Hands on: Doom Eternal Review

id Software returns with the second entry in its lovingly grotesque and wonderfully brutal reboot series of the beloved shooter.

First Impressions

Doom Eternal has the potential to massively outperform its predecessor. Whether or not it shakes off the badge of being a simplistic “mindless corridor shooter”, or not, will depend on how the game plays as a whole. 

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £49.99
  • Developer: id Software
  • Genre: FPS
  • Release Date: March 20, 2020
  • Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC

Building on the solid, often ridiculous foundation of its 2016 predecessor, Doom Eternal is a rip-roaring sequel with ammo to spare. This time around its hellish vision is more ambitious, visually enhanced and “twice as big” according to director, Marty Stratton.  

At its heart, Doom Eternal is a power fantasy. Starting out with basic weapons, armour and abilities, each of the campaign’s upgrades comes with real weight and heft, taking the player a step closer to being an unstoppable killing machine who will wade through demonic foes with gruesome ease. 

For the uninitiated, Eternal has players take on the role of the tough-as-nails Doom Slayer, aka ‘the Marine’. He does battle, in increasingly gory detail, with hordes of demons released from hell to overrun earth. At one point these demons are described brilliantly as “mortally-challenged personnel” by a demonic PA system.  

At a recent preview event, I played through some of the campaign’s early missions but sadly didn’t have a chance to try out Doom Eternal’s promising asymmetrical Demons vs Slayer online mode. That was discussed at QuakeCon back in July, and we think it could definitely add something to the game’s overall offering. 

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Developer id Software has polished up the classic Doom formula impressively. Players get to run, gun, dash, leap and brutally chainsaw their way through a wide variety of settings and enemies, with Eternal taking you to the Earth’s surface, outer space and beyond as demons escape the confines of hell following the last game’s conclusion.   

Stratton, one of the directors on Doom Eternal, was keen to point out that the game is more than an arcade-style point-and-shoot romp. Before our hands-on session, he said: “There’s kind of a misconception about Doom that it is kind of a mindless corridor shooter. Really great guns, great gore, lots of blood and always triple-A quality, but mindless sometimes, and I want to make it clear that is not the game we have made.” 

This could boggle the mind of even the biggest Doom fan, at least for a second, because the series’ well-loved style is, well… a little bit mindless. Stratton conceded “Doom has never been about the story,” before explaining that the devs started spinning some yarn of narrative into the 2016 reboot and that, in the latest title, it’s more present than ever.  

That said, it doesn’t get in the way of your urge to chainsaw everything in sight, but as Stratton put it, “for those who want the story, it’s there.” 

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Collecting codex entries and sitting through cutscenes will give some overarching context to Doom Eternal’s vicious engagements, but knowing what’s going on in the grander scheme of things is pretty much optional. What isn’t optional though, is getting down and dirty at the heart of Doom’s combat system. 

Damage a foe enough and they will ‘stagger’. This causes them to stop and, for a set time, glow to indicate that you can move in for a “Glory Kill”. These glory kills are up-close and personal finishing moves, which also bag you some health refills in the heat of the action. Meanwhile, chainsaw kills result in enemies dropping ammo, and flamethrower kills see deceased demons drop armour refills.  

Notably, the chainsaw has been revamped. You no longer have to switch to the chainsaw as a separate weapon, instead, it’s there at the press of a button. You will love the chainsaw if you enjoy gory violence enough to like Doom in the first place. If not, this really isn’t the game for you.  

In the hands-on experience I had, which included the first two-and-a-bit campaign missions, as well as some bridging sections in the Doom Marine’s fortress, the game left you pining for more chainsaw fuel. The weapon could get you out of tight spots and always comes with a satisfyingly over-the-top animation.  

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DOOM Eternal Preview

Everything looks great too, our hands-on was on a high-end gaming PC, but id Software were keen to say that the game runs consistently at 60fps on consoles, and at 30fps on Switch.  

The first level, ‘Hell on Earth’, does what it says on the tin. The denizens of hell have descended onto our planet and you’re tasked with finding one of their leaders and eliminating him.  

