Next month marks the second anniversary of Doom Eternal, which arrived just as the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The two have in some ways have followed a similar course since then, regularly introducing new variants to keep us on our toes. Late last year I revisited Doom (2016) in anticipation, and this month I finally caught up with id Software’s frenetic shooter sequel.
It’s one of those games which obviously cost a vast sum to develop, and every cent is seen on screen and felt in the slickness and addictiveness of the gameplay. It’s also exhausting, with combat so intense and fast-paced that I only ever tackled one level per day. It’s too late for anything so grandiose as a review, and arguably too early for a retrospective so what follows is merely some scattered, personal reflections on my experience with the game. The short version is that I loved Doom Eternal, albeit with some significant caveats.
Refinement, not reinvention
The 2016 Doom was a tremendous success for id Software and their owners and publishers Bethesda. With Doom Eternal, the developers clearly decided against reinventing the wheel. The core gameplay is very similar, and very little was taken away from the package with the exception of SnapMap, its sort of ersatz level editor. Weapon mods, masteries, glory kills, the movement system, and the arena-oriented level design philosophy all return intact. There are some structural changes. Any sense of nonlinearity is gone, replaced by platforming sections which proved controversial with some; I have no issue with them, but the rare appearances of purple floors which prevent jumping are pointless mistakes in my view.
When it comes to the story, I don’t know what the hell on Earth id Software were thinking. Within minutes of the game’s opening, it has disappeared up its own arse into a labyrinthine miasma of wildly overcomplicated backstory. I never expected Doom to remind me of Halo, and yet here we are. The game has the kind of “optional” story that is increasingly common these days, in that much of what is going on is written in dozens of codex entries found around the world. These are hugely overlong, often running to hundreds of words and I think this narrative approach is a very poor fit for Doom Eternal. It’s a shame, because the game has an interesting world and the parts of the story told verbally by cyborg boffin Samuel Hayden work quite well.
You’re not the boss of me
I don’t like boss fights, and I never have. I’ve always felt they’re a particularly bad idea in shooters, and occasionally almost ruin them - looking at you, BioShock (2007). Doom Eternal has a number of bosses - how many will depend on your definition of the term - and they’re a mixed bag. I actually quite enjoyed the penultimate battle, with the genocidal demonic-angelic being the Khan Makyr. However, I’m tempted to think that the actual final battle, against the Icon of Sin originally from Doom II, is the worst part of what is otherwise a superb game. This time around, the Icon is more than a flat texture on a wall, which is something to be celebrated. On the other hand, it’s a laborious slog to get through and I wish id Software had come up with something a bit more creative.
Eat, rip, tear
The inclusion of a home base for the Doom Slayer to decompress between levels is a wholly new inclusion in Eternal, and a really welcome one. The Fortress of Doom is an interesting location to explore, and more successful than, say, Dragon Mountain in Shadow Warrior 2. I appreciated being able to go back there to unlock things which have significance in the levels themselves, and I like the thought of the Slayer listening to “Descent Into Cerberon” from the Quake II soundtrack on repeat. It seems like exactly the kind of thing that he would do. Similarly, while I think that Funko Pops are one of the weirdest and most pointless fads yet devised, I appreciate that the Slayer gets to collect his own knock-off versions, based on the various demons in the game. What can I say? They’re cute.
Switching it up
One of the aspects of Doom which made it so satisfying was that almost all of the weapons had their distinct niche - the exception was the pistol, which was wisely cut from Eternal. In the sequel, the weapons are even more carefully crafted and each has a critical place in the Slayer’s arsenal. Using the precision bolt mod for the heavy cannon is particularly fun, especially when shooting the rocket launchers off the shoulders of revenants. My favourite boomstick may actually be the plasma gun though, as both its mods are excellent. Eternal strongly emphases frequent weapon switching. The notorious marauder enemy is virtually a walking argument for this, as quick-switching between the super shotgun and the ballista is by far the best way to take them down and the game explicitly tells you so.
Points mean prizes
Eternal feels very modern in that it is a kind of “live game” which measures everything the player does and is an expanding box of experience points, time-limited events, unlockable cosmetic items, and so on. Often, these elements are an annoying distraction but Eternal’s gameplay is so superb that it doesn’t take much encouragement to replay levels, and those gaudy cosmetics are exactly that encouragement. Moreover, they’re another reason to play the game’s multiplayer Battlemode, The Ancient Gods DLC, and the horde mode. id Software get plays on an endless progression treadmill early, and it’s one that, for once, I’m actually not in a rush to get off.
I wrote briefly about my second playthrough of the original Doom in November, and will have a few more words about Eternal at the end of February. Once I’ve had a modest break from slaying, I intend to explore The Ancient Gods Parts 1 and 2 and you can expect a bit more writing about that DLC at some point. In the meantime, you might be interested in the maps I’ve made for the classic Doom II, which are available on my Doom page.
In other games news, you can read my review of Sloclap’s fantastic kung fu vengeance tale Sifu which was published on Entertainium recently.
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