DOOM Eternal Review — Heaven and Hell

DOOM Eternal Review — Heaven and Hell

DOOM Eternal is a drastic improvement over its predecessor in every way and sees the Doom Slayer reclaiming his throne in the shooter genre.

When id Software revived the DOOM franchise four years ago, many didn’t know what to expect upon its arrival. In a previous decade that had seen the series drifting away from its action-heavy roots with DOOM 3, to the much-troubled and eventually canceled development of DOOM 4, the classic shooter franchise seemed to be in a strange place, void of any identity. Fortunately, upon its release in 2016, DOOM‘s latest iteration proved to be a critical and commercial success and ushered in a new era of arena-based combat.

After proving to be such a rousing achievement, id Software’s inevitable sequel, DOOM Eternal, ended up carrying with it something that the previous game didn’t: incredibly high expectations. In the face of those grand expectations, though, the team at id Software have somehow found a way to completely improve on the previous installment in just about every single way. DOOM Eternal isn’t just highly-polished, replayable, and continuously engrossing, but it also easily stands as one of the best first-person shooters we have received in a long, long time.

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DOOM Eternal once again has you mowing down demons in the combat boots of the Doom Slayer. The game’s 15-20+ hour runtime will have you aggressively sprinting across Earth, Hell, and a variety of other realms in order to halt the demonic hordes that have infested the human homeworld. The Doom Slayer’s goal remains the same as it has always been, but there are more factions at play this time. The DOOM franchise’s throughline story pitch of one man (or demigod) facing off against an army of demons has always been low-key hilarious to me, and seeing those stakes upped even further in Eternal with new foes arising for the Doom Slayer to eliminate made the game even more entertaining.

While story has never been front and center in any DOOM game, Eternal actually adds a fair amount of lore and narrative-focus that one wouldn’t normally expect. Not only does the game explain more of the background of the Doom Slayer himself, but it also explains why there are so many demons being let loose upon Earth in the first place. And without spoiling too much, Eternal actually finds a way to connect this new era of DOOM titles to those from the past in some rather interesting ways. Likely the highest praise I can give DOOM Eternal on a story front is that I actually had a desire to read every single codex entry that I came across while playing. The storyline isn’t anything that I’ll end up pondering for years to come, but what is included here definitely made me feel like even more of an unstoppable killing machine.

If you played 2016’s DOOM, then you’ll be familiar at a baseline level with many of the core gameplay mechanics found here in Eternal. Glory kills have once again returned and are the main means by which you can get more health. If you’re running out of HP, you best start charging directly at demons with the intent to rip and tear them apart. id Software has also introduced a variety of other mechanics very similar to this system in DOOM Eternal that work to great effect, too. A shoulder-mounter flamethrower that the Doom Slayer possesses allows him to set enemies ablaze. If you then kill these foes while they’re on fire, you’ll gain more health. The chainsaw also makes a return and when you use it on demons, ammo comes bursting forth from their insides like a fountain.

DOOM Eternal

If the previous DOOM was all about making sure you stay on the offensive at all times, Eternal ups that notion tenfold. All of the mechanics I mentioned aren’t just included for fun, but are instead vital to your survival. DOOM Eternal wants to be played in a very specific fashion, but the reason for forcing you to play in this manner is to maximize your potential as a killing machine. A routine combat scenario in DOOM Eternal will have you switching between guns dozens of times, bouncing off of monkey bars and grav lifts, and will have you scouring the environment for every power-up. It’s hectic, but it leads to every single situation that you find yourself in being a thrill.

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It’s also worth noting that if you don’t use all of the tools at your disposal in DOOM Eternal, you will die a whole bunch. Eternal is an inherently tough game, even on lower difficulties. This isn’t the “Dark Souls of shooters” by any means, but even on Normal mode, I found myself stressed and sweating in nearly every engagement. That being said, I think DOOM Eternal could be one of the most well-balanced games I have ever played. Even though each combat situation I found myself in did come with a certain level of challenge, I always found myself more than capable of being able to overcome the hordes of enemies pursuing me as long as I kept moving and remembered to stay aggressive. DOOM Eternal knows how to push you to your limit without ever really breaking you, which is a fantastic line to balance.

