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Doom Eternal is a masterful twitch shooter symphony with one sour note


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Doom Eternal is a masterful twitch shooter symphony with one sour note

Almost uniformly excellent, fast-paced action is hampered by one pace-breaking flaw.


It has been almost four years now since the 2016 edition of Doom showed us the right way to revisit a classic shooter franchise. But, thrilling as that game was, by the end of its running time the crowded firefights already started to feel a bit repetitive. Doom Eternal, the newest entry in the series, hopes to recapture that same fast-paced shooter magic without feeling like more of the same.


For the most part, it succeeds. Doom Eternal returns us to the familiar feel of its run-and-gun predecessor, with just enough variety to keep the new game from feeling like a mere expansion pack. But a few changes throw off the game's flow so badly that they threaten to derail the whole experience.

What are we doing?

The story specifics in Doom Eternal are as wonderfully ignorable as they were in the previous game. Instead of fighting in Hell or on Mars, this time you take the fight directly to the demon-infested Earth, tearing through countless grunts to get to three demonic priests. You have to go through a series of plot points on the way to confronting each priest, but each one may as well read “[Insert mystical hell-demon gibberish].”


Some short cut scenes try to build out your character's history and motivation a bit, complete with a lot of hard-to-follow proper names for demons and settings that will have no resonance for most players. You can pore through pages and pages of hidden lore if you want to get a better grip on all this, but I found it easier to just tune out. I was much more intrigued by the holographic displays and the loudspeaker voice-overs sprinkled through random hallways, all hinting at a vast propaganda regime trying to integrate human society with the demonic interlopers seeking to harvest their souls.


Doom Eternal ever so slightly expands on the limited settings of its predecessor; our hero travels through ornate ancient castles, high-tech space stations, and ruined urban settings this time around. For the most part, though, the fiery reds and muddy browns that characterized the last Doom are present here, along with an overload of generic death-metal imagery that would put a 12-year-old goth’s sketchbook to shame.

Rip and tear

The basic gameplay loop hasn’t changed much in the last four years. That means fighting through massive rooms filled with all manner of demons, most of which will be familiar even if you haven't played Doom since the '90s. The weapons are largely familiar, too, right down to the unlockable customizations in “secondary fire” mode that let you transform weapon functions to your tastes. (I won’t spoil the reveal of one major new weapon late in the game, but I will say that it is ammo-limited, extremely overpowered, and nearly as satisfying as unleashing a BFG blast on an entire room of enemies.)


Standing still for even a second amid the demonic onslaught means losing a significant chunk of your health and armor, so you're forced into near-constant motion as you use dashes, ledge climbs, and jump pads to dodge incoming fire and close-range attacks from the ground and above. Efficiently dealing with a single room's particular demon assortment is akin to a real-time resource management puzzle game. Each enemy type has its own particular vulnerabilities—which the game explains to you rather bluntly on your first encounter—so you have to switch weapons constantly to conserve limited ammo.

This flying demon needs a grenade in the mouth to instantly explode. That one needs you to charge a powerful Blood Punch to remove its armor. Another has an energy shield that only a plasma rifle can penetrate. If you were hoping to pick a single favorite weapon and just spam it through the game, you’re out of luck.


Meanwhile, you have to be aware of when your flamethrower is fully charged so that you can burn nearby enemies and make them drop some useful armor pickups. (Don’t ask me how this is supposed to make sense, even in the Doom universe.) And don't forget to tear up a few staggering, near-dead demons with a gory Glory Kill to get the crucial health pickups that you’ll definitely need to survive. Be ready to throw a quick grenade blast that will freeze a large group of demons and buy you some crucial breathing space. And keep your chainsaw handy to instantly turn one of the room’s more minor threats into a quick ammo restock.


Still with me?

Riding the edge

Keeping all this straight in your head as you constantly bob and weave away from threats on all sides can feel a bit overwhelming, even for veterans of the last Doom. Stick with it, though, and things will eventually click. You will become a finely tuned stimulus-and-response machine, flowing through challenges that would have felt completely impossible just a few gameplay hours before. The action is balanced on the edge of going completely off the rails, with just enough health refills and areas of relative calm for a careful player to get their bearings before the next onslaught.


(Doom Eternal also includes quite a few hidden one-up items that give you a single chance to continue a fight after a lethal mistake. Unfortunately, you don't get a choice when you use those one-ups, meaning you'll probably end up wasting at least a few on relatively easy battles with random grunts, rather than saving them for the crushing onslaughts you know are coming.)


At times, Doom Eternal feels less like a first-person shooter and more like a modified version of a bullet-hell shoot-em-up, where you’re just looking for that small open space amid an ocean of threats. It’s a design that makes Doom Eternal’s firefights much more than mindless shooting galleries, and it keeps everything quite a bit more engaging than the usual pop-and-fire cover-based shooter.


