Doom Eternal Review ft. S.G.S.

Editor’s Note: The original draft and most of the content of this was written by our discord mod, S.G.S. I stepped in to help flesh out sections comparing the gameplay styles of Classic Doom versus Eternal, Resource Manangement, Enemy design, and wrote the Marauder section by myself.

Honestly, I’m nothing short of thoroughly impressed this time around. id Software took the interesting but flawed attempt at action FPS that was Doom 2016, and capitalized on the potential it had in a splendid way.

Doom 2016’s resource management was handled via glory kills for health and chainsaw use for ammo, combined with more “traditional” level design with health and ammo pickups strewn about. This felt like a clash of ideals to me. Classic Doom (and a lot of older shooters) had non-renewable resources that were limited exclusively to pickups around the map, which meant that routing through the map to acquire weapons/ammo/health/armor became an important skill to master. Classic Doom was about resource gathering and attrition, which created a chain of events across a map which had context with each other. Your options later in the level were based on what resources you found, and which you spent, earlier in the level. Various maps tune this balance differently leading to some maps starving you of resources, while others have few weapons to work with; plenty of maps even place weapons in locations that require you to deal with encounters on the way. Doom 2016, however, had a system in place that showered (heh) you with resources at a moment’s notice, which flew squarely in the face of level exploration as resource management. Combat encounters were decontextualized from one another. You even obtained weapons in a continuous fashion, meaning they were more akin to upgrades rather than resources you locate (or fail to locate) on a map. Eternal pushes this style of resource management further by adding flame belches for armor, which is another layer to manage. As such, the exploration of a level is more for progression and secrets, rather than for resources, and you don’t experience attrition over the course of the level, because infinitely respawning enemies, and infinitely refilling chainsaw/flame belch/glory kill are your source of ammo, armor, and health. Doom Eternal does not deserve to be thought of in the context of Classic Doom, it’s better to think of it as a completely different game series.

Eternal pushes ammo management further with its harsh ammo caps. It can definitely feel oppressive at first, but it punishes sloppy play heavily. You will inevitably run out of ammo all the time in the early missions, establishing the importance of the chainsaw to replenishing your ammo supply. Given the low ammo cap, the chainsaw can be viewed as a conditional reload only available when you’re close to a weak fodder enemy. Because the chainsaw regenerates fuel and fodder enemies respawn constantly, the game is really demanding that you save fodder enemies for ammo and focus instead on the large enemies. As for health and armor management, enemy attacks can deal a lot of damage to you quickly and the enemy aggression borders on absurd. If you’re not careful they can quickly tear you to shreds. Staying maxed out on health and armor on higher difficulties is fairly challenging. All of this combines to form an early gameplay loop where you’re constantly managing resources and preserving “moving resource kits”. This soon evolves into a grand cycle after obtaining a lot of weapons. At this point, you only recharge ammo every once in a while as you have a lot of available ammo distributed across your many weapons. Overall, Eternal addresses an ongoing trend with shooters – absurdly high ammo caps. Older shooters focused on resource attrition, meaning high ammo caps worked fine, because firing a bullet meant one less bullet existed in the world for you to deal damage with. Doom Eternal however has infinitely renewable ammo, much like other modern shooters, so a high ammo cap would mean no threat of ever running out of ammo as you’re continuously showered in it. Doom Eternal’s low ammo caps serve to make the core combat as interesting as possible, by forcing you to not overly rely on any one weapon. You might always be able to get more ammo, but you’ll also always be running out in the moment.

Optimizing your DPS in Doom 2016 required a lot of weapon switching routes as it was faster to shoot multiple weapons once rather than stick to the same weapon. Unfortunately, this was not capitalized on due to 2016’s fairly lackadaisical arena design and enemy combinations. It was far too easy to converge to a “workhorse” weapon that dealt with literally everything the game threw at you. The ammo caps and enemy weakpoint system makes weapon switching mandatory this time around, and I’m fairly glad that is the case. Weapon management is a relatively unexplored area of FPS design, as weapon choice was always based on levels and encounters. You either had a consistent workhorse weapon (like the Super Shotgun) or learned specific usage of specific weapons for specific encounters. But Eternal ties its weapon usage to its enemy design, far more than any other shooter I remember, making weapon management an essential skill. The notion of a main weapon really doesn’t work cleanly with Eternal, and even if it did, different people would converge to different workhorses.

