Something I’ve constantly talked about on this blog is how eternally behind I am in games. Procuring a massive backlog, buying games thanks to Humble Bundles, cheap Steam sales, and gifts of spare keys from friends has been the primary causes of my never ending back catalog.
Yet, I try to keep myself in arms’ reach of the current video game landscape, even if I’m not a fan of the direction the industry is going sometimes. This results in me playing the newest games usually years after their release. Anyone who’s been a reader of this site has seen me write about big popular games after their popularity, such as BioShock Infinite last year. But this time around I kept myself a bit closer to the zeitgeist this time, by playing a game a year or so after its initial release. And it’s from one of my favorite game developers.
Let’s talk a bit about id software. They’re the absolute pioneers of the first-person shooter realm: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake. Important games that really made an impact on the industry as a whole. However, there was a sea change by the late 1990s. When John Romero left id on less-than-pleasant terms to form his own studio, there was a very clear change on how id Software worked as a company: Pushing technology at the cost of making games that while good on a technical level, were kinda boring to play.
I’ve talked about Quake II a few times on here, and while my opinion has softened a bit in recent years, I still think that while a technical marvel was just boring to play.This was id’s MO during the age of John Carmack. Stuff like Quake III Arena, and Doom 3, while solid games, didn’t have the massive highs that their early works did. Indeed, their competition – Epic’s Unreal Tournament and Valve’s Half-Life 2 respectively – were making more of an impact on the industry in a way people could easily see.
Rage was sort of the lowest point of this era, the unremarkable first-person exploration game of which the only good things about it were John Goodman voicing a character and its reload canceling mechanics, of which I wrote about way back in 2016, and that was around the point id was no longer the amazing developer it once was. Hell, I even had doubts id Software were ever gonna release an awesome game ever again.
Then John Carmack left, a bunch of people got shuffled around, canned a version of Doom that was more like a big-budget shooter like Call of Duty, and gave us the 2016 Doom reboot. While the multiplayer beta was enjoyable but boring, the rest of the game turned out to be the return of id Software as an awesome company that could make good games. With an amazing game like Doom 2016, it’d be pretty hard to follow up. But in 2020 they decided to give it another try, with Doom Eternal.
The story of Eternal is a bit more pronounced than in the previous game: The Doom Slayer has noticed that there’s been Hell on Earth with demons destroying what’s left of the planet. In typical Doom fashion, the Doom Slayer must travel around Earth and Mars to eventually stop the Khan Maykr’s hell demons from invading everywhere once again. Pretty simple stuff.
It’s kinda weird to see Doom Eternal go all in on story. While Doom (2016) had a story, it was just about enough of it to give motives on why the Doom Slayer must rip and tear and it worked. In Doom Eternal, they go all-in, with cutscenes that take place in third person, giving diatribes that would seem in line with many contemporary games. It’s not bad per se, but compared to the previous game where there was basically one motive — Stop the demons by any means necessary — it just feels a bit ridiculous here.
Doom Eternal takes the core gameplay loop of Doom 2016 and pumps it full of steroids. In addition to the common loop of glory killing demons to regain health and chainsawing demons to refill ammo, the game adds a few new wrinkles. The flame belch is used to set enemies on fire and have them drop armor, and the grenades now have a more practical use: freeze grenades, for example, will have enemies drop health if frozen. Enemies now also have more clear weak points.
The Doom Slayer has a bit more than a double jump this time. The Slayer can climb marked walls, and dash to make it across gaps. There’s a lot of acrobatics in the game’s level design, requiring the Slayer to jump and dodge obstacles almost like it’s Crash Bandicoot. The movement is also critical to gameplay, as dashing makes it harder for enemies to lock onto you.
For me, it didn’t take much for me to get acclimated to the game mechanics. Dashing, shooting, juggling weapons was one of those things that when I really got it down pat, felt really good. In a sense, it feels like id Software’s main influence for Doom Eternal’s design is, surprisingly, character-driven action games like God of War – the original games, not the 2018 reboot – and Devil May Cry.
