The chainsaw giveth, and the chainsaw taketh away.
Doom Eternal takes every aspect of 2016’s Doom and tries to better it. It’s much faster, far larger, the difficulty has been ramped up, there’s twice as many demons to brutally disembowel and the whole experience is absolutely intense. Where the Doom of four years ago focused on a back-to-basics approach of just shooting things, Eternal has added depth to the story, a much brighter colour palette, and more features and complexity to the gunplay. Some of these additions should be well received, and others not so much.
The crux of the Doom franchise (except for maybe Doom 3) has always been about blowing demons away, and Eternal’s predecessor captured that perfectly while ingeniously adding some challenge and opportunities for creativity. In the past, you needed Glory Kills for health and to chainsaw enemies for ammo; Doom Eternal takes things further with the addition of the shoulder-mounted Flame Belch flamethrower. Start burning enemies, and they’ll drop a little bit of armour. Finish them off while they’re cooking and they’ll drop a lot. In the latter stages of the game, you’ll find the use of the Flame Belch an absolute necessity. In the first half — especially if you’re playing on Hurt Me Plenty (aka medium) difficulty — you’re likely to forget it’s there at all.
The same applies to the new Blood Punch attack which has a meter that fills up with each glory kill. Until you discover that it’s useful for instantly removing armour from the Cyber Mancubus, the Blood Punch will serve little purpose.
On the other hand, the chainsaw is an absolute necessity from the moment you start the campaign. This brutal machine is once again used against your enemies to top up your ammo supplies, though in Eternal ammo is much more scarce. That means you’ll be ripping and tearing with it much more often; this can only be a good thing. Thankfully the saw will auto recharge one bar of fuel which you can use against fodder demons who now continuously respawn until you’ve dispersed with the larger beasts in the area. This way you’ll never find yourself floating up the River Styx without an ammo clip.
For the most part, the presence of these ever-respawning demons is fine. Zombies will just wander around causing little to no threat; Imps are much more aggressive and fast moving and play a big role in contributing to the chaos of Doom’s battle arenas. The idea is that you’ll disperse with all the bigg’ns, like the charging Pinky, the skull faced Revenant with his shoulder mounted rockets or the serpent like and very fast moving Whiplash, while the fodder demons keep spawning so you’ll always be able to farm them to keep your stocks up. Eventually, you’ll come across the Marauder. A powerful demon with the most frustrating defense abilities.
He’s only vulnerable when he’s attacking you and his melee blows tear massive chunks away from your health and armour. Once the arena is cleared of all other other major threats, he’ll usually be the last one standing. Even on his own, he’s a force to be reckoned with. This means your only option is to jump, dash and run around the arena leading him in circles to keep your distance while you wait for a few Zombies or Imps to spawn so you can top up your ammo and health before re-engaging. The Marauder takes away from the chaos and intense pace that has now become a staple of Doom and every encounter with him brings the fun down a notch, especially in the later stages of the campaign.
Adding to the pacing issues issues on the macro level are new wall-climbing and jumping puzzles. These have a much more significant impact on the flow and feel of the game. Jump puzzles feature in almost all missions to some extent. They offer little to no challenge and every single one acts as an annoying barrier between your ever-growing desire to fire your weapon at a swarm of hellspawn.
The levels of Doom Eternal are fantastic to play, offering open spaces to move around, jump, dash and take in the sights. While its levels look beautiful, that’s really not why I’m here. I’m not looking for beauty and bright colours, I’m after hellfire. I want something that feels evil to the point where it’s almost intimidating. Doom should be the embodiment of heavy metal in the form of a video game and I just don’t get that feeling this time around. Some, but not all, levels in Doom Eternal feel completely out of place and are more akin to something you’d see in Destiny or Halo. And a snow level? Seriously? Not to mention the virtual rainbows of ammo pickups that spew from your fallen foes.
The Doomslayer himself now feels as though he’s so much less bad arse. With the exception of maybe three specific moments, seeing him stand there like a stunned mullet in the cutscenes completely softens what once was the essence of a demon slaughtering machine of death down to a mute Master Chief. The instances of him smashing things as Samuel Hayden patiently describes how he needs to be careful are gone, as are the Doomslayer’s numerous, and occasionally humorous, death animations.
Doom Eternal may look like it’s a simple, fast-paced, run-and-gun twitch shooter but there are so many little additions to the combat that, when paired with the almost constant intensity of the firefights, make for a rather strategic shooter. Not in the way that has you planning the angle of your attack or trying to coordinate flanking maneuvers, but in a way that has you constantly making split second decisions to swap weapons and choose which enemy is the most likely to kill you. Once that’s done, you’ll then need to work your way down the food chain to thin the herd all while looking for opportunities to gather more health, armour and ammo powerups. After my first play session, the ferociousness of the enemies and the pace of it all genuinely made it hard for me to get to sleep that night.
Enemies are much more challenging; even putting the ammo, health and armour farming aside there’s strategy needed to effectively dispose of many of them. Manage to launch a grenade into the open mouth of a Cacodemon and you’ll instantly stagger it for a quick glory kill. The brainy spider-like Arachnotrons have a powerful long range turret that can be disposed of with a single sticky bomb from the attachment on your combat shotgun. These aren’t just meaningless cosmetic game play mechanics used to sell the game.
Once the turret’s taken care of, ol’ Krang with legs will be limited to close-range combat options, making him a much easier target. Getting to know each demon’s weaknesses and exploiting them is a real contributor to your success, which in turn has a big impact on your weapon choice. Sure you’ll use some more than others, but you will use them all, and they all have their place. The most fun of all is the point where the iconic super shotgun is unlocked with it’s new meat hook. It’s glorious. Few things in a game have had me smiling as much as burying the hook in an enemy and flying around a Doom arena.
Despite some missteps, it’s not all doom and gloom; far from it, in fact. In spite of the failings mentioned above I can’t emphasise how much fun Doom Eternal is to play and that’s what really counts. The problem is that id Software added in all these new features where only some are for the betterment of the game; others take away from the franchise and its legacy. Nevertheless, if you dive in I can promise you that you’ll have one hell of a good time.
Doom Eternal was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.