Speaking of enemies, what a work of art! This is the first FPS I’ve played in a long while that nails enemy design so perfectly. I genuinely think Eternal’s enemy roster rivals Devil Daggers’ and Doom 2’s. The roster has an enemy occupying almost every niche available and everything a player can do has a soft counter in the form of an enemy. Some enemies chase you down, some tank damage, others hang back and provide ranged support, some are flying, some act as a wall. Most types of enemies demand or reward certain skills from the player, such as Pinkies, Plasma Shield Soldiers, Archviles and Marauders reward your ability to hit them around and behind their protection. Arachnotrons, Revenants, Makyr Drones, and Mancubuses reward you for sniping off their projectile armaments. Plasma Shield Solders and Mancubi can be used as explosives against their fellow demons, if you group them together. Revenants, Doom Hunters, and Cyberdemons (called Tyrants in this game) can shoot homing missiles, demanding you dash or double jump to break lock-on. Carcasses, Doom Hunters, and Plasma Shield Soldiers can have their shields overloaded with plasma fire.

Enemies also occupy different zones in combat. Many will chase you down and only have melee attacks, such as Hell Knights, Pinkies, Whiplashes. Prowlers will even teleport after you, making them a constant threat. Other enemies are more content to sit back and assist, such as Carcasses, which block your line of sight and movement, making it difficult to move in for glory kills, or pain elementals, which summon lost souls and shoot projectiles. Others insist you get out of their personal space, such as Mancubi with the fast AOE stomp, or Marauders with their fast close range shotgun. Enemies vary in speed, from the slowly advancing Mancubi tanks, to the fast and agile prowlers, or Marauders and Pinkies, who have great horizontal movement, but are terrible at dealing with platforms. Cyber Mancubi can lay acid on the ground, flushing you out of an area.

This is further amplified by the (mostly) really competent enemy AI. They are aggressive and punish simple movement; linear movement and circle strafing can work for some enemies, but others will flank and deal with you accordingly. Even vertical movement has counters this time. I feel like the new version of Doom 2’s roster is readapted to Eternal in the best way possible. For instance, the Archvile has attacks that require dashes to avoid, powerful AoD spells that mimic the original, and absurd summoning potential. It spawns enemies around you (even superheavy ones), while it hides in corners. It can even teleport around for good measure! The Tyrant is a tanky bastard that smothers the arena with rockets, fire, and lasers that lock down whole areas. Good stuff. As for the new additions, they end up targeting the gaps left behind in the roster. We have stuff like the Whiplash which constantly harasses you and inflicts crazy knockback, and the Carcass which places shields around enemy weakpoints. The weakpoints here don’t simply eliminate enemies, instead reducing the enemies’ options against you. Each enemy can deal with you at multiple ranges, and it is up to your skill to decide who to deal with. This creates some of the finest enemy prioritization ever.

On top of that, enemy combinations and arenas are set up in really neat ways throughout the campaign, with some of the later missions demanding more from the player than almost every other shooter I’ve played. Add the Slayer Gates and Master Levels and we have a game whose demands rival those of older action titles (like Ninja Gaiden and God Hand) and challenge maps from FPS modding communities. It’s crazy that id Software themselves have pushed the game so far, but this is 2020 after all. I’m genuinely stoked for future Master Levels, as the current ones have revitalized the flow of their base missions. This demonstrates a remarkable understanding of arena design. Most arenas tend to be asymmetrical and have efficient vantage points for both the player and enemies. Even the more symmetrical ones tend to be constrained, testing vertical movement options more.

