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Never. Stop. Moving. Stillness is death, and the only way forward is through—through the thousands of demons trying to stop you, for you are the Slayer, and it is your job to Slay.
And so you dash into the fray wielding your shotgun like a hammer of the gods, doling out judgment to the wicked and the nonbelievers. Dash. Boom. Dash. Boom. The shots are deafening, and your eyes begin to burn from forgetting to blink. Your palms sweat. You leap up, rip a Cacodemon’s eye out. You land, and cut an Imp in half with a chainsaw. You spin and shoot the turret off an Arachnotron, then force its spiked foot into its own face.
All the forces of Hell fall before you, for you are Wrath, and you are Eternal.
Doom Eternal is a blast. Now add a handful of expletives before “blast” and that’s how I really feel.
But seriously, it’s thrilling. The only other shooter of this caliber that comes close to deserving that description is the 2016 Doom reboot, and id has managed to surpass even itself. The arenas are grander, the enemies larger, the movement faster, and all of it more varied than before.
The lack of variety was my sole problem with the 2016 Doom—it sort of ran out of ideas (mechanically) in the back half. The final level was a slog, not a triumphant climax, with the battle for Argent D’nur reduced to a series of large combat arenas with no break in the pacing. And because you’d already fought all Doom’s enemies in a hundred configurations by that point, it felt like going through the motions of pattern recognition.
Doom Eternal never hits that point. It continuously ups the stakes of its largest combat encounters. You’ve fought one Arachnotron? How about two—and a Baron of Hell, a handful of Cacodemons, and a Marauder? Eternal doesn’t add many enemies, but the few newcomers tip the balance. There’s enough enemy variety here for Eternal to layer foes in new and novel ways through the final boss and the end credits.
And while Eternal looks like a Big Dumb Shooter, it’s surprisingly deliberate. In Doom 2016, generally the best strategy was always “Shoot Anything That Moves—Probably In The Head.” Pinkys were the sole exception, armored in the front and weak to shots in the back.
Doom Eternal expands on the idea of weak points. Revenants? Shoot their missile launchers off. Marauders? Only vulnerable when they attack, at which point a Super Shotgun blast can temporarily stagger them. Arachnotrons? Shoot off their tail turret so they’re forced to come in close for the kill. And my personal favorite is the Cacodemon, which swallows any grenade you lob its way.
It’s a combat puzzle, and that’s what keeps it fresh. Doom Eternal’s encounters aren’t solely about layering more enemies for the sake of more enemies. You aren’t mindlessly laying on the trigger. It’s all about reading the environment, reading the enemies, and prioritizing. A charging Hell Knight is more dangerous in a cramped hallway than it is out in the open, so how do you fight it? Do you kill the hovering Cacodemon now, or save it for an easy kill later? Eternal rewards countering enemies efficiently, not with brute force.
Underpinning Eternal’s more deliberate shooting is a resource management element: Health, Armor, and Ammo. Doom Eternal’s combat is all about attrition, about burning through one reserve to replenish another. You’re not meant to have full health or armor. You’re not meant to hoard all your rockets. You’re never more than two or three seconds from death, and it’s normal to end a fight with half health, shredded armor, and mostly empty weapons. That’s what makes it so tense.
Low health? Doom 2016’s Glory Kills return, cinematic finishers that cause enemies to erupt with health pickups. The lower your health, the more they drop. Low ammo? Cut a demon in half with a chainsaw to replenish your stocks—and believe me, you’ll need it. And Eternal adds a new system as well. Set a few enemies on fire, and they’ll shed armor after further damage.
It’s a cycle, an ingenious give-and-take that sets Doom Eternal apart from every other shooter. Burn ammo to get health, burn health to get ammo, back and forth. Doom incentivized getting in close. Doom Eternal mandates it. If you don’t, if you try and play it safe, it won’t be long before you run out of health, armor, ammo, or all three.
Getting into Eternal’s rhythm takes time, figuring out just how far you can press the attack before dying. When it clicks it’s so satisfying though.
Other elements seem less necessary—namely, the platforming. Is it terrible? No. Eternal is fairly forgiving, both with its checkpoints and its timings. You get a double jump and two air dashes, and Eternal definitely feels more mobile as a result.
Swinging on bars and climbing walls doesn’t add much to the experience though. It slows down the pacing, but isn’t challenging enough to be truly interesting. You jump the gap, you move on. The one benefit is it allows Eternal to hide secrets in more unique locations, but I’d be happy doing that without the mandatory crossing-a-large-chasm sections or, worse, the clumsy swimming areas. There’s no need to remove the mobility that makes the platforming areas possible, but it feels very artificial and arcade-y.
As for the story, it’s suitably ridiculous. One of the best things the 2016 Doom did was take its own lore seriously. Doom Eternal doubles down, putting you at the center of a fevered battle between Heaven, Hell, and faux-Earth.
There is nothing all that surprising about it, nothing that you’d argue is “High Art,” but damn it’s fun. Eternal amps up the stakes and amps up the spectacle and it’s all very silly—but deadly serious, insofar as there’s rarely any wink to the camera. The people in this world think this is life and death, even if it’s all pulp to an outside observer.
And wow, what spectacle. There are a few moments I still refer back to in Doom 2016, amazed by the audacity of the environments. The beginning of the Titan’s Realm for instance, where you see the massive skull of the Titan embedded in the ground. Eternal starts at that scale and then keeps going. Every level, there’s some new surprise.
I do somewhat miss the more grounded tone of Doom 2016. That game started slow, and ramped up the pacing and the silliness as you went. Watching Mars slowly succumb to the invasion, watching the UAC turn (and the subtle commentary on modern corporate behavior), it felt like a horror game. A fast-paced and action-packed horror game, but still there was a sense of creeping dread amongst the firefights. Doom Eternal is over-the-top from minute one, more Aliens than Alien.
Did I enjoy it though? Hell yeah, I did. We don’t often see postmodernism done well in video games, but there’s something so fundamentally absurd about Doom’s premise, and it’s fascinating to see a developer lean into that. A different team might’ve given us a more traditional grimdark version of Doom fit for 2020. Doom 3 but modernized, essentially. And that would’ve been fine, but a bit boring.
Doom Eternal, like its predecessor, is at least memorable—jaw-dropping, groan-worthy, and everything in between. And that’s what I love about it.
It’s amazing to me that nobody has copied Doom by now. Gears of War spawned an entire generation of stop-and-pop cover shooters. The fact that Glory Kills and speed and mobility haven’t found equivalent purchase in the last four years? Criminal—but it does mean Eternal feels just as fresh as the first go-round.
As I said, it’s a blast. I spent as much time with Doom Eternal as I possibly could—collected every secret, finished every secret combat encounter, unlocked every upgrade. I wish there were twice as much, but I’m also glad there isn’t. I enjoyed Doom 2016 but it wore out its welcome before I’d finished. Doom Eternal never did, and was still doling out new ideas even in the final boss battle. It’s rare a game knows how to end as strong as it started, and kudos to id for knowing when to call it quits.