Admittedly I have not played many of those games, but what I’ve seen of footage of those aforementioned games, the similarities between them and Doom Eternal’s gameplay loop cannot be coincidental: Movement, combos, switching between abilities… all it was missing was a combo meter and a ranking system, and it would’ve fit right at home with those games.
Thus there’s little margin of error when playing Doom Eternal. That was something at least palatable about Doom 2016: It gave you those similar options, but as long as you had your wits about you, you’d get through most combat sections fine, even if you’re just using one or two weapons like the old days. Eternal on the other hand, is much more punishing. It’s not hard to go from full health and armor to on the brink of death in seconds flat. The way the game is designed basically requires you to understand all these mechanics in order to survive. Switch weapons constantly and shoot weak points. Glory kill enemies whenever possible. Juggle between grenades and flame belch. But most importantly: Always Be Moving. If the Slayer is a sitting duck, they will likely get decimated very quickly.
While the game tries to mitigate this with runes that help the Slayer out, and extra life tokens hidden throughout the maps, it can still make a lot of the combat sections frustrating if you’re even remotely off the game’s rhythm. The game doesn’t mess around.
I was playing on Hurt Me Plenty, the game’s middle difficulty. Even on that difficulty it just felt ruthless in the mid-to-late game in a way that wasn’t fair sometimes. When I’m in a groove, the game is fun and enjoyable. When I’m dying a lot, it stops being fun. Developing games require hitting that sweet spot, that happy medium where you can still have some fun even if you suck at it. And even in the first level, if you don’t learn those mechanics right away, you will be absolutely destroyed.
All these mechanics where one has to keep track of health, armor, ammo and abilities can be incredibly overwhelming to those more familiar with the more simpler gameplay of Doom 2016, and it might be very offputting to some. It wasn’t much of an issue for me, but there were a lot of points where I felt a sense of fatigue as the combat ramped up more and more with little time to breathe. I could definitely see someone bailing halfway through because either they just can’t get into the combat groove the game requires you to get from the word go, or they just get so overwhelmed and exhausted from what the game’s asking them to do.
That isn’t even getting into enemies like the infamous Marauder. This bastard has a shotgun, a sword and a shield. Get too close, he hits you with the shotgun. Get too far away, he’ll start unleashing ghost dogs to attack you or shoots beams with his sword. You have to get into a certain range so he flashes his eyes, open himself up for attack, then shoot him with either the Super Shotgun or Ballista crossbow to stun him until he’s open to a glory kill. He is an absolute asshole, and often times I’d ignore him while I took out everything else, just to get into the loop of “Get in range, attack with either Ballista or Super Shotgun, swap between, repeat.”
Much like the previous Doom games, the Slayer can get mods for their arsenal to help them out in combat. One of those mods for the Super Shotgun adds a grappling hook that latches onto enemies, and once I realized I could attack the Marauder with the grappling hook and damage him at any angle, it made it a bit more tolerable to fight him. But it’s a problem where the combat can be stopped completely dead in the tracks if a Maurader, a Doom Hunter, a Tyrant – a rebranded Cyberdemon – or an Arch-Vile are part of the combat arena. I died too many times to trying to focus fire on the big boys and then get blindsided by a low-tier enemy in the process. It goes back to the problem of the game punishing players too harshly for making mistakes, something that wasn’t nearly as much of a problem in the previous game.
If you think the main campaign is brutal, the follow-up expansions, The Ancient Gods, are definitely harder in spots than the base campaign. Some points throwing multiple versions of certain big monsters to make these parts even harder, something that never really was common in the base campaign unless one was playing the “master levels,” which were harder versions of existing campaign maps. In addition they start throwing in more enemies that require more precise aim to hit their weak points, something that’s tough to do when the camera shakes around by straggler enemies attacking you up close.
After doing fairly okay on the main Doom Eternal campaign on Hurt Me Plenty, I thought I could handle going for the expansion on Ultra Violence. This was a mistake, as death was constantly on the horizon even in the early fights. Eventually after repeatedly dying at a tough combat section, I accepted defeat and went back to Hurt Me Plenty difficulty, and I started enjoying myself again.
