Doom Eternal review: A safe, satisfying, suffocating, sequel

Credit: Bethesda

The Pitch

It might sound a little cruel to write it off as more of an expansion pack than a true sequel, but Doom Eternal often can’t help feeling like an old-school bundle of bonus levels that solely caters to the appetites of the converted.

If that’s you, great! However, if you had already begun to tire of id Software’s over-the-top orgy of gunfire, hellfire, and heavy metal, I doubt it’ll take Doom Eternal all that long to grate on your patience.

If the 2018 reboot of the most iconic and bloodthirsty first person shooter in PC gaming was a surprise, 2020’s Doom Eternal comes across as a known quality. It’s not bad but is exactly what you expect. It does little to evolve the formula or escalate the action. It’s more of the thing you want, but offers little in the way of the things the series needs to grow. 

I Promise You That Nobody Has Ever Wanted To Know The Doomslayer’s Tragic Backstory

Picking up where the previous game left off, John Wick Chapter 2-style, Doom Eternal doesn’t waste a second. It throws you right back into the action. Earth has been invaded by demons - it’s time to fight back. 

Since the last installment of the series is widely understood as a remix of the original DOOM, it’s very easy to see this ‘Hell on Earth’ setup as a riff on the sequel to that game. 

However, where that 2018 reboot put a fresh spin on a familiar premise by skewering corporate culture and embracing the inherent-absurdity of the series’ existing mythology, Eternal mostly plays it straight. Almost none of the clever self-awareness found in the previous game seems to have made the transition into the sequel. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Although plenty of the levels here take place on Earth, most of the time you’re wandering around vast and Hexen-like ancient temples, secret bases or spaceborne military installations. Occasionally, this leaves Eternal feeling like a modern echo of the labyrinths found in an earlier epoch of the series but most of the time, it just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

It’s easy to imagine a version of this game where you get to fight hordes of demons amid the ruins of iconic geopolitical locales but that just isn’t something that Doom Eternal shows any interest in being. There are a few setbacks and detours but most of the plot here boils down to a video-gamey manhunt to find and kill three priests before the souls of those still on Earth can be consumed. 

What’s more, Doom Eternal goes all-in on the series’ newfound mythology in a way that fundamentally doesn’t work. There aren’t really any characters or themes here for you to invest in. Everything is just set-dressing to the series’ central power fantasy and it’s downright-weird to play a DOOM game that seemingly-forgets that?  

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Rather than load-up codex entries with quirky humor, in-jokes and feckless personality, my in-game bibliography quickly clogged up with complex history, ancient contexts and biblical cosmologies. Even as someone who read every snippet of the story I unlocked in Destiny, I really struggled to find much enjoyment with these. 

Look, I get that Doom Eternal isn’t exactly trying to be Heaven Will Be Mine. However, in fairness, I wouldn’t be disappointed if the writing in the previous game hadn’t been so refreshing and set my expectations so high. 

Damnation On Demand

Building on that, the structure of Doom Eternal is also a little more arbitrary than the previous game. The experience is still broken out into 13 or so levels but the way that you experience those levels isn’t as straightforward. 

Between each stage of your journey through Eternal, you’ll check into The Fortress of Doom. A spaceship-like castle orbiting the earth, this essentially acts as a hub location where you can view your acquired collectibles, spend the game’s many different currencies and practice your skills against captive demons. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

While there aren’t any loot boxes, Doom Eternal does incorporate a number of live-service hooks and cosmetic rewards that promise to give you a reason to regularly revisit the game’s carnival of carnage. The core gameplay here is pure, unadulterated DOOM but there’s plenty of modern trappings that remind you you’re playing a triple-A video game in 2020. 

One of these is a new multiplayer experience called Battlemode. This asymmetric experience throws two demons into an arena against one Doomslayer and tasks the latter with taking them both out before either respawns. It’s a neat premise but, since we reviewed the game prior to launch, we haven’t had the chance to test it yet. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

There are also Master Level versions of each stage, which are more difficult than their apprentice-grade counterparts and can be accessed from either the main menu or in-game via a terminal in the Fortress of Doom. Unfortunately, the score-based Arcade Mode and Snapmap level builder from the last game are missing in action - omissions that leave Eternal looking a little lean by comparison.