As for the main gear that you’ll be using to dispatch of these demons, the guns that the Doom Slayer comes equipped with largely all feel great. Each weapon in the game, other than the BFG, can be upgraded and come with modifications that you can utilize and swap between on a dime. The Heavy Cannon, for instance, comes with one modification that allows you to snipe foes from far away while the other turns the gun into a rapid-fire missile launcher. Upgrading each weapon over the course of the game remains incredibly compelling, especially if you’re trying to fully level up each of them. The Super Shotgun also remains as my favorite gun in the game by far and the meathook (grappling hook) attachment that it comes with is a real game-changer.

There are also a few new toys at the Doom Slayer’s disposal in DOOM Eternal as well, most notably that of a freakin’ sword. The Crucible, which is what the Doom Slayer’s variation of a lightsaber is formally called, is a lot of fun to use, although you don’t finally get your hands on it until later in the experience. Even when you do finally get it, you learn that it is incredibly limited in its uses and can only be recharged by finding certain items scattered in the environment. Still, being able to one-shot every single non-boss enemy in the game with this demonic saber is always a joy, even if you might not get a whole lot of mileage out of it.

DOOM Eternal

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of DOOM Eternal overall, and the one that really drastically improves the experience even if you’re not always aware of it, comes in the form of the game’s level design. Broadly, Eternal is a much more vast game compared to the previous DOOM. Levels are much larger and a bit more linear, whereas the last DOOM title had stages that were built out a bit more vertically and could be more easily traversed to and from. The latter is definitely more alluring when it comes to trying to find all of the collectibles in a given stage–of which there are a lot–but this grander presentation has allowed the team at id Software to do so much more artistically with DOOM Eternal. There are so many sweeping vistas in this game that feature incredibly detailed backdrops and are an absolute pleasure to take in.

The real achievement in terms of how levels are constructed though comes about whenever you find yourself in the tight-knit locations in which you’ll primarily be duking it out with demons. These areas are so well-designed with all items and locomotive devices being expertly and strategically placed to ensure that you are constantly moving about. Certain stages in DOOM Eternal also offer up challenge arenas of sorts that, upon completion, award you with a few bonus items. These challenge zones were far and away my favorite part of DOOM Eternal as a whole, and I cannot recommend enough that everyone tries these out for themselves.

From beginning to end, DOOM Eternal is rife with action, explosions, and frenetic fights, but it’s not without a few issues. The opening few levels of the game, in particular, are a bit slow. This is mainly due to the fact that you don’t have many weapons just yet and the game is busy inundating you with tutorials. This is to be expected on some level, and the game’s opening missions aren’t awful, per se, it just takes a bit to get going. Once you get about three or four missions in, Eternal really starts to click and doesn’t relent whatsoever.

DOOM Eternal

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The only truly “bad” aspect of DOOM Eternal based on my own time with the game would come in the way of some late boss fights. Personally speaking, bosses weren’t my favorite part of DOOM and I don’t think they’re any better here in Eternal, sadly. Of the five boss fights in the game, the first three are actually quite enjoyable, mainly because each of these foes is on a similar scale compared to the Doom Slayer. When you have to face some larger enemy types near the game’s conclusion, the way in which you have to go about beating them becomes a chore.

DOOM Eternal‘s second-to-last boss suffers on multiple levels, most notably in how it is designed. The penultimate boss just feels cheap on a variety of levels, primarily due to the fact that their health is constantly regenerating and they section off specific areas of the arena you’re battling on that you quite literally cannot traverse upon unless you want to get hurt. And perhaps I’m just terrible at playing this game (there’s always a high likelihood of this), but I also found ammo to be far too difficult to acquire in this battle and completely ran out on multiple attempts. The minor foes that are scattered about the environment in this fight could not be chainsawed which meant that, once I ran out of bullets, I was screwed. This was the only instance in the entire campaign that I felt the need to lower the difficulty to Easy mode just to power through, which bummed me out.