Outside of adding more to the lore and having a new supporting UAC intern character helping you out, The Ancient Gods is More Doom Eternal: New foes, new boss fights, a few new abilities. I enjoyed the base game, but honestly this was the point where I was suffering a bit of burnout with the gameplay. Due to the way the game is more designed, I recommend getting into The Ancient Gods the moment you finish the main campaign, as the expansions expect that you know all the mechanics by heart by now and are ready for a stronger fight.
There’s also a multiplayer mode called BATTLEMODE that pits a player slayer against two player demons. It’s fun sometimes, but has the same problem similar “humans vs monster” games like Left 4 Dead and Evolve hit: Sometimes it’s just not fun to constantly die to a good opponent. The previous game had a bog-standard multiplayer mode with ranks and perks like it was Call of Duty, and it was unremarkable. BATTLEMODE is a slight improvement, but honestly not worth playing unless you need a challenge or something different to play. At this point, I feel Doom as a series really doesn’t need a competitive multiplayer mode of any kind. If they need to put in multiplayer, just add a horde mode or a co-op campaign instead. I’m amazed that they haven’t considered a co-op rip and tear experience at this point.
The rest of the game is solid. The game runs surprisingly smooth and looks good on my near-decade-old PC, the voice acting is hokey and silly, and the music is mostly forgettable except for some of the callbacks of past id software soundtracks like Doom 2016 and Quake III Arena. As much as people love to praise Mick Gordon’s soundtrack for these games, it never really grabbed me as much, and it definitely just feels like it exists here. It fits the environments easily, but at times feels more in the background than in Doom 2016. Which isn’t a bad thing, I feel my favorite tracks tend to be the ones that are not in-your-face.
I enjoyed my playthrough with Doom Eternal, despite how goofier it was in spots compared to its predecessor. It’s not a bad game, but it’s definitely a case where when you’re having fun, the game’s fun; but when you’re constantly dying, it just becomes a chore to play. This is something that wasn’t as much of a problem in the previous Doom game unless you were trying to unlock runes or abilities, but that smaller margin of error makes for an unnecessarily frustrating game. I definitely felt like I had my fill with playing Doom Eternal, and it might take me a long time before I go back into playing through it again.
If you like your games to have a challenge, I’d recommend getting Doom Eternal and get to rip and tearing. But if you’re more of a casual fan of the last Doom game, it will be an exercise in frustration that might not be fun to play in the long run. I can understand why those who loved and adored Doom 2016 fell off Doom Eternal rather quickly, because you have to be in the right groove to really enjoy the gameplay, and will often be too brutal for more casual players.
With how id software have made the game incredibly more difficult compared to the previous game, it’s lead to fueling this kind of gaming discourse: The kind of people that encourage that “Git Gud” culture that make people fawn over From Software’s outings like Dark Souls and reject actually helpful things like assist modes in games. It doesn’t help that some old-school Doom fans insist that Ultra Violence is The Only Way To Play Doom, and that seems to have bled into the challenge of this game. Catering to a subset of players who want a sense of challenge isn’t inherently bad, but it severely limits the audience of people willing to play the game.
I don’t know if id is gonna make a second sequel to Doom any time soon, but if they decide to, they need to dial back some of the more hardcore elements of Eternal, and think more of what made Doom 2016 work. If they can hit that sweet spot where people who just wanna frag fools casually can have as much fun as the hardcore rip and tear folks are, then I think they got the perfect formula on their hands.
Now I gotta find another shooter to play in the meantime. Maybe I should tackle some of the “Boomer Shooter” throwbacks like Dusk, Amid Evil or Ultrakill that all the gamers are talking about these days.
This was originally available on Patreon one week early. If you wanna see the article take shape before it goes live, just rip and tear over to my Patreon. Just $1 will get you content like this. You don’t even need to redeem any Praetor tokens!