of Zelda about this; beating him is all about timing and repetition. He first appears as a boss encounter, and in that context he works fine, but after that he is casually thrown into the mix with groups of enemies where he doesn't belong. Everything stops when a Marauder shows up – you have to focus your attention entirely on him, or else he will spam an infinite stream of projectiles or an infinite number of dogs. I don't know why they thought mixing boss battle logic with trash mob logic would be fun, but it isn't. You can look forward to fighting Marauders regularly throughout the latter half of the game.

Doom Eternal (PC) image

The arrival of that glowing axe and shield means it’s time for bullshit.

And I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to all of the other weird features they’ve inserted into this game. The Doom Guy’s new upgrade system could probably fill several paragraphs on its own, but for the sake of brevity I will not be discussing it. Suffice to say that new systems are continually introduced up until the very end of the game. There’s something to be said for knowing when to stop. Any artist will tell you that a painting can be ruined by overworking it, and as a medium, video games are no different. More is not always better. Many games have fallen into this trap. FTL: Advanced Edition and XCOM2 come to mind. Neither game was better than its predecessor; they both suffered by adding needless complexity to an already perfectly balanced formula.

The ways in which Doom Eternal improves upon its predecessor are mostly aesthetic. It is generally a more colourful and visually stimulating game than Doom 2016 overall. The monster designs are more interesting and more closely resemble the classic designs from Doom and Doom II. Chunks of flesh and blood fall off of them as you shoot them, revealing their musculature and bones underneath. There are more animations for the glory kills than in Doom 2016, and they are often hilarious, thrilling, grotesque or all of the above. The music and sound design is absolutely stellar. The voice acting, similarly, is superb. Doom Eternal is a visual and aural delight from end to end.

The other welcome addition is the addition of "Slayer Gates," which are in lieu of the clunky Rune Trials from Doom 2016. These optional ultra-difficult challenges pit you against an even denser swarm of enemies in an even smaller arena with the goal of wiping them all out. If you fail you can try again, but you won't be refunded any of your lost resources. Again, like most of the other combat sequences, you are sort of forced into a single play style here, but I still found these to be quite enjoyable. I even managed to complete all of them on my first try (just barely), which made me feel quite proud of myself. This is probably Doom Eternal at its best, with no platforming, swimming or assigned reading to slow it down.

Doom Eternal (PC) image

But otherwise? I can't think of a single thing that Doom Eternal does better than Doom 2016. Once I finished the campaign and realized the story was not over and they were going to try to sell me DLCs, I groaned again and uninstalled shortly thereafter. Doom Eternal had overstayed its welcome. I was tired of the jumping puzzles, tired of the pedantic storytelling, tired of dealing with those stupid Marauders. This did not happen when I finished Doom 2016. After I finished that game I was thirsty for more, and ended up playing its ultra-fun "arcade mode" for months afterward. Doom Eternal's equivalent is "Master Levels," which are basically just more difficult versions of the campaign levels, but with different objectives. They sound like they will probably satisfy the hardcore fans, but I personally had no interest in trying them at all.

My biggest gripe is that Doom Eternal just doesn't feel like Doom. It doesn't even feel like a first person shooter. It feels like a weird third-person action game where you are forced into an awkward first person perspective instead. At least Doom 2016 was authentic to its subject matter – it was a shooter, plain and simple, but repackaged and updated in a way that made it even better than the original. They followed the old navy design principle of "keep it simple, stupid," and then applied a heavy layer of polish. That’s all that is required to make a great game, but it seems they decided to go the other way with Doom Eternal. They exploded a colourful piñata of features overtop of this thing and just hoped for the best.

With all of that said, Doom Eternal is still fun. You will probably get your money's worth, although once I was done with it I wished I hadn’t paid full price for it. I thought I was buying a ticket to play Doom – not Elder Scrolls, not Legend of Zelda, and certainly not Super Fucking Mario Bros. Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I got. It makes me wonder what the third iteration of this trilogy will be like. Will it resemble Doom at all? Time will tell.

Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (January 20, 2021)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access.

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