As for the actual final boss, the fight is such a chaotic mess that feels less like a boss battle and instead is an exercise in patience. In a game that is all about getting right up in the face of your foes and dealing maximum damage, Eternal‘s last boss forces you to pick and choose your shots carefully at all times while trying to avoid being swarmed by the demons around you. The whole battle makes for a less-than-enjoyable climax that feels like the complete antithesis of everything that came before it. The ending left a bad taste in my mouth in what was otherwise one of my favorite shooter experiences I have had in forever. Bad bosses have often undermined the conclusions of games in the past and DOOM Eternal isn’t invulnerable to such a sin, either.

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Despite the rough landing, it’s hard not to be impressed by nearly everything else in DOOM Eternal. In spite of all its accomplishments on a gameplay front, perhaps id Software’s largest achievement with this game is just how well-polished it is out of the gate. In an age where games seem to launch in rough states all the time, I experienced no performance issues or bugs whatsoever in my time playing. More than anything else, I was shocked that the frame rate never once noticeably dipped below 60fps for me no matter how many enemies may have been on screen in a single instance. Perhaps it will struggle a bit more on older hardware (I played on Xbox One X) but it seems clear that DOOM Eternal‘s delay out of 2019 was more than beneficial.

There’s also just an insane amount of content that has been packed into DOOM Eternal as well. While you might think that beating the game one time through will prove to be where you leave it behind, you might be surprised to see how much more there is to do. There are a vast number of challenges, milestones, and other extras that you can constantly be looking to earn while you play. There’s even a battle pass-like system (don’t worry, it’s free) where the more XP you earn in each level, the more you’ll be able to unlock additional goodies. Weekly challenges can also be found here, again, continually encouraging you to approach missions from new angles. All of these features make DOOM Eternal feel much more arcade-y, which is what the franchise has somewhat always been built around to begin with.

Another incredibly cool aspect of DOOM Eternal comes in the way of Master Missions, which are essentially harder variants of levels that you’ve previously played. These remixed missions might not be the most approachable to casual fans, but for all of you masochists out there, they’ll surely give you more demons than you can handle. More Master Missions are said to be coming post-launch as well, which is rad.

I also haven’t even bothered to mention the Fortress of DOOM, which is the Doom Slayer’s hub world that he revisits between levels. This area contains a few unlockables in addition to a practice arena, in case you’d like to try out battling against certain enemy types that are giving you fits. There are also a lot of fun Easter eggs tucked away in this area, especially in the Doom Slayer’s bedroom. It’s a cool little hub that, more than anything, serves as a sort of love letter to DOOM.

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And did you think I wouldn’t touch on the soundtrack? Come on, now. Mick Gordon’s heavy metal score for DOOM Eternal is the game’s lifeblood that naturally makes you play in an up-tempo manner throughout the entire campaign. While upon a first playthrough some of the tracks don’t stand out as much as others did in the previous game, that doesn’t mean it’s bad whatsoever. It’s not only a fantastic companion piece to DOOM Eternal itself, but it’s just awesome metal music. Seriously, listen to this.

It’s worth mentioning that DOOM Eternal‘s new multiplayer offering, Battlemode, was not available for me to play prior to publishing this review. Servers for Battlemode still haven’t gone live as of this writing and as a result, I can’t take it into account with my final verdict. Still, I can confidently say that no matter how good or bad Battlemode might be, it’s almost certainly not going to affect my overall impressions or final score of DOOM Eternal either way. If anything, it will just turn out to be the cherry on top. We’ll likely have some separate impressions of Battlemode up down the road, so stay tuned.

DOOM Eternal might very well be the most intense video game I have ever played. Every single shootout that I experienced in my time with it demanded my full attention, but that attention was well-earned. Even though it doesn’t quite stick the landing, what’s included here is more than worthy of admiration, praise, and perhaps most importantly, your time.

Only five years ago, the future of DOOM seemed to be in question, which was bizarre given the franchise’s importance and prominence in gaming history. But in the time since, id Software has not only once, but twice now, made clear that this series is here to stay. DOOM Eternal proves now more than ever that the grandaddy of the first-person shooter genre is once again the king of them all — and it doesn’t look to be ceding the throne any time soon.