Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
I have a complicated relationship with Doom Eternal.
In Episode 079 of WDGRPodcast, I spoke at length about the game, and listeners may notice that I was constantly conflicted – for everything it did that I loved, it did something I hated. It’s this duality and confusion that frustrates me to this day.
When Doom Eternal is good, it is great. It is unspeakably amazing. You feel like a complete badass. You use the biggest guns. You throw the strongest punches. You jump the highest jumps. And Hell is so scared of you that they send every demon possible at you every chance they get.
When Doom Eternal is bad, it is infuriating. The word frustrating does not do it justice. The game made me so angry on so many occasions that by the end I was beating it out of spite. I wanted to literally say to the game “Fuck you!” just like the Doom Slayer says to every Imp he stomps on.
The majority of my frustrations revolve around the game’s brutal difficulty. I began Doom Eternal on Ultra Violence. Before the end of the first stage, I had dropped the difficulty to Hurt Me Plenty, and by the end of the game I was playing on the easiest difficulty – I’m Too Young To Die. Thankfully, the game allows you to change difficulty at any time, without penalty. Even if it’s in the middle of a firefight.
For a time, playing on Hurt Me Plenty seemed to be the way to go. It was challenging, but not obscenely so. Meanwhile, the game begins layering mechanic after mechanic, and it does so in a hurry. You learn about Glory Kills – special moves that kill staggered demons spectacularly (and give you health). You also acquire a chainsaw very early in the game. The chainsaw can hold three tanks of fuel, but will automatically recharge one. It seems weird at first, until you consider the chainsaw is the best way to get ammo. Then, you learn about the Flame Belch – a flame thrower that sits on your shoulder.
In addition to all of these abilities, you have a myriad of guns – most of which have two upgrade paths that can also be upgraded. On top of that,you have a Blood Punch, which is basically a one-hit kill for most demons, on a cooldown. You have two types of grenades – a frag grenade and an ice grenade – both on separate cooldowns.
Plus, your Super Shotgun comes equipped with a “Meathook” that lets you Scorpion your way into the enemy. That’s right – it doesn’t bring them to you, it brings you to them. And with the right upgrades, it’ll set them on fire too, which also gives you armor. Finally, there’s a late-game addition, The Crucible, which has its own type of ammo. It’s a sword that immediately destroys nearly any demon you face, no matter how large. Even demons that require three fuel tanks with a chainsaw get chopped down with one swing of The Crucible.
I suppose all of this probably feels pretty intuitive on a PC since you have a mouse and keyboard and a myriad of controls available at your fingertips. On the Xbox One, I used a controller, and every single button was used in a hurry. Early on it was extremely confusing.
To add to the confusion, everything has an upgrade. Everything. Runes unlock gameplay perks that tend to focus on movement. Some Runes allow you to slow time while you’re in mid-air. Others will give you speed boosts, or launch you into Glory Kills faster.
Praetor Suit upgrades are for the Doom Slayer’s suit. You can upgrade the Doom Slayer in five categories: Environmental, Exploration, Fundamentals, Ice Bomb, and Frag Grenade. Weapon points allow you to unlock the previously mentioned upgrades for your guns.
Sentinel Crystals are dual purpose: one Crystal can increase health, armor or ammo capacity, but unlocking two Crystals on the same path will also unlock a perk, such as a shorter cooldown for the Flame Belch or allowing resource drops to get pulled in from a greater distance. Then you have Sentinel Batteries that unlock doors in the Doom Slayer’s Fortress which give you access to more of the above upgrades, in addition to some vanity suits for the Doom Slayer.
All of these things require their own form of currency that you discover by completing objectives in each level, or by discovering the dozens and dozens of hidden secrets throughout the game. It quickly becomes confusing to identify which currency applies to what upgrades.
Thankfully the game does make the upgrades worth hunting down. Each upgrade has a meaningful and immediate impact on the Doom Slayer’s ability to deal with the onslaught of enemies. Since most of the upgrades are hidden behind secret areas of each level, the game rewards players for searching every nook and cranny of the expansive levels. And like the original Doom games, you often find yourself backtracking through areas once you’ve found a door key, only to discover that an area that was inaccessible earlier is now open.
For the most part, the level design is outstanding. The designers created a mix of cramped quarters and expansive areas. The game flips between “exploration mode” and “kill everything mode” at the drop of a hat. When you enter an arena, the doors close and the game goes into it’s “The demons are trapped with you” mode. You fight frantic battles with wave after wave of demons that get progressively more difficult. You quickly run out of ammo and flip from weapon to weapon to weapon, not because you want to, but because you have to. Is your frag grenade recharged? Better flip to the ice bomb. Chainsaw, flame belch, glory kill, shoot, repeat. Constant movement, never sitting still. When everything works, it’s incredible and it’s fun.
But when Doom Eternal’s level design is broken, it’s a frustrating disaster that almost made me quit the game numerous times. The game gives arenas that cater to movement early in the game, but by the end, those smooth corners give way to right angles that allow the enemies to trap you. They are relentless.
Eventually the game throws in the cheapest enemy in video game history – The Marauder. This character is designed to break everything you’ve learned up to this point. Get too close, and he attacks you with an axe. Get too far away, and he throws an axe or sends a Ghost Dog at you. He blocks every. single. attack, and is even immune to the BFG. The only way to kill him is to find that sweet spot between too close and too far, and let him attack you. His eyes flash green briefly and you have an extremely narrow window to attack. The Super Shotgun and Ballista worked best, but the best way to beat him is to just stop playing the game.
The bosses are equally frustrating in different ways. Khan Makyr forces you to whittle away at a shield while navigating an electrified floor and other enemies, only to use your meathook to launch yourself into the air and deliver a Blood Punch to cause actual damage. You have to do that about a dozen times. It’s not fun. The Icon of Sin, the game’s final boss, forces you to shoot off pieces of armor to expose the flesh underneath, all while facing a non-stop assault of enemies that corner you at every given opportunity.
I frequently find myself watching videos on the game or reading reviews and saying to myself “Well, it’s clearly just you. You’re just not good enough for Doom anymore.” After talking with a number of people that have also played the game to completion, I hear a lot of the same complaints. It can’t just be me.
Complaints aside, there IS a lot of good here. The game looks amazing and runs silky smooth on my Xbox One X. PC gamers have it even better. Enemies take visible damage as they’re shot. Levels have an amazing amount of detail and—going from Earth to Hell to Mars—all have their own look and feel. The soundtrack is wonderful, with the amazing Mick Gordon knocking it out of the park again. The music becomes more intense as the battles grow in intensity. The game nails the sound effects too. Guns sound and feel satisfying. Enemies sound ferocious. Damage is audible and even sound cues like the Marauder’s green eye flash are obvious.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time venting my frustrations about Doom Eternal, but there IS a good game in here. Unfortunately it’s marred by excessive difficulty, confusing controls and a forced resource management system that puts emphasis on the lack of health, armor and ammo instead of rewarding the player for doing well in battle.
It’s this duality that I struggle with. How can I wholeheartedly recommend a game that I found myself rage-quitting repeatedly over the final 10 hours of the game? Still, I can’t dismiss what the game does well. There is something worthwhile in Doom Eternal, but I think it’s important to go in prepared and aware of what the game is going to throw at you.