The grand-daddy of the FPS genre stunned us with its frenetic, frantic and frightening reboot back in 2016, managing to keep the core feeling of the series in place whilst bringing all the mechanics up to date. DOOM Eternal is now here to continue what was started on Mars 3 years ago and put you in the blood stained boots of the Doom Slayer as he rages war on the demonic infestation of our planet. This is no simple sequel though, the time between games has been used to update the engine, redefine some of the mechanics, and overhaul the enemies so that this adventure will be bigger, louder and brasher than any entry that’s gone before. It will be familiar enough to make you feel at home in the Hell on Earth, but different in the right ways to knock you off balance. Be prepared to rip and tear all over again.
Things haven’t gone well since the UAC incident on Mars, and in fact it’s not even clear how long it’s been since that took place. With the Doom Slayer being sent through a portal to another dimension at the end of that game, pretty much anything could have happened. All we know is the Earth is now being invaded by demons and our hero rocks back up to the planet in a castle shaped spaceship called the Fortress of Doom. Beyond this lies a story of evil priests, ancient civilisations using human souls for power, titan sized monsters, the end of the world, and more weaponry than one man should be reasonably able to carry on his back. It’s not like anyone playing DOOM Eternal is here for its story, but on the off chance that they are, there’s a surprising amount of lore to absorb that ties together nearly all the games and explains who the protagonist is. Things might not be much clearer by the time it wraps up, but it’s certainly a ride and a half.
It might seem on the surface that DOOM Eternal hasn’t changed much over since 2016, and fundamentally that’s true, yet there’s definitely a more epic scope this time around. Whether it’s the intricate yet sprawling levels, the heavy metal opera feel of some of the environments, or the increase in enemies; they all add to up to a beefier experience. Most combat encounters are set in small standalone arenas where wave after wave of foes attack until you’ve ripped them to shreds… or they’ve torn you a new one. The signature mindset of staying in motion to keep alive remains, if things stop then it’s probably game over. This time around though ammo is more scarce and limited, the enemies more brutal in their attacks, and each requires a different strategy to keep them at bay and finish them off. To balance this out the tools have been given a rethink and there’s now a lot more to chose from on the fly. Arguably too much at times.
Using the Glory Kills to spew health from fallen enemies makes a comeback, as does the chainsaw for extracting ammo, and this time it recharges to a base level too. Added in to manage armour drops is a shoulder mounted flamethrower that makes burning demons drop small shards, and big piles if they get taken out fully whilst alight. These three combined make up a juggling act in providing the essentials to keep fighting in each encounter. Always paying attention to the cooldowns can mean the difference between life and death. Then there are the two types of grenades – frag and ice – that help stun and slow down the field; the BFG with a very limited number of shots; runes that add perks; a dash ability; a powerful blood punch that’s charged through Glory Kills; and a new melee weapon in the form of the Crucible which is a very powerful sword that also has a restricted number of uses. Moving between all of these can turn a tide when it all starts to get too manic, but the reliance is really on the guns.
Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and those who like choices will be spoilt with the firepower in DOOM Eternal. Gone is the pistol from the last game and it’s straight into the action with a shotgun. More are drip-fed over the 13 levels, and it’s a matter of taste on which get the most use. Or would be if there was enough ammo to go around. See, the ammo count is typically shared across two weapons – combat and double barrelled shotguns, assault cannon and minigun, plasma rifle and energy caster; only the rocket launcher has its own distinct pool. Even though our Doom Guy can carry all these monsters of destruction on his back, he’s clearly missed out on the big pockets version of his space marine pants. Get trigger happy and the only thing between you and certain death is how fast you can run. In the early levels where the number of guns is still quite low, it’s not uncommon to be spending time looking for caches instead of fighting, though at least the game recognises that low level fodder for the chainsaw is needed and will continue to spawn them so you’re never totally at a loss.
This ballet of ranged combat, close up melee and aerial avoidance defines the battle style and movement around an arena, and it does eventually become quite natural. Each fight zone is well telegraphed in the minimap, so it’s never a surprise when things ramp up. Soon enough you’re spotting routes for swinging from poles, using air jumps, and getting the upperhand on the not-so-slow demons. All the classic creatures are present and correct, with a few bonus ones for good measure, and with each getting a quick tutorial on how to defeat them quickly there’s little wasted time. Bosses are decent enough too, even if they’re repetitive bullet sponges for the later ones, though throughout they will test skills and reflexes to the max. For the general enemies, those requiring counterattacking when their eyes flash are a bit irksome until the strategy clicks, but most are well balanced so that seeing them mixed and matched during the combat encounters always makes the speedy and frenzied action feel fresh.
Respite from all the death and destruction comes from the platforming needed to traverse each level. There’s a lot of jumping and swinging around, and a fair amount of climbing too. It’s layered nicely so that confidence builds with the easier sections, and it’s not too long before it’s asking that the laws of physics are forgotten and crazier moves are needed to reach tricky places. Part of this is simple A to B progression, though in the main it’s about finding the multitude of collectables scatted around. Whether these are exploration based, need puzzles to solve, or are specific combat challenges; hunting them all down becomes a big part of the game. Just before the end of each level, fast travel becomes available to return to specific points on the map, so mopping up is really simple. If that’s not something for there and then, replaying levels in their entirety later allows the use of cheat codes that have been unlocked so that being a monster slaying badass is more natural. Then there are Master levels that remix the original and stretch your competency to its limits.
If all the solo killing has worn thin and a different challenge is needed, then Battlemode is DOOM Eternal’s multiplayer foray. Much like the last game it’s fast paced and a lot of fun, though the main switch here is it’s 2 vs 1. One player is a fully maxed out Doom Slayer, the other two pick from five available demons, and it’s a contest to see who’s going to last the longest. Changing the balance of the game significantly, and allowing players to try out some of the creatures they’ve been shredding for the 12 hours of the campaign is an interesting one to make. Only its longevity over time will prove whether it was a right one to add. I’d argue that being DOOM it needed some form of online mode, though with the focus of Bethesda’s shooters over the last few years being about story and single player fun, maybe this wasn’t essential.
Regardless of how you might want to play DOOM Eternal, it will force you into the shape it wants you to be, that being a bloody puddle if you don’t take heed. Familiarity with the last game will mean at least the initial learning curve isn’t too steep, though it might end up being daunting for newcomers. Don’t be ashamed of dropping the difficulty level down as this is a game that wants to be challenging, yet needs to allow you room if you’re to appreciate it without getting too frustrated. It’s an exquisitely put together FPS that builds out an entire universe of lore and delivers thrills from start to finish. Each gorgeously horrific Glory Kill and nauseating squelch of flesh rending serve up a reminder of why the franchise has endured, and why we still buy into it. Rip and tear, until it is done.
DOOM Eternal is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £40 depending on your platform of choice.