Doom has been my favorite video game series since the original was released in 1993 and gave me nightmares. I love this franchise. I really wanted to like this game but, whereas Doom (2016) left me feeling like an all-powerful murder machine, Doom Eternal just left me exhausted and frustrated. It’s more of everything that its predecessor was in every way, but not all expansions were necessary – or appreciated. Is Doom Eternal a great game? Yes, absolutely. Did I enjoy it? No, not really.
Welcome to Hell
Doom (2016) got some flak for its one-trick pony gameplay. See a demon. Kill it dead with any weapon from your insane arsenal. Feel godlike in your unlimited agency. Repeat. Admittedly, it was an awesome trick. In contrast, Doom Eternal spices things up, but in doing so it removes that agency. Doom Eternal has a near-mandatory gameplay loop. Step 1: see a demon. Step 2: switch your weapon and special attacks to correspond to the demon’s unique weakness until it’s near death. Step 3: glory kill the demon for health. Step 4: chainsaw the endlessly-spawning weak enemies to replenish your ammunition when you run low. Rinse (with blood) and repeat. It’s a greater loop but it transforms Doom’s gameplay from a first-person shooter to something of a first-person rhythm game.
In Doom (2016), less was more. You had freedom in the methods you chose to kill everything because your only prerogative was to kill. In Doom Eternal, however, there is much more to do, but the player has to perform each step according the game’s prompts or risk running out of ammo. Sure, you could kill that Cacodemon by dumping all of your chaingun ammo into it. But why would you when a single well-placed grenade will do the same trick? The problem is, now every Cacodemon prompts the same, singular response: switch to grenade launcher. See a prompt, press the button. Just like a rhythm game. Requiring the player to take these steps – even though there are more steps – takes away the player’s agency and, thus, somehow feels like less.
By the way, I was unfortunately not aware of the fourth step. In Doom (2016), the chainsaw is like any other weapon: it’s worthless if you have no ammo. Not so in Doom Eternal. Here, while you still need to gather fuel to kill larger demons, the chainsaw periodically recharges one point of fuel to use on the smaller enemies in order to replenish ammo for all your other weapons.
But I didn’t know this until well over halfway through the game. Because of this, I spent much of my time backtracking through levels to scrounge for ammo and helplessly running from enemies when I ran out completely. And, not knowing the chainsaw magically replenished fuel, I ran out of ammo frequently. I was constantly finding secret challenges like Hell Rifts and Gore Nests, but I passed them all up because I couldn’t afford to expend the precious ammo I didn’t know I could recover. Passing them up also meant foregoing the rewards these challenges granted, which would better equip the Doom Slayer for future conflicts. I was playing the game wrong and the experience sucked. Running from enemies is a great way to have no fun playing Doom Eternal. So don’t do what I did. Use your chainsaw.
Once I did discover the chainsaw = ammo formula, I was able to enjoy the game. Weapons and demons both get major updates in Doom Eternal, for better and for worse. The varied weapons and their modifications are as satisfying to shoot as the wonderfully varied demons are to dismember.
Glory Kills make their triumphant and brutal return, but one weapon in particular steals the show. The Super Shotgun now features a retractable meat hook that pulls you toward demons so you can blast them in the face point-blank, which is an awesome new addition. Launching myself from demon to demon to splatter their brains up-close never got old. I felt like Spider-Man with a gun.
It’s exhilarating shooting demons of all shapes and sizes in the face. Most of them are equally interesting and a lot of fun to smash. The new Marauder enemy type, on the other hand, has no gosh darn chill and I hate his guts. He is not a Doom enemy. He is a Dark Souls boss. The Maurader is fast, hits hard, soaks up ammo, and can summon a nasty wolf companion to wear you down. It’s just too much. Doom is supposed to make you feel like an all-powerful heavy metal death dealer. But the Marauder makes me feel helpless and frustrated. Worse, the spirit wolf he summons requires the player to turn their attention away from him and toward it, lest it rapidly tear you apart. Here the gameplay takes a step back. The forward momentum of ripping and tearing that the Doom Slayer should be enjoying must be halted to deal with a side threat. The Marauder isn’t a bad enemy because he’s tough. He’s a bad enemy because, unlike the other demons in Doom Eternal, he stymies the game’s pace. You can smash Imps and Barons of Hell all day long. You can’t defeat the Marauder by rampaging. You have to be careful. This is not something the Doom Slayer should be. Fighting him just doesn’t feel like Doom.
The jumping and wall-climbing puzzles from Doom (2016) have returned with a vengeance. And it is not appreciated. Again, more is not always better. The ability to essentially rope swing and parkour is a terrific addition when it gives the player agency to jump from one demon to the next, but when these precisely-timed jumps between several falling platforms become the only path to get to the other end of the map, the gameplay suffers. Again, it’s well-made and in another game it would be fine. But it’s just not Doom.
Graphics and Sound
Doom Eternal is stunning. Each level is basically a stroll through a different heavy metal album cover. Each new location is awash in horrific tentacles, blood, spikes, bodies, property destruction, and fire. There is so much fire. The level design itself is gorgeous, too. The layouts are brilliant and the set pieces are fantastic. Demonic (and leporine!) throwbacks to the original games show up often. Even the monsters have been refined from the previous game: The Cacodemon’s eye now sports a pupil, which gives it a hilariously friendlier, cartoony look.
Mick Gordon returns to deliver another soundtrack that rips and tears as much as the Doom Slayer himself. Its brutality mirrors and sometimes even surpasses the onscreen violence. The sound effects slam equally hard. Demons howl and gunshots blare with equal fervor. The shotgun blasts and fireballs feel like they carry weight. Amid the carnage, a Cortana-like hologram nonchalantly appears inside the hollowed-out shell of shopping centers and office complexes to greet you with a smile and a message: “The UAC would love to thank you for your support during this transition. Your suffering continues to inspire us.” Kudos to Jeannie Tirado, the voice actor behind the digital spokesperson, whose tone grows increasingly hostile as the Doom Slayer rips and tears his way through the game. She steals the show.
More Might Be Less
Doom (2016) was like Mad Max Fury Road: its plot was minimalist but rich and engaging. There, the Doom Slayer paid no heed to the nuances of the world around him. He shrugged off all exposition and single-mindedly trudged from one kill to the next. Doom Eternal, however, is like Kingdom Hearts III: the lore is miles deep for those who want to venture down that rabbit hole, but you have to read an encyclopedia and sit through endless cinematics to understand it all. The game is constantly shoving lore in your face and, though I loved it, it was another example of the reduction in agency as the Doom Slayer has no choice but to listen to everyone’s monologing.
Doom Eternal is a polished, well-oiled machine that will leave you breathless from awe but might also stress you out. It’s more of everything that made Doom (2016) so special, but in some cases more is not better. When it’s not frustrating, and if you play it correctly, it’s a brutal, beautiful work of art.