Most people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I really enjoyed the 2016 Doom reboot, but I didn’t actually finish it. I could make excuses and say it’s because I got busy and a lot of games came out around that time — which is true — but if I’m being honest, the real reason is that I just didn’t love it.
I found the levels too large and lacking direction. Waypoints were confusing and difficult to discern. Combat was just waves with little encounter variety. Upgrades and overall progression felt too flat and, above all else, it just got repetitive. Doom Eternal seems to fix pretty much all of that.
For fans of the franchise, the core of what makes Doom, well, Doom, is still very much here. The action is incredibly fast-paced, violence is over-the-top and satisfying, and all of the weapons feel distinct and powerful. But id has also streamlined the levels. They’ve mixed things up more with platforming sprinkled around big, chaotic fights, adding in some inventive new mechanics for good measure. Needless to say, Doom Eternal is easily now among my most anticipated games of the year.
Doom Eternal Preview: Streamlining Without Simplifying
For this preview event, I got to play the first three hours of Doom Eternal, and I’m more convinced than ever it’s going to exceed most people’s expectations. When I first got to play a chunk of it at E3 2019 last year, I came away impressed. But now I’m eagerly counting down the days until I can rip and tear my way through the beasts of Hell once again.
The differences between Doom: Eternal and Doom 2016 are immediately apparent. For starters, missions are much more straightforward and linear than in the previous title. Objectives are always clear and in my time with the preview, I never got lost or turned around for more than a few seconds.
For me, it meant the action felt much more relentless, which is great, but still well-paced overall. Additionally, it meant I had an incentive to go off the path and explore more because I always knew where I was headed.
As much as I love and appreciate a good open world, I don’t think every game needs to be bigger and wider to be better. In our industry’s quest to cram as much “content” into games as possible, many publishers seem to have lost sight of good game design.
Doom: Eternal is a gleeful return to an era when reloading wasn’t needed because you were too busy blowing off heads. In those moments, the utter ballet of blood and bullets was a sight to behold. That’s true here, too.
id Software has managed to replicate that without sacrificing the depth of what makes Doom great. There are still tons of upgrade paths here, they’re just more clear in terms of what they do. Levels are still massive with lots of hidden secrets, but the main path through is less aimless. It’s just better in basically every way.
Killing things in Doom: Eternal isn’t just cathartic, it taps into a special flow state that you don’t find very often in video games anymore. The closest modern example I can think of besides a few moments in Doom 2016 would have to be Bulletstorm, but even that game suffered from some of the same problems as Doom 2016.
As I became more powerful, unlocked more weapons, and got used to the wide variety of enemies present in Doom Eternal, it felt less like I was reacting to the game and more like I was flowing in unison with the carnage. Chaining together headshots, double jumps, side dashes, slow-motion scopes in the air, and lopping off heads with chainsaws was all just plain euphoric.
And I enjoyed all of the platforming segments far more than I expected. Mixing together double jumps, air dashes, slow-motion movement, wall climbs, swinging bars, and eventually, the Super Shotgun with its new grappling hook resulted in a surprisingly precise and exciting interpretation of video game platforming mechanics. I’m not sure how much more id can do with that system beyond the first few hours, but I’m excited to find out.
Multiple Paths for Progression
The most staggering part of my Doom: Eternal demo was just how many upgrade paths became available to Doom Guy. Each weapon, of course, has mods that can be assigned to do things like turn the shotgun into an automatic weapon or put a scope on the assault rifle for precision shots, but then those mods can be further optimized and upgraded as well.
On top of that are Crystal suit upgrades that beef up your health, ammo capacity, and shield charge all while adding additional perks on top of general gameplay, like making enemies drop more ammo on death. Then you’ve also got runes to slot into different skills and Praetor suit upgrades that are more iterative over the course of the game itself.
Each level even has optional Slayer Gate encounters for adding extra challenge on top of the specific Challenge objectives on each mission as well. Playing through the main story from start to finish looks like it will be a beefy undertaking in and of itself, but when you add in all of the upgrades and side content and extra challenges, it’s completely bewildering — and I mean that in the best way possible.
[This preview is based on hands-on time with Doom: Eternal on PC at a Bethesda press event held in San Francisco, California.]