The narrative behind 2016’s Doom was an underdog story at its core. No one had high expectations for a reboot of the classic franchise that had undergone many changes over a prolonged development cycle, and people were sceptical that the modern FPS landscape even had a place for it. On release, it didn’t take long for the Doom Slayer to metaphorically punch that idea in the face. Its fast paced gameplay and no nonsense approach to making a modern shooter was exactly what people wanted at the time, and it solidified itself as worthy of its legacy. Fast forward to 2020 and Doom Eternal is here to develop on the ideas of its predecessor, but has it maintained the no nonsense attitude that made it a hit in the first place? At least initially, my answer is no.
Let’s start with the most important part; combat is still just as crunchy and addictive as the last game. The guns feel just as good and it’s still satisfying to chop a demon into pieces with a glory kill. The biggest issue with Doom Enternal’s combat additions is there’s just too many of them. 2016’s Doom had a great combat loop; you killed demons with your weapons and their various mods, glory killed when you needed health, threw equipment like grenades when you had them, and used the chainsaw to get instant ammo drops. There was a simple elegance to it that got a lot of praise at the time, you weren’t forced into playing exactly how the developers wanted you to, but were rewarded for being efficient. Doom Eternal has added a lot of extra layers to the combat loop, and it feels like it may be at bursting point.
The combat loop is Doom Eternal takes everything from its predecessor and adds a flamethrower, where every enemy caught on fire will drop armour shards while it’s hurt and/or killed within that burning duration, multiple grenade types that are on individual cooldowns, a weak point system that involves using specific weapon mods to remove deadly parts of demons, and more of a focus around swapping between various weapons and their respective mods due to a limited ammo economy and weapons feeling more specialised.
If that sounds like a lot it’s because it is.
Now, having a lot going on is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but I feel like some of the new layers added disrupt game flow more than enhance it. Take the flamer for example, while it’s a great idea on paper to have a way to refill armour, the way it’s executed isn’t ideal. This is primarily because you need to get into close range to set enemies on fire, and then quickly kill them to maximise armour gain. On hard difficulty, this isn’t viable just because of how staying in one area for longer than literal seconds is often guaranteed death. I lost count of the amount of times I flamed enemies only to have to immediately run away due to being swarmed by stronger threats, and the times I did stay and fight I’d either die or take so much damage the armour gained was a complete waste. Using it is often like throwing a wrench into the momentum of combat, which for a game that completely revolves around perfect execution, doesn’t feel great.
I also have some issues with the weak point system. Certain demon types now have weapons or body parts that can be disabled to limit their combat efficiency. Those big brain looking spider demons have a long range cannon on their backs that can be shot off to ensure they have to get close to you, and the floating Cacodemons can have a grenade lobbed into their mouths to make them ripe for a glory kill. This is a great idea in theory; it increases interactivity in every encounter and adds another layer of strategy, but doesn’t fully work in practise.
The main issue is how limited you are in ways to destroy these weak points. Unless you’re willing to expend a huge amount of ammo (or valuable limited ammo on your more powerful weapons) to unload into them you really have two choices; the sticky bomb mod from the normal shotgun, or the sniper shot mod with your auto rifle. Both of these will take them out in one shot extremely efficiently in terms of ammo, but it feels limiting in terms of loadout diversity. Because of how reliant you are on these specific mods to take out weak points, it feels like I’m disproportionately forced into using these guns with the specific mods more than the rest of my arsenal. Even in the mid game where you have things like the super shotgun and rocket launcher, you’re still better off relying on your initial weapons to deal with these because they’re so much more effective at it. It wouldn’t be such an issue if the weak points felt like they were optional, but on higher difficulties you need to deal with them ASAP or you’ll be dead pretty quickly.
I think it’s important to say no one thing I’ve complained about here ruins the gameplay completely. They’re annoyances on their own, but when you add them all together it creates friction that takes enough fun away from mastering the combat loop. Add to this a poorly designed UI which makes it difficult to see when all these things are off cooldown in the heat of battle, and I eventually bumped the difficulty down to normal to save myself from the frustration I was having.
Playing on normal largely solved the issues I was having, as you just aren’t punished as heavily for not playing optimally, and I’ve still had a lot of fun with Doom combat when everything fits into place and works, because at its core it’s still really fun, I just think the new systems take away from that fun more often than they add to it.
There’s another part of the game where you can feel the design bloat, and that’s the sheer amount of upgrade paths and currencies that are thrown at you.
You have the unlockable weapon mods, weapon tokens to unlock three perks for each mod, with an ultimate perk that then unlocks through a combat challenge, you also have suit upgrades that do everything from increasing movement capabilities to making environmental hazards more deadly, slottable runes for more perks, ammo, health and armour upgrades which are individually paired together and give more perks when you unlock the pairs, and finally another currency to unlock rooms in your stronghold, which from what I’ve seen either unlock cosmedic skins or rooms with more of the other currencies in them.
Yes, a currency to unlock more currency.
I don’t know why id Software felt the need to add such a ludicrous amount of upgrade paths, but the game doesn’t need it and isn’t better for it. I don’t want to be poking around in menus weighing up all these fairly boring upgrades when I should be slaying demons with a shotgun in hand. It goes completely against the no nonsense ethos of its predecessor, and feels like they are chasing modern shooters rather than standing on their own.
Sadly, the narrative also has issues. 2016’s Doom straddled the line perfectly between being a straightforward story about killing demons on mars, while on the fringes having plenty of deep lore about the nature of the world, hell and the major characters. If you just wanted to kill demons you had enough narrative framework in the form of Dr. Hayden and the antagonists to propel you from level to level, while if you wanted the bigger picture it was there waiting for you.
Doom Eternal’s narrative confuses me. This is because it’s simultaneously a lot less present than Doom, while asking a lot more of the player. I mean this in the sense that the narrative setup is very barebones; Earth has been invaded by demons, and you need to kill the hell priests before all is lost. I’m probably halfway through the game and this is still my primary objective with very little plot development. There isn’t a clear voice leading you through events like you had with Dr. Hayden, and while there is a foreboding bad guy who talks to you occasionally, he’s just a hologram so it doesn’t build a lot of tension.
What has been much more of a focus is more of the Doom Slayer’s history, how and why he is who he is. There are a lot of sequences in the early missions where you directly interact with characters from the Doom Slayer’s past, and that would be fine, except they don’t contextualise any of it. The game makes no effort to remind you of the events of the last game, or any lore tab you didn’t read. It’s almost like they expected every player to have just finished Doom, which seems unrealistic. In most cutscenes I’ve honestly just been slightly confused or bored, which is a step back from Doom, where at the very least the story gave you a clear goal and kept you moving.
So those are my initial thoughts on Doom Eternal. It sucks I’m pretty disappointed with almost everything new they added for the sequel, but the fact I’m still having fun with it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first one speaks to how good the core of the game is. Like I said before, there is a lot of fun to be had when everything’s clicking and you’re drenched in demon blood, I just don’t understand some of the fundamental design decisions that seem to take away from that. Hopefully as I continue some of these complaints will sort themselves out, but we’ll have to wait and see.