“Doom” is one of the oldest and most active video game franchises in existence, with the series now over 25 years old. Four years ago, we received an excellent reboot that brought “Doom” back into the forefront for gamers. Now, players get to step back into the demon-stomping boots of the Doom Slayer once again as he wages a one-man war against the invading armies of Hell.
Without a shadow of a doubt, “Doom: Eternal” is a much tougher game than its 2016 predecessor. The forces of Hell have successfully taken control of Earth, making the Doom Slayer’s crusade against the demonic horde all the more difficult. Players will find old enemies such as Imps and Hell Knights are now smarter and more aggressive in “Doom: Eternal.” Along with returning forces, new demons join the ranks like the Hellwhip, a quick, snakelike monstrosity that possesses a vicious melee combo.
Players will find themselves outnumbered, but certainly not outgunned. “Doom: Eternal” provides the player the edge they need by building upon the design philosophy of “Doom (2016).” In the previous game, speed was the key to avoiding imminent death, and brutal melee executions known as “Glory Kills” helped provide health in a pinch. The best strategy was an overwhelming offense, and that combat philosophy is further honed in the sequel.
Glory Kills still net health, kills made with the chainsaw provide ammo, and enemies who are set on fire with the Flame Belch (yes, that is the game’s name for the flamethrower) provide armor. Although these many different options can seem dizzying at first, “Doom: Eternal” does a fine job of easing the player into these mechanics.
Combat is not only intense and insanely fast, but it also has a tactical feel to it. Weapons from the previous “Doom” title return with their respective mods. However, they now come with extra nuance in effectively dispatching demons. Each demon has a specific weakness that the player can exploit using certain weapons and weapon mods. For example, the combat shotgun comes with a sticky bomb mod, and if you fire a sticky bomb into the gaping maw of a Cacodemon, it opens up for an easy Glory Kill. “Doom (2016)” suffered from an issue where players could rely on a handful of their favorite weapons to carry them to the end of the game. “Doom: Eternal” smartly subverts this by encouraging the player to switch weapons to fit the demon they are fighting, creating a logic to the maddening slaughter.
When it comes to visuals, id Software has once again proven the power of their id Tech engine. Gone are the texture pop-in issues from the previous “Doom,” and the results are pure eye candy. Cities overrun with hellspawn are colorful and rendered with fine detail. Particle effects and gore are rendered in surprising detail, and miraculously, the game still runs at a smooth 60 fps with nary a hiccup.
If there is one criticism I would level at “Doom: Eternal,” it is the lighting and atmosphere. While neither are bad, “Doom: Eternal” has opted for more color and brighter lighting, and this stands as a sharp contrast to the moodiness of “Doom (2016).” The dimly lit, claustrophobic hallways of the Mars facility are absent here, and with it the sense of horror that the previous game managed to create. However, even here we find another positive of “Doom: Eternal.” There is a far greater variety of levels compared to “Doom (2016).” From a high-tech cultist base in the Arctic to the overgrown ruins of the Night Sentinels home world, “Doom: Eternal” is a hellish, dimension-hopping odyssey.
It should also be noted that these levels are huge and packed with little secrets to uncover. The Doom Slayer’s home base, the Fortress of Doom, is loaded with fun secrets and Easter eggs that references both the long history of the “Doom” franchise as well as other games. Levels also place a greater emphasis on platforming. While first-person platforming may be a turn off to players, I actually found these jumping puzzles to be fun and thoughtful in their execution, providing a fun breather from all of the demon carnage.
So there is a story in “Doom: Eternal,” believe it or not. The truth is, most players of “Doom” are here for demon splattering action, not a deep story, and id Software understands this perfectly. The story mostly sits on the backburner as background noise for all of the action, but for players who are actually invested into the world and lore of “Doom,” there is an extensive codex for them to comb through. Thankfully, “Doom: Eternal” doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and the story largely serves as a way to escalate the Doom Slayer’s antics to absurd levels. Is it dumb? Absolutely, but “Doom: Eternal” revels in its absurdity, and that alone is an accomplishment.
Outside the excellent single-player campaign is the game’s multiplayer mode, Battlemode. Battlemode is an interesting sort of beast. Instead of a traditional, team-based affair, Battlemode is a 1 v 2 mode where a lone player takes the control of the Doom Slayer, and the duo of players control the demons. The objective is simple: win the round by eliminating the opposition. Win 3 rounds, you win the game. Things get a bit more complex once you get into the different playstyles of the Doom Slayer and the demons.
The Doom Slayer himself is fully upgraded and carries a maxed-out arsenal. On the other side, players can control some of the demons from the single player like the grotesque Mancubus or the axe-wielding Marauder. While the demons lack the choice of weapons that the Doom Slayer has, they make up for it through their unique abilities. The Mancubus can use its large health pool to tank damage and deal some of his own through his dual cannons and flamethrowers. Meanwhile, the Marauder focuses on using his sawed off shotgun and axe to deal quick burst damage against the Doom Slayer. Matches feel intimate like a fighting game where a Slayer tries to use their speed and skill to win whereas demons are forced to use a mix of strategy and their own summoned, AI-controlled demons to overwhelm the Slayer.
Overall, I found Battlemode to be unique but flawed experience. As of right now, I personally feel that the mode leans more in the favor of the demons. Certain demon compositions can feel downright unfair in the right hands. Besides some cosmetics, there also isn’t much available in terms of progression for Battlemode. Also, it’s disappointing to see lag so prominent in this game where speed and positioning are so crucial. I have seen heartbreaking ends to matches for both demons and Slayer alike due to a terrible lag spike. There is potential in Battlemode’s uniqueness, but it remains to be seen how the mode will fare in the future.
Finally, I cannot, in good conscience, complete this review without providing some well-deserved praise towards Mick Gordon, the composer of “Doom: Eternal.” The man infamous for using an actual chainsaw as part of the score of the 2016 reboot has once again outdone himself. A mix of heavy synthesizers and a healthy dose of demonic chanting creates a bombastic metal soundtrack that punctuates each meaty punch and shotgun blast. It is a soundtrack that is as violent and unrelenting as the Doom Slayer himself and will hype any player to take on the legions of Hell.
“Doom: Eternal” is one of those magical kinds of sequels where it manages to deliver more of what was available in the original without turnings its back on that original vision. Where “Doom: Eternal” succeeds as a sequel is not just allowing players to indulge even further in the power fantasy of the Doom Slayer, but it is at its best when it pushes its player out of their comfort zone to make them a better demon hunter.
“Doom: Eternal” is that perfect balance between unhinged power fantasy and challenge, creating an experience that feels simultaneously empowering and fresh. If you’re looking for a hell of a time, you can’t go wrong with “Doom.”
Game reviewed on an Xbox One X.