Hello, it’s me again, the guy who gave Doom on the Nintendo Switch a six out of 10. You might think that means I don’t like Doom, or maybe I just don’t like shooters. You’d be wrong. I gave that port a middling score because I like shooters too much. I need a mouse, I need maximum fidelity, but most of all, I need more Doom.
Doom Eternal is more Doom. But more than that, it’s a much different kind of Doom. Hell, it’s a much different kind of shooter altogether. I can’t think of another FPS that works the same way as Eternal does. Fundamentally, it’s designed to be as engaging as possible, to force you to swap those weapons, break out the chainsaw, to generally do some cool-looking stuff. If you don’t, you die (at least on appropriately high difficulties).
My playthrough of Doom Eternal on Ultra-Violence was a hard-fought struggle against the demonic hordes. But never once was I genuinely frustrated. I was emboldened by my failings to learn the language of the game and to drench myself in demon blood until I was victorious.
In Doom (2016), ammo was rarely an issue, and just about every enemy would go down with a few well-placed shots with the super shotgun or rocket launcher. Eternal brings elements of strategy and thoughtfulness to encounters, forcing (or rather, strongly suggesting) the player to use every tool at their disposal. Arachnotrons have deadly turrets on their backs that can be shot off with precision bolts from the autocannon or ballista, armored mancubi can be gracefully peeled using the powerful blood punch, and cacodemons can be fed spicy grenades for a one-hit glory kill. When I saw an enemy, I quickly decided between two or three different ways to handle them based on the situation. I’ve never had that experience in a shooter like this before.
Besides an upgrade to engagement, visuals from 2016 have also been greatly improved, both with respect to fidelity and direction. The first half of the game involves planet-hopping to various locales, and the cracking of the environmental designer’s knuckles echoes in the distance of each. Beautiful frozen steel citadels, ruined cities overrun with gargantuan titans, and grotesque flesh-worlds are just a few of the places you’ll visit, and each has the level design to match its horrendous beauty.
New enemies are introduced throughout the campaign (duh), but one baffling design decision was to include full-screen tutorial windows preluding that tell you how to beat it. VEGA, your ever-present robotic buddy, doesn’t chime in to provide strategy once, which feels like a missed opportunity for some humorous real-time tutorialization. These tips are essential to success in Doom Eternal since every demon has one or more weaknesses — I just wish they were presented differently.
Controversial platforming segments are used to break up the white-knuckle action, but I rather enjoyed the wall-climbing and pole-swinging antics of an otherwise terrestrial Doom Slayer. Hunting for collectibles in veritable jungle gyms of ruins and caverns using the excellent map was a great way to let my brain cool down between engagements, although the wall climbing can be a bit finicky at times. Luckily, falling doesn’t mean doom, just a slight health penalty.
It takes about half the campaign, but once the combat truly starts to click, any player will be able to see tangible payoffs in learning the game’s systems. Using the flame belch to strip armor from one enemy only to whip around and chainsaw another for ammunition feels excellent, and managing the big three (ammo, health, and armor) leads to constant real-time decision making that synergizes with the standard run ‘n gun action surprisingly well.
This works doubly well given the excellence of Eternal’s arsenal. The pea-shooter pistol has been completely canned in favor of a shotgun starter. Series regulars like the chaingun and rocket launcher have been tweaked but remain true to 2016’s functions for the most part. Later additions provide some much-welcomed solutions to groups of tanky enemies, and upgrades for each weapon can be swapped on the fly to match the situation. Turning my grenade launcher into an auto-shotgun with the press of a button felt about as cool as it sounds.
Doom Eternal is certainly bigger than 2016’s Doom, but it’s also a whole different beast. Rather than simply being a confident sequel, it’s an attempt to shake up genre norms and rethink the retro shooter.
Does it succeed? Unequivocally. Is it a little messy? Sure. But Doom Eternal running on all cylinders is the most exhilarating shooter I’ve played in over a decade, and there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing its influence in the near future. Play cool, or die.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Bethesda Softworks.
Doom Eternal’s “play cool or die” philosophy shakes up retro shooter norms for the better. It’s the confident sequel we all knew it would be, but it tries to be even more than that. In almost every way, it succeeds at both.