Some small parts of this opening level could look like other shooters, a half-destroyed multi-storey building and adjoining demon-filled car park, but don’t expect to be peering down your iron sights, picking enemies off from cover. Doom is more of a shoot from the hip, chainsaw to the head, type affair. There isn’t even a zoom functionality for most weapon types, which could momentarily puzzle FPS players who are new to the series. 

Instead, Doom wants players to keep moving, constantly. So much so a reminder often pops up on loading screens, telling you to do just that… or die. The best tactics seem to be staying constantly on the move while harvesting resources with the right kill types. 

The second level, Fortress of Doom, goes deeper into platforming mechanics, with the unlock of the ‘dash’ being a key part of this. It’s in a less familiar, more hellish setting, too. Basically, your jump and double jump are used to move vertically, alongside swinging and climbing mechanics, and the dash and double dash allows you to move horizontally, at great speed. The dash and jump can be combined in order to cross huge chasms, too.   

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DOOM Eternal Preview

At first, these platforming mechanics seemed odd and, when the really huge gaps were introduced to showcase more challenging platforming, I fell to my death several times.  Nailing the rhythm jumping and dashing together means that crossing these huge cliffs can be quite satisfying once mastered. They’re frustrating at times, but platforming sections definitely help the overall pacing, breaking up the otherwise frenetic action.   

Alongside their use in platforming sections, the jump and dash features are absolutely central to combat. Using the elevation within each level is important, as is changing between melee and ranged combat on the fly.  

If you get into a scrape, jump and dash mechanics are equally important as your arsenal of weapons. The game’s biggest showdowns take place in environments which lock as you enter and stay locked until you defeat every enemy. Stratton argues that it’s Eternal’s tweaks to combat that will really set it apart from its predecessor. He said: “The big thing we focused on with this game is player engagement. 

“We have done everything to basically elevate every piece of the game, to not be repetitive. A big place we’ve done that is in the combat, we like to call it combat chess because you constantly make decisions. The speed of those decisions and the quality of those decisions is what’s going to make you a master.” 

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DOOM Eternal Preview

When it comes to your arsenal of weapons, Eternal pulls one of its trump cards. An expansive upgrade system sees players collect upgrade points during missions, which are spent on unlocking, and improving, the secondary fire modes of the central weapons.  

For example, the heavy cannon, which is basically an automatic rifle, can be equipped with a rack of small heat-seeking missiles. Meanwhile, the combat shotgun gets sticky grenades, or a rapid-fire mode.  

Stratton said that, “one of the biggest goals for this game is to make this a power fantasy that you earn.” As a result there are plenty of upgrade trees, but it’s the weapon upgrades that feel the most meaningful and the most fun. Acquiring a weapon upgrade point was actually exciting, where finding armour upgrades and unlocking perks just felt useful. 

 Over a short hands-on playthrough the upgrade system had a lot of appeal but also seemed convoluted. Stratton explained the idea behind the levelling system’s complexity, saying: “We use a martial arts analogy a lot of the time. It’s kind of like you start out as a white belt and then as you run through the different mechanics you kind of graduate and get good as you go, until you become a badass blackbelt. That’s what it feels like if you play Doom from beginning to end.”  

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Clearly a lot of effort has gone into levelling and upgrade systems, but initially it seems a bit like there are five or six menus where there could be two or three. At the same time, it’s easy to see them becoming a crowning achievement for players who dig further and deeper into the game. Tweaking the load-out of your demon-killing machine going into a particularly high-stakes firefight could ultimately be the difference. We’ll have to wait until full review to decide.  

Latest Impressions

Overall, Doom Eternal has the potential to massively outperform its predecessor. Whether or not it shakes off the badge of being a simplistic “mindless corridor shooter”, or not, will depend on how the game plays as a whole. 

Our initial hands-on suggests it will be more than that, if only a little more. It’s so polished and frenetic that Doom Eternal seems, potentially, to have cornered the market in providing its own, quite unique combat experience. We’ll need to play further to say that with any certainty though.  

 

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