Between firefights, things get eerily calm as you work your way through Doom Eternal’s labyrinthine maps, which are sometimes too confusing for their own good. Even with the aid of a detailed in-game map, I wasted minutes at a time just trying to figure out how to get to the next glowing checkpoint. But this confusion is also put to good use, with dozens of hidden power-ups and collectibles in each level, some of which require real ingenuity to reach.


There’s also a somewhat off-putting focus on first-person platforming challenges between the fights. At its best, there’s a bit of satisfaction to be found timing out the perfect combination of double-jumps, air dashes, and acrobatic swings off exposed bars in order to bridge a wide chasm and barely grasp an out-of-the-way climbable wall. At its worst, the game might inexplicably miss a double-jump input or fail to have you grab a ledge that was well within reach. The penalty for these failures is just a small loss of health and a bit of wasted time, but the system is just finicky enough to make the whole thing more frustrating than fascinating.

Breaking the flow

The frenetic flow of most Doom Eternal fights is so tuned to perfection that it’s incredibly disappointing a bit more than halfway through the game when you run into a single enemy that threatens to completely break that careful balance: the Marauder.


Unlike every other normal enemy in the game, the Marauder has a magical energy shield that instantly and completely blocks any attack you throw at it, including those thrown by the most powerful weapons in the game. The only window when the Marauder becomes vulnerable opens during a brief moment in a single attack cycle, when his eyes flash green and he lunges at you with a huge axe. Those moments—which require split-second reaction times and pinpoint aiming accuracy to take advantage of—only come if you maintain a perfect middle-distance range away from the Marauder. If you’re slightly too close or too far, he just pummels you with powerful attacks while you wait for an opening that doesn’t come.



With every other enemy in Doom Eternal, the best defense is a good offense; if you get too carelessly aggressive, they’ll get aggressive right back and kill you before you can kill them. The Marauder, instead, hunkers down behind his perfect defensive barrier 95 percent of the time, all while threatening you with his own aggressive positioning and powerful attacks. More than being difficult, this feels downright unfair given the non-stop dodge-and-shoot patterns the game establishes before the Marauder’s appearance.


It’s already annoying enough when the Marauder shows up as a lonely boss in a mostly empty room. As a one-off timing and positioning challenge, he might not be too bad. But then Marauders start to appear as "just another enemy" in a room full of pressing threats. Waiting for the rare openings where you can even get through a Marauder’s shields requires so much attention that it short-circuits the knife-edge, run-and-gun balance of the rest of the encounter. The only realistic option is to evade the Marauder completely while you kill everything else in the room, then face him one on one—by far the most frustrating part of any encounter.


It feels a bit petty to focus on one annoying enemy. But when that one enemy is responsible for a good 80 percent of the frustrating moments I had in an otherwise well-tuned and fast-paced shooter, the situation is hard to ignore. (At least half of the remaining frustration goes to a single boss fight that features a similar hide-behind-a-shield turtling mechanic.) More than just a difficult speed bump, the Marauder is a challenge that feels antithetical to everything that makes the new Doom games what they are.


Fortunately, Marauder fights remain rare enough that they can't spoil the wider Doom Eternal experience; they are more like an occasional sour note in an otherwise engrossing symphony. Even after 20 hours or so spent ripping and tearing through demon hordes, I’m still eager to go back and try some of the late-game master-level challenges and to search the maps for a few more hidden trinkets, which should keep me busy for a good while longer.


After a long break, the new Doom formula still hasn’t worn out its welcome in Doom Eternal. Hopefully, we don’t have to wait four more years to get another helping.


Editor’s Note: Bethesda was unable to make multiplayer servers available for testing as of press time. We will share impressions of these after launch.

The Good

  • Finely tuned shooting gameplay is instantly familiar.
  • Enemy variety forces use of myriad strategies and weapon types.
  • Challenge consistently rides the edge between utterly overwhelming and completely routine.
  • Labyrinthine map design is full of cleverly hidden trinkets.
  • Plenty of content and late-game challenges provide medium-term value.
  • Mick Gordon's driving death-metal soundtrack infuses every fight with a frantic energy.

The Bad

  • The Marauder single-handedly ruins the game’s entire flow whenever he shows up.
  • First-person platforming challenges can be a bit finicky.
  • Overly serious cut scenes establish a mythos it’s hard to care about (though at least they’re skippable).

The Ugly

  • Accidentally killing an ailing enemy when you needed to Glory Kill it for the health bonus.

Verdict: Doom Eternal is a thrilling return to form and a high-water mark for fast-paced twitch shooting. Buy it.



Source: Doom Eternal is a masterful twitch shooter symphony with one sour note (Ars Technica)  


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