As for what the player can do, your toolkit in Eternal is remarkably potent. Of course we have the dash and jump serving as the base for the movement kit, but adding the meat hook on the SSG, the Ballista boost, and air control rune gives us a very robust core for movement. There’s also the inertia and differences in how vertical/horizontal momentum are imparted by these options. As such, this core is capable of dealing with everything the game throws at you (and it throws a lot). Even then, new movement tech has been discovered (we have dash-jumping, bunnyhopping, superjumping, and mid-air circle strafing) further adding more options. The weapons in Eternal ultimately thread a fine line between accommodating workhorses and encouraging diversity. It’s also pretty great that almost every ammo type is shared across two weapons and that choices between the types is non-obvious. Each enemy can be dealt with an “optimal” method, but Eternal offers flexibility as you unlock more weapons, shifting even the weak point system to a non-essential, but still useful, part of your toolkit. Finally the equipment launcher offers some nice support tools, allowing you to flame belch/frag grenade/ice bomb while using another weapon.

All of the above combines to form a frenetic FPS with a lot of complexity and depth. One way to summarize this is by comparing it directly with stylish action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. You unlock more and more tools as you play, and the game throws more and more at you to compensate. Eternal also partially resolves a few issues with the action game formula, such as difficulty unlocks and encounter design. You have all the difficulties unlocked at the start and so you can start progression at any difficulty rather than patiently grind out lower ones. And as mentioned before, Eternal nails both enemy design and encounter design, effectively combining the best aspects of stylish action and FPS philosophy.

Now enough adulation. Here’s a list of issues with the game, that either I noticed or were brought to my attention by others:

1. UI and HUD: Important cooldowns and resource counts were huddled away in corners, and for a hectic game that relies so heavily on them it does become annoying to take your eyes away just to be aware of your own resources. One tip I received was observing them during glory kill animations, which does work but is certainly not ideal. There’s also the fact that ammo caps are important in this game, so being aware of all ammo capacities would be very useful. There are only 4 primary ammo types in this game, so something could’ve been bodged into place (the weapon wheel really isn’t ideal for the pace you can play this game at). Maybe placing the resource generators (chainsaw, flame belch, blood punch, ) near the center or the sides of the screen could have worked?

2. Extreme tutorialization: I’m in two minds about this. I’m glad that we get the introductions out of the way so Eternal can throw more interesting stuff at you faster, but I definitely sympathize with the sense of discovering stuff yourself (you can disable tutorials if you really want this back). But the weird situation with Eternal is that it conveys the weakpoints as the only way to deal with enemies, which is definitely not the case. I’ve heard someone refer to Eternal’s issue as “overtutorialization”. Doom Eternal’s tutorial popups give the impression that enemies are supposed to be fought by targeting their weakpoints, giving the false impression that Doom Eternal is about hard counters.

They explain a lot of information on the systems of Doom Eternal, but not much about strategy or theory, and the systems of Doom Eternal are weak points, glory kills, flame breath, chainsaw, and the specific features of certain guns, which can lead people to thinking that only some guns are good against some enemies, instead of thinking more robustly relative to their current situation. Prying off an enemy’s turrets might be helpful for surviving an encounter, but there’s always a faster way to kill an enemy outright, and glory kills are nearly always slower and less efficient. Chainsaw might regenerate and be the most immediate means of restoring your ammo, but arenas are stocked such that you can beat them with just the ammo provided if you’re efficient, even on nightmare difficulty (In the Ultra-Nightmare 100% speedrun, it’s very common to see runners hang onto chainsaw fuel for multiple fights to kill a heavy demon later on, and even at 1 fuel pip, they rarely need to use it, because they’re so efficient with found ammo in arenas).

Doom Eternal also fails to communicate some more subtle systems, such as that most light enemies will respawn indefinitely over the course of a fight, and fights are really about taking down the heavy enemies, which leads people to being wasteful with ammo/health and needing to rely on the chainsaw and glory kill to recharge. Doom Eternal simultaneously explains too much, but fails to teach the right lessons, but it’s difficult to fix, because a lot of the game is easy to miss for players lacking intuition and observation skills.

3. Opening: The opening few levels are sluggish. You really don’t have too many tools at the start of the game, so it does feel rather restricted compared to what follows. This is where I also sympathize with the “forced playstyle” complaints due to the flood of tutorials. This game really does not put its best foot forward. It only really opens up after Mission 3.