Rip, Tear and Prepare (To Get Mad At The Platforming Sequences)

There are few small detail changes but, at the end of the day, Doom Eternal plays pretty close to its 2018 counterpart. You blast away at enemies and then brutalise them with gorey finisher moves to regain health and ammo. Rinse and repeat until you reach the end of the level.

The weaponry here includes many of the staples plus a few zanier options. You’ve got two kinds of shotgun, a long ranged rifle, an energy blaster, a rocket launcher and - of course - the iconic BFG. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

The kicker here is in the customisation. Each weapon has two add-ons that allow you to throw in a lil bit of spice. Your shotgun can either shoot sticky grenades or go full-auto. These alternate fire modes are fun, can be upgraded to become more powerful over time and add new dimensions to an otherwise overly-familiar armory.

If anything, the biggest difference between the bloodbaths in Doom Eternal and those in its predecessor is the difficulty involved. Where the last installment was an indulgent power fantasy on most of the lower difficulty settings, Eternal isn’t afraid to push back on you. Even in the earlier stages of the game, it can be surprisingly tough. 

Most of the time, gunfights in Doom Eternal feel like an intense back and forth. A tug of war where you’re only ever a few mistakes away from losing it all. That intensity itself is great, even if the level design here often falls flat. 

As far as backdrops to the action go, Doom Eternal’s levels are, at best, forgettable and, at their worst, often downright frustrating. The game occasionally attempts to change things up with some platforming and puzzle sequences but it’s all a bit tedious and nowhere near as effective of an intermission as the quieter moments in the last game. It wasn’t even until I made it to the second half of the campaign (and, specifically, a sequence that I had already played at a hands-on demo for the game) that the level design began to feel infectiously-fun and ridiculous in the way you’d hope a new Doom game would. 

All this ties neatly to the aspects of Doom Eternal that I found the most frustrating: the pacing. The length of the game itself is fine. It took me about the same amount of time to get through the last game and there’s tons of secrets and upgrades to collect. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

However, the levels in Doom Eternal themselves feel a lot weaker in terms of pacing than their 2018 counterparts. Even if the core combat loop keeps things engaging, most levels felt like they went on for about twenty or so minutes longer than they should. By the end of each level in Eternal, I’d feel genuinely exhausted and in need of a break. 

What’s more, I began to internalise how the mechanics in the game worked to generate that stress. Every moment of difficulty in Doom Eternal ultimately boiled down to the same dynamic: scarcity. 

You’re always running out of ammo. When that eventually happens, you need to either find more ammo or chainsaw apart one of the game’s weaker demons to get more. The scenery might change but, ultimately, it feels like 80%-90% of the combat experiences I had in this game boiled down to this exact manufactured moment of crisis leapfrogging my way across the battlefield in pursuit of a pinata-like adversary to tear apart. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Where the levels in the last Doom left me hungry for more, the battlefields of Doom Eternal dragged on long enough that I began to tire of them and started to dwell on the ways in which the game pushed my buttons. Once you know how the magic trick works, the appeal inevitably diminishes a little.

The Bottom Line

Like Netflix’s Castlevania anime, Doom Eternal treats hyperviolence as a sort of humor. Each of the game’s grotesque finisher moves ends in a brutal punchline and a big part of the appeal is seeing just how over the top and out of hand things can get. 

In essence, this is both the triumph and the tragedy of Doom Eternal: it’s a crowd-pleaser. It absentmindedly caters to the appetite for more of what people already like without really ever considering the idea that it could be something more than that. 

Even if it’s fun in the moment, the thrills of Doom Eternal are fast-forgotten. It plays a little cleaner and looks a little better than its predecessor but, minus any attempts to meaningfully iterate on the formula or distinguish itself, it struggles to eke out any sense of identity beyond just more of what people already like. 

This time, that might be enough for most people. Next time? I’m not so sure. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

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