In its best moments, Doom Eternal recaptures the pure, desperate adrenaline rush of the 2016 Doom, where every fresh arena full of enemies is a bloody playground. It’s a visceral, high-speed thrill ride, full of spurting blood and creative dismemberment, like a roller coaster with a bad safety record.
Eternal does get off to a slower start than its predecessor, and it starts with a couple of its weaker levels, but there’s a handy breakpoint about halfway through the game where you’ve got enough upgrades and weapons that the action simply flows.
On the other hand, many of its attempts to innovate on the formula from the 2016 Doom don’t really feel useful or necessary, particularly early in the game. My run through it was also punctuated by a few frustrating glitches, a couple of really obnoxious enemies, and some new mechanics that didn’t really have to be there.
To be fair, for id Software, they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. If they’d produced a game that was simply a mission pack for the 2016 Doom relaunch, they’d have been raked over the coals for being content with repetition.
Instead, Eternal tries to take it all to the next level, with more guns, more enemies, and a handful of bizarre, arcade-ish new mechanics, including an air dash and extra lives. While it all comes together in the end, the early levels are rough going, as you haven’t accumulated enough guns or upgrades to make the combat system sing just yet.
It also feels a lot like you’ve missed a chapter. After getting teleported off to an unspecified destination at the end of the last game, the Slayer starts Eternal by showing up in Earth’s orbit in a strange, baroque spaceship called the Fortress of Doom.
The same demons that wiped out the UAC base on Mars have moved on to Earth, destroying most of human civilization. The Slayer goes to work fighting it back, but quickly finds out that to track down the Hell Priests that are leading the invasion, he’ll have to go back to several places from his past.
Much of Eternal is about exploring the lore about the Slayer himself that was restricted to codex entries in 2016’s Doom. On the plus side, it really lets the level designers go nuts, with stages set on alien planets and in abandoned castles alongside the typical wrecked cities and literal hellscapes. (There are a few areas, in fact, that feel like this is also a stealth sequel to the original Quake, not least of which is the Slayer’s hub area.)
It is strange to watch id working this hard to set up an actual storyline for Doom, though. One of the things that stuck out the most about the 2016 game was just how uninterested the Slayer was in engaging with the plot; the moment everyone remembers from it, after all, is the Slayer smashing a monitor rather than listening to Hayden’s first monologue.
Fast-forward four years, however, and Eternal features an elaborate science-fantasy storyline that outlines how the Doom Marine from the original two games went on to become the “Slayer.” It is, to be fair, exactly as pure heavy metal as a Doom storyline ought to be in 2020, complete with magic swords, science angels, and a defiant war taken to hell’s own doorstep. Every frame of Doom Eternal deserves to be an album cover.
The story’s not interested in exposition, though. It all comes together in the end, particularly if you bother to read the various codex entries that are scattered around each map, but you do spend the first couple of missions with no clear clue as to what’s going on or why it’s important. The Slayer is as uninterested in exposition this time out as he was in Hayden’s speeches in the last game. It’s a little confusing, although it does come together in the end, and it’s particularly weird as a follow-up to the borderline-parody storyline of 2016’s Doom.
That’s not a knock against Eternal, really. The biggest issue it has, to my mind, is that it’s a slow starter. At the beginning of the game, you have a small arsenal and a low ammo count, so it’s easy to run all your guns dry at a bad time. Each arena is littered with small-fry enemies that you’re meant to treat like power-ups, so you can chainsaw them for ammunition, flame-broil them for armor, and/or smash apart for health. It’s very fluid once you upgrade your ammo count a couple of times, where you can easily resupply on the run while you’re murdering everything in sight, but you do spend the first few missions on what seems like a constant ammo hunt.
This is compounded by some truly obnoxious new enemies. The one that’s gotten all the attention is the Marauder, an axe-wielding counterpart to the Slayer that deliberately slows the game’s pace to a crawl whenever he appears, but I’d go so far as to argue that none of the enemies that are new to Eternal are much fun to fight. The bosses in particular are all low points, with fights that all revolve around slowly whittling away at their defenses until you can score a decisive blow.
I also ran into a lot of bugs in Eternal, particularly when compared to the relatively smooth experience of the 2016 game. I had to repeat a couple of missions because my save file didn’t register that I’d picked up a new weapon, or because an arena fight simply failed to recognise that I’d completed it. On my main save file, I’m stuck at 5 out of 6 keys for the ultimate weapon unlock, because I finished an optional challenge but the reward simply didn’t appear.
I do want to emphasize, however, that once I reached the sixth mission, it felt like the actual game was finally starting. Eternal is at its best when you have enough resources and upgrades to hold up your end of a fight, where you can jump and air-dash around each environment like a murderous, gun-wielding Spider-Man, plowing through weaker enemies for resources while you use the big guns to reduce their larger allies to pink mist.
There’s a dance to it, where once you get a feel for how the combat actually works–once you remind yourself that this is Doom, not Halo or Call of Duty
The game as a whole has a curve like an electrocardiogram: when it's good, it's really good, and when it’s bad, it’s awful.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of DOOM Eternal for the PC provided by Bethesda Game Studios.