Doom Eternal is the final boss of the concept of video games. It is the most video game that has ever video gamed. It is a lot of things, but what everyone can agree on over it is that the game is just The Most. It is also strangely dividing in a way a bit similar to Doom 3. While there’s fans who love it, who are definitely the majority, there’s also a lot with more mixed feelings, and some who disliked it for changes to the formula and tone. It has had its own controversies, and there’s this feeling it’s going to end up in a strange place in the history of both Doom and Id Software.
If you were wondering if Doom Eternal was good, just know that Doom Eternal rips so hard. It is also extremely different from Doom 2016. They share a lot of the same foundation, but the details have been completely rewritten. You learn quickly as you can’t melee zombies in a glory kill state and have to use ammo, the chainsaw refills when empty and you can have up to three charges, and there’s a weakpoint system in place that lets you weaken enemies, put them in a glory kill state, or do extra damage with the right weapon or mod. Oh, and you start at sixteen shells because ammo is now severely limited compared to the last game.
Your equipment is now down to two tools, but they’re far more useful. The frag grenade has a better arc and can be used to put cacodemons in a glory kill state via indigestion (they eat the grenade), but the ice bomb is the real star as it freezes enemies for a window of free damage or a quick chainsaw kill. You also have the flame belch as a separate button, which sets enemies on fire, making them drop armor when damaged or killed. Runes have been simplified into a set of nine different buffs and abilities, including very useful mid-air slow-mo, and they can no longer be mastered.
Your armor can be upgraded via big coins earned from level challenges and force ghosts, which now upgrades a more useful set of perimeters. You have fundamental upgrades, environmental ones that also make explosive barrels drop ammo, your two different grenades, and your map. Sentinel crystals act as argent cells this time and can also unlock six different perks to improve your flame belch, unlock better item pick-up, and your new blood punch power that can be used to break barriers and do big melee damage to a wide swath in front of you.
The weapons have been tweaked all over. The pistol blaster was removed (now hidden in the command console) for a starter shotgun, which loses the charge blast for a full auto mod, grenade shots replaced with sticky bombs that can shoot out three in a clip. The heavy canon, the new assault rifle, works the same but is far more useful now for sniping weakspots with the scope mod. The plasma gun is way more useful with a much stronger heat blast mod (plus a new microwave beam that explodes enemies after a bit of time), while the rocket launcher is still trash.
The balista is the new rail cannon, charge shot detonating after a second and scope replaced with a wide beam good for frozen enemies. Chaingun keeps the mobile turrent mode for max dakka, with a new energy shield mode for tanking. The BFG is the same, but the super shotgun now has a meathook that chains to an enemy and drags you to them for a close up shot, plus lights on fire when mastered to help drop armor. There’s also the late game crucible (replaced with a hammer in the second DLC that can stun enemies) that one shots even the largest demons, and the unmaker returning as the Unmakyr, which now fires huge projectiles that tears through enemies like nothing else and runs on BFG ammo. Getting it requires doing six slayer gate challenges hidden in levels.
Add in the new dash ability, similar to Shadow Warrior 2013‘s, and the far more aggressive enemies, and you have a very different experience from the last game. The loop is now not just move and shoot, but you have to remember to chainsaw low tier enemies for ammo (now called fodder enemies), light enemies on fire before glory kills or blood punches for maximum armor gain, shoot off weakpoints, take down more aggressive threats quickly or move around them while picking off lesser threats, and so on and so forth. Doom Eternal is a character action FPS, in a Ninja Gaiden and Metal Gear Rising mastery gradient compared to ULTRAKILL‘s free-form and stylish Devil May Cry inspirations.
To succeed, you have to fight like the Doomslayer would fight, and that involves replenishing yourself with violence so you can do more violence. It’s a brilliant idea that’s extremely well utilized to keep things chaotic, downplaying pick ups or passive perks for a focus on skillfully keeping yourself stocked and alive against ridiculous odds all around you. It’s the concept of the glory kill system taken to an extreme, and when it clicks, it is an absolute blast that will leave you sweating.
It takes awhile to get used to it, though. You have a mess of new mechanics to remember and get used to, and while the game is trying to get you used to it, it’s also getting you used to the new enemy tier system by throwing arachnotrons and cacodemons at you in the first level, and rolling out the hell knights by level two when your only weapon able to handle them eats all of your shotgun ammo very quickly. It’s also getting you used to environmental hazards thrown out here and there for variety that have you avoiding electric water and walk through slowing ooze, not to mention the ammo wasting tentacles. Also also, there’s now platforming, as you can grab onto certain walls to climb them and have to go through platforming challenges with floating platforms that will fall after a short time. It’s initially overwhelming, especially because a lot of this happens before you have the tools you need to navigate them comfortably.
