I consider myself very comfortable with first-person shooters. They’ve been a staple of my game diet since I started out as a fledgling gamer many years ago, and my spatial awareness and reaction times are more than adequate for blasting my way through most shooters on hard difficulties.
Doom Eternal, however, pushes my capabilities to the limit.
My brain hurts now
Doom Eternal was released in early 20201 as the sequel to id Software’s previous “reboot” of the Doom franchise from 2016. That game was a pure-bred shooter that excelled in large parts thanks to varied enemies and weapons, meaningful weapon upgrades, and some light resource management mechanics that made all the difference by requiring you to get up close and personal to replenish health and ammo.
Doom Eternal builds on this and cranks it way past 11.
Firstly, the focus on mobility alone is insane. Stop moving for more than two seconds, and you’re dead. To facilitate mobility, most arenas are riddled with things like poles to vault from, ledges to climb, in-air refills for your dash ability, boost pads that send you flying, and portals that teleport you around. To survive, there’s no choice; you have to make good use of everything. Master this, and you are rewarded with the thrill of fleeing from a powerful enemy, running through a portal and over to a boost pad, and peppering them from above with a spray of exotic forms of ammo as you soar over them.
Be warned; mastering this requires constant concentration, good spatial awareness, and thinking on your feet while sprinting around the level. You don’t always know on a split second where a new boost pad will send you, and you’ll have to learn for each encounter which portals are linked to each other. Alternatively, you can wing it and see where a portal or boost pad takes you, as I often did – I just wanted a moment’s peace from that huge demon that was breathing down my neck in order to collect my thoughts. You can’t think just in 2D either; the levels have a lot more verticality this time around – itself a good thing in a mobility-based shooter like this, though a bit more taxing on your mental faculties.
But don’t assume spatial awareness alone is sufficient for Doom Eternal. Oh, no. This game takes the resource management from its 2016 predecessor to a whole new level. The “Glory Kill to receive health” mechanic of course makes a reappearance, as does the Chainsaw, which refills your ammo (and has limited uses until you find more fuel, so there’s another resource to manage). There are also several new kids on the block: A short-range “flame belch” sets enemies on fire, making them continually drop armor refills. Cryo grenades keep enemies out of the fight for a while, and frag grenades deal area damage. The aforementioned dash refills are more situational, but it’s still one more thing to keep in mind.
Think this is enough to keep track of? We ain’t even halfway there, my dear.
Throughout the game, you unlock many upgrades: New weapons, weapon upgrades, runes that provide special abilities or bonuses, weapon mods (up to two special modes for each weapon, which you can cycle between during combat), and suit upgrades are the ones most pertinent to the flow of the combat. All of these have to be factored into how you approach the encounters. Additionally, all enemies have distinct strategies for how to defeat them, with weak points or weaknesses to certain weapons or mods. To survive, let alone excel, you have to be constantly thinking about your abilities and gear and how best to utilize them in the current, ever-changing situation.
Let’s reiterate: Need health? Get up close and personal and weaken them so you can perform a glory kill. Need armor? Get up close and personal and spray them with fire. Need ammo? Say it with me now: Get up close and personal – thank you – and use the Chainsaw. (You checked your fuel level first, right?) You may easily be fighting fifteen enemies of six different types simultaneously; you’ll probably want to leave the weaker ones as quick ways to refill your resources when needed, and take down that other particular enemy first because they tend to cause more trouble if not eliminated quickly. They are weak to this particular weapon, but you’re out of ammo – even fully upgraded, burning through all your ammo takes very little time. Maybe you can use that other weapon instead – or should you find some cannon fodder to Chainsaw? Oh, wait, it’s low on fuel right now. And that ability you unlocked recently, cold that help here? This enemy can be frozen with a cryo grenade so you can focus on that one, and let’s not forget constantly flying around the arena just to stay alive, to say nothing of actually hitting anything.
Then additional enemy types enter the fray, and you have to reevaluate everything. Those purple ones that teleport around the battlefield – weren’t those best taken down by heat-seeking rockets? And OH NO™, there’s a Marauder! The guy who dashes frantically around the battlefield and attacks you incessantly with both long-range and melee attacks, and blocks everything except during two tenths of a second when he is about to attack from a very specific mid-range distance. Best switch your weapon into the other mode – wait, what was the button to switch modes again?
Oh dang, you died.
If this isn’t enough, the audiovisual presentation from its predecessor is cranked way up. There’s a lot to take in. The neon visuals jump at you from all angles, the dark and bass-heavy soundtrack courtesy of Mick Gordon resolutely sets the tone in the audio department, and the cacophony of weapon booms, enemy noises, and utility effects can leave the best of us confused. The most common cause of death is sensory overload.
As you may have surmised, Doom Eternal can at first feel overwhelming and frustrating. The learning curve is steeper than Matterhorn, and during the combat there is often too much to keep track of at once. However, I found that once I got into it, it felt good; the game turned from exhausting frustration to zoned concentration with a sprinkling of elation.
In any case, it’s thankfully not all combat. In between encounters are platforming sections. They’re not that memorable, but still work very well as they provide much needed breaks from the sheer intensity of the combat. This is also where you explore and try to find hidden upgrades and collectibles. In addition to the previously mentioned runes and weapon mods/upgrades, there are collectible secrets, weapon skins, cheat codes, and so-called “Sentinel batteries” that again unlock more upgrades. The developers even did the courtesy of enabling fast-travel at the end of each level, allowing you to travel at will to any previously visited (and now otherwise unreachable) section of the map to look for missed secrets before completing the level. (If you complete and restart the level, you have to play through it once more, though at least you get to use all your current gear and abilities.)
Doom Eternal also trades its predecessor’s dark and self-referential humor for deep lore of the high-fantasy cosmology variant. In my opinion, this doesn’t really add anything to the experience. I find it uninteresting, but for the most part it can at least be ignored.
I also didn’t dig the way the game spelled out, in a separate tutorial screen, how to defeat each new enemy – even bosses – the moment they’re encountered. While effective, it felt inelegant. I would have preferred a more organic solution, though with the frantic intensity of the combat, no good alternatives come to mind.
Doom Eternal is the superlative of Doom. It’s messier and noisier; it’s more intense and colorful. It’s a hurricane of light, noise, and extravagant violence, and provides a combat experience unlike any other FPS I’ve played.
Put simply, it’s the most demanding shooter I’ve come across. With fast-paced combat combined with a heavy focus on resource management and distinct strategies for each enemy type, there’s a lot to constantly keep track of. It may not be for everyone, but if you can get under its skin, it can be rewarding like few other games.
Doom Eternal expands on its predecessor in all directions. Not for the faint of heart.
And played by me in October that year; the review notes have been sitting on my desktop for a year now.↩