Doom Eternal is a stunning game with a frenetic pace that will both challenge and titillate first-person shooter fanatics. Environments are detailed, weapons and effects sound amazing. Enemies explode into a gory mess when felled. The engine is smooth, fluid, absent frame time issues, and micro stuttering that plague many games. The combat is complemented by a heavy metal track that is perfect for high octane demon-slaying.
Doom Eternal deviates from earlier iterations of the franchise by modifying the way players acquire ammo, armor, and health. Most of your stockpile comes from killing demons rather than static item drops that are hidden around the world. For example, killing a monster with the chainsaw causes the creature to drop ammo. Kill a creature set on fire by the flamethrower, and the creature drops small bundles of armor, and when a monster nears death, it glows blue and orange, which indicates that a player can perform a finishing move on that enemy, which causes it to drop health.
In previous games, ammo could be stockpiled as it was found around the game world. ID hasn’t done away completely with ammo and health pickups, but the amount of ammo a player can carry is more limited. The new method of limiting the amount of ammo a player can carry and requiring them to farm demons for items changes combat dynamics quite a bit. I found myself ignoring smaller enemies and focusing on the larger, more dangerous opponents so that I always had a steady reserve of ammo, armor, and health, should I need it.
The downside to this system is that it necessitates spending ammo reserves for all weapons before you break out the chainsaw to trigger an ammo drop by killing a demon. You can only use your favorite weapon for a short time before you’re forced to switch to something else. Once you run out of ammo for a gun, the game automatically switches to the next weapon in line (you can shut this off in the games options menu). It didn’t quite matter which weapon I was using, and I found myself magazine dumping without any forethought so I could spend my reserves before my chainsaw came off cooldown. Even if the player develops a preference for a weapon type, the ammo for that weapon runs out in a few seconds and necessitates a switch to something else.
I can’t say I like this system better than the one found in Doom’s previous games. The only thing it seems to do is force players to move close to demons to perform finishers to obtain health or ammo. Some reviewers have mentioned that this gives the game a faster pace, but I found the opposite was true. In earlier Doom games, I would jump around the periphery of the level and try to keep the demons at a distance while shooting them. The new system caused me to slow down, and either move in close to perform a finisher to heal, or to use my chainsaw on one of the smaller minions when I ran out of ammo.
Each function has its own button, R for the flame thrower, C for the chainsaw, and E to perform a finisher, ctrl to launch a grenade (which instantly kills a certain type of floating demon). When you’re surrounded by enemies and desperately trying to survive, it’s easy to get your wires crossed and forget which button you need to press. If you prefer a certain weapon, it’s bound to the 1-9 keys, or you can hold Q to bring up a radial menu, which slows the game down and lets you find it a bit more easily. Once you find the weapon, are you sure you didn’t run out of ammo before your last chainsaw? All of this slows the rate at which demons can be killed, which slows the game down significantly. In previous Doom games, I’d have no reason to switch to the less powerful weapons, typically cycling through the ones that kill the quickest. I don’t think it’s the pace that is more frantic – it’s that you’re forced to fumble around with a hundred different keys while you desperately try to survive. The game’s pace has changed from speed chess to a barfight – more wild carnage than John Wick. Some prefer this new system, but I feel like it’s a downgrade.
Then there’s the story – something that was never Doom’s strong suite. The narrative, backstory, and universe history are told through events in the game, recordings found on computer consoles around the world, and floating pages that add log entries into the game’s backstory menu. The floating pages are hidden and easy to miss. As such, the doom slayer’s backstory, and those of the sentinels, argent, etc., are to told in a disjointed fragmentary manner, using terminology that you haven’t been exposed to before, or that has been poorly defined.
I didn’t find the story compelling. It was poorly written, bland, and uninteresting. I would have much preferred that ID left the Doom Slayer’s origin a mystery. Sometimes when you explain something, you make it worse, like a magician revealing how a trick is done. I want to know because I’m curious, but I also don’t want to know because it ruins the mystery — the very thing that was interesting in the first place. Explaining why this single human can tirelessly kill millions of demons while carrying thousands of pounds of gear on his back, traversing dimensions, never eating, sleeping, shitting, or any of that human stuff, kills it for me, especially since the narrative is poorly done.
Fortunately, you can completely ignore the story and just jump around, killing demons. The story is there, in the background, but it’s probably better if you don’t pay attention. The action, the combat, the fluidity of motion, bobbing and weaving through demon hordes while you desperately try to survive is the meat and potatoes of Doom Eternal. Despite its flaws, the game is still a blast, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to fans of the franchise. Everyone else should wait for a sale.