4. Platforming: The platforming is weirdly utilized. I don’t have an issue with the idea of platforming in shooters. It’s just that Eternal uses it as the connecting tissue between areas rather than part of the arenas themselves. I would’ve liked to see a few gimmick areas using platforming more; at most you get a monkey bar here and there. There’s a secret encounter that does this, and it’s pretty cute. I wish there were more like it, even as secret encounters. Also the walls for climbing can be difficult to identify against other surfaces and tend to be tucked away in corners, making it less obvious how to progress. There are many invisible walls, blocking apparently accessible areas, which can make hunting for secrets even more confusing.. There’s also the purple goop, which disables your ability to jump and dash, and forces you to walk at a slow crawl. There isn’t really a purpose to this goop, and some sections force you through it.. The goop can sometimes be avoided with good dashing, but it’s a weird addition. There is an arena early on that does use this, but I don’t think it works particularly well due to fewer movement options available. If you fall, you have to sluggishly walk out. Thankfully the goop is rare.

5. Marauders: These guys are poor additions to the roster. Attempting to actively kill a Marauder means focusing on the marauder, near exclusively, and waiting with the right weapon in hand. Marauders block all shots directly at them with their shield, but if you stand at mid-range, they will sometimes flash their eyes green, and charge at you. If hit with a burst fire weapon, like a shotgun or ballista, while they’re charging the Marauder will be stunned briefly, letting you hit them with whatever. This is the only consistent way to deal damage to marauders (admittedly, there are tricks that let you redirect his shield, hitting him from 2 sides at once).

What this means is that fighting Marauders normally means you need to stand mostly still, in his mid-range charge zone, and watch for whether he charges or shoots a projectile, while holding a burst fire weapon, so you can’t really fight marauders unless you commit to killing just the marauder and ignoring the other enemies. Realistically, this makes it so marauders are like a ranged add to whatever fight they appear in until the other enemies are cleared out and you can focus fire them. Of course, a bunch of strategies exist to cheese Marauders, but all of them involve following a strict set of instructions (fire 1 BFG to distract him, fire another directly at him; parry, then switch-cancel between super shotgun and ballista for a quick kill; lock-on rockets, fire a frost grenade behind him to redirect the shield, unload all your rockets on him). Marauders don’t create interesting decisions like the other demons do, because they demand such specific solutions. Rather than fulfilling a unique role in combat, they’re more of a minigame unto themselves.

The obvious solution to fix Marauders is to let their shields get popped, like plasma shield soldiers, but that means they no longer occupy a unique strategic role from plasma shield soldiers. The more subtle answer is to disable the Marauder’s shield at mid to close range, letting them only shield from afar (which also gives better feedback of when you’re at the proper range). This means marauders can be freely engaged, like other enemies, but only up close, so they’re still a ranged add in most situations, you still need to approach them, but you don’t need to play a high-focus minigame with them to deal damage. Of course, this removes the parry thing the team was going for, with managing the ranges. The solution to that is to give the Marauder super armor that can only be broken with a parry (and a little extra defense when they’re not being parried, to help incentivise going for the parry specifically. Maybe 50% extra). So now Marauders have a unique role in combat, but don’t demand you follow a specific solution or focus on them to the exclusion of other enemies.

6. Enemy Silhouettes: Fodder silhouettes are not ideal. This is especially noticeable when you face the Prowler, which kinda looks like a mix between the Imp and Gargoyle, but is actually a heavy. Their slightly larger size and purple color really isn’t enough, but I guess you can get used to it. The different basic zombie types take different amounts of damage, but they look samey. It also seems that setting up glory kills with the Shotgun on them is inconsistent, but you could always use the Heavy Cannon for finer increments of damage.

7. Unlock Systems and RPG Mechanics: They really went hard on this one. The Rune system is forgivable as it tries to encourage diversity of playstyles. Unlocking weapon mods is cool as you get more tools to use, and the weapon masteries are mostly worth the effort, but the upgrades in the middle feel like busywork. The Praetor Suit and Sentinel Crystal systems feel like entirely filler to me. Although by the end of the game you do unlock everything, it would have been nice to have most of these at the start.

8. Weapons and Equipment Launcher: I feel the Ice Bomb and Frag Grenade could have been on different buttons, it’s otherwise fairly clunky to switch between them as they are useful as attack strings. The weapon mods are also not entirely well balanced, but new use cases are being discovered so I could be wrong on this (also this might