Disappointing As Hell
HIGH The meat hook.
LOW Almost the entire second half of the campaign.
WTF Who thought the Marauders were a good idea?
2016’s Doom reboot was a much-needed shot of adrenaline in a sea of cover systems and military solemnity. It was also nearly perfect, evidenced by id Software’s failed attempts to improve upon it with this sequel. Nearly everything that’s been added to Doom Eternal only works to disrupt the perfectly-tuned flow of combat that made the previous title such a rush.
Eternal works when it’s sticking closely to what its predecessor nailed in 2016. The combat in recent Doom is so fast and balletic that it almost owes as much to third-person character action games as it does to first-person shooters, and the imaginatively gruesome ways in which the Doom Slayer sections his enemies remains pure catharsis. So much drama can unfold within such a small period in Eternal, like the panic of low health being eased by cracking a Revenant’s skull against my knee for med pickups, or an emergency chainsaw slice turning a demon into an ammo piñata when all other options have been exhausted.
To its credit, a couple of Eternal’s new ideas pay off. The Doom Slayer now has a shoulder-mounted flamethrower and setting enemies on fire causes them to drop armor. Players can also target and destroy specific body parts on anything more powerful than rank-and-file infantry, and while I wonder if there was a more elegant way to tutorialize it than a text box that explicitly reveals the weakpoint of every demon that shows up, it’s a neat feature regardless.
Also, the super shotgun – already one of the most satisfying weapons in the history of videogames – now has a grappling hook that can be used to quickly close the distance between the player and any enemy that needs a massive, gaping hole in its torso. The hook can be upgraded to set the target on fire, as well, figuring into the aforementioned armor-farming mechanic.
These ideas work fine, and all I really wanted from a Doom sequel was the same ludicrously fast combat with a handful of minor new systems to engage with. Eternal delivers for the first couple of levels, and I was having the time of my life… but then the missteps began piling up.
For one thing, the tone is completely off. In 2016 Doom, the Slayer’s disinterest in the clichéd plot unravelling around him was a reflection of the player’s own desire to skip the talking and kill monsters. In Eternal he actually seems to care, leading to a story that offers all of the dumbness and none of the self-awareness. No one plays Doom for lore and character development, and yet long, combat-free stretches of the campaign are dedicated to the history of the warring factions and even the origin of the Doom Slayer himself. His name is canonically “Doomguy,” yet cutscenes depicting his backstory are treated with deadly seriousness.
The campaign as a whole feels bloated, and a newfound fixation on platforming is largely to blame. Platforming in 2016 Doom mainly served the exploration of what felt like a surprisingly lived-in space. In contrast, the levels in Eternal feel like, well, levels that force me through senseless acrobatic gauntlets for no reason other than to test my reflexes because That’s What Games Do. Some sections had me weaving through spinning propellers of fire pulled straight out of Mario Maker. It’s silly, and not the kind of silly that I welcome in Doom, but the arbitrary kind that makes me wonder who installed this propeller of fire and why.
Honestly, I could list a lot of my issues with Eternal by simply naming a new feature and following it with “in a Doom game.”
The campaign has swimming sections, for example. Swimming sections… in a Doom game. There’s no combat underwater, and these navigational bits aren’t really puzzles, so much as tasks that exist for no other reason than to pad the playtime. Another offender is this weird purple goop that id occasionally slathers over the floor of an arena, slowing the player’s movement to a crawl. It’s a mechanic that limits movement… in a Doom game.
As the combat ratchets up, it frequently becomes overwhelming in ways that don’t gel with Doom’s flow. A prime example are the new totems that spawn enemies infinitely until they’re destroyed. Focusing on killing demons before said totems are dealt with just means wasting much-needed ammo, and they’re usually well-hidden. So, players need to ignore combat entirely and scour arenas thoroughly while enemies – which are faster than usual thanks to the totem’s buff – quickly eat away at their health.
However, all of these complaints pale in comparison to the already-notorious Marauder, a recurring miniboss that seems to have snuck in from a completely different game. The Marauder can only be hurt by counter-attacking a very specific melee strike, which itself can only be triggered by standing at a precise distance from him or else he’ll either use his shotgun or a long-range attack. Since the window for damaging him is so brief, only a handful of weapons are effective, and it can take a couple dozen counter-attacks to bring him down.
On top of that, he teleports constantly, and he can repeatedly spawn flaming dogs that only serve to distract the player from an enemy that requires all of their attention. In a game focuses on one-on-one duels (like Sekiro, for example) the Marauder would be passable as a one-off miniboss, but once id begins integrating him into arena fights with other demons, he becomes the worst design choice in a series that includes Doom 3. The combination of speed and laser precision necessary to kill him makes me wonder how anyone is able to finish Eternal with a controller.
That tactic of overwhelming players carries over into Eternal‘s final two bosses, both of which are dreadful. They distract players with endlessly-respawning trash mobs while we’re trying to focus our attention on a major opponent with a lot of health. In fact, the entire back half of the campaign alternated between ‘padded’ and ‘irritating’ in such a way that it never achieved the perfect balance that made 2016’s Doom such a thrill. I spent a significant portion of my playtime wanting to get back into the action and another significant portion wishing that id would tone it the hell down.
The Doom I loved is in here somewhere, but it’s buried under excess, like a perfectly-seasoned meal that’s had a mound of salt dumped onto it. Perhaps any sequel to 2016’s extraordinary reboot was bound to disappoint, but this is one of those rare times where “more of the same” would have been the preferred option. I’d have taken the safe route over Eternal’s messy brand of overcompensation any day.
Disclosures: This game is developed by id Software and published by Bethesda Softworks.It is currently available on PS4, XBO, PC and Stadia. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 14 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. One hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore and Intense Violence. This is about as gruesome as a videogame gets. Absolutely not for children.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for all dialogue. Although I wouldn’t say that sound is crucial for playability, there’s often so much action unfolding at once and it’s difficult enough to keep up with all of it even when the sound is blaring. Those who have trouble hearing audio cues from enemies will be at a further disadvantage.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.