This is a major point of contention for some, but the other major issue seems to be the tone and story. The game looks fantastic and has some really fun and interesting settings for levels, from buildings under siege to titans fallen in an ancient city, but the framing is a bit messy. Doom Eternal was apparently designed to be sort of like an over the top Saturday morning cartoon (with more blood) and succeeds in terms of sheer scale and stupidity. The Doomslayer has to kill three hell priests to stop the demonic consumption of Earth, and eventually fight the alien named the Kahn Makyr in charge of it all – someone he has a past with.
Mick Gordon’s soundtrack may be one of the best in the entire genre, a build up of Doom 2016‘s style with a lot more of a metal bent that keeps pushing you into ultra violence. The Only Thing They Fear Is You is the stand out, using a steady rhythm and some hard rocking guitar and strong production to make a rush of a piece that doesn’t go too fast as to lose the player, bonus points for the standalone version ending with a metal choir screaming “RIP AND TEAR!” Super Gore Nest also sticks out for sounding like a howling beast, and The Icon of Sin is just the perfect final boss theme. A loud mix of familiar motifs, excellent use of the metal choir, and a steady, pounding beat that feels massive and oppressive. Mick Gordon sadly didn’t finish the OST version mixes in time and was let go for the DLC, but Andrew Hulshult of all people managed to make a great set under messy conditions. Not as many stand outs, but the tracks fit the scenes and characters like a glove. The closest his tracks hit to the main game are Part Two’s final boss, which I sadly can’t share due to huge spoilers, but it’s pretty sick.
The art direction matches the bombast, with more goofy and violent animations for glory and chainsaw kills, some demon designs tweaked to make them more expressive or have more human features. The new Makyr race has a cool high tech angel aesthetic, while the hell priests and the marauder (a unique enemy you have to duel and counter) have a fitting decrepit flesh look matched with gaudy garments and armor. The sentinel race are also mostly just space barbarians, but they mix old European (mainly Nordic and similar regions) style with some brown and green style tech of their own that look like sword and sorcery hangovers. The game is filled with color and is never difficult to read.
On paper, this should work, except for the fact that Doom Eternal is a wildly different game in most every way to every Doom game before it. See, old Id games could be argued as accidental mood pieces, hitting certain tones that carried the game despite a lack of narrative, particularly in Quake. Doom (2016) had a similar mood to it, flesh and metal, violence and excitement, horror and thrills. Red, oppressive, and extremely rad as Hell (literally). There was a uniform look that sticks in your brain, while Eternal struggles more with this. There so many different styles for all the factions that none of them fully stick in your head as strong, and the music is now less centered on the world around you but instead two things: Cool Techno Fantasy Stuff, and Cool Doomslayer Committed Demon Murder.
That’s a small issue, but what is more significant is that the game has a story that is Bad and Cringe. Doom Eternal has a great idea for a story, exploring the Doomslayer’s past, fleshing things out and his connection to the old games, expanding on the fracking Hell stuff, ect. Problem is the game seems scared to actually explore any of this and hides behind the Slayer just getting to the point (with Gun) shtick from the last game but less amusing, and when it finally does explore it…the game has the Doomslayer quote the Doom comic.
He mumbles the phrase, in a moment of severe PTSD, “huge guts.”
This is played completely straight with a voice actor who has no idea how to make this work.
Doom Eternal has no idea how wacky or serious or anything it wants to be. Where Serious Sam 4 nailed switching between moods and tones for all of its aims, Eternal shrugs and steps on a rake here and there. The hell priests aren’t even characters so much as objectives. The Kahn Makyr is poorly built up beyond being Samuel Hayden but a far worse manipulator. The new lore is just extremely unnecessary and adds basically nothing outside what it adds to Sam and VEGA, who’s dialog with the Slayer is constantly great stuff. Shame Sam doesn’t appear for half the game.
The DLC campaign, The Ancient Gods, does not help. Mostly a harder expansion that costs $40 in full, it ends the first part with a lot of great character stuff, possibly even suggesting the Doomslayer is in the wrong for once, and then the second part undoes all of that in the ending with one of the worst reveals in gaming history. If you were expecting the Doomslayer to remain a single normal guy who rose above his station to become a demon killing badass like his nazi killing ancestor, well bad news, the lore is here and it brings retcons!
A lot of decisions were made with Eternal‘s narrative, and very few of them worked, which is a problem when going through the campaign can take up to twenty hours. There’s a lot of cool moments, but it’s not enough to balance out the failed drama. They also gave the Doomslayer a man cave with a gaming PC and a Funko pop shelf.
Doom Eternal is still rad, though, a masterclass in action game design and a truly unique FPS. It has ideas here that would be enough to make a game around and it just keeps going and makes it all work. It’s just going to have a really odd place in the franchise’s history, as a lot of people are still trying to figure out how they feel about the whole package. The meat is good, you found the meat, could use better preparation. At least there’s a ton of goodies to find and a multiplayer with a more unique hook now, plus tons of goodies to find on a regular event and seasonal schedule. You’ll get your fill, but it leaves one wondering what in the world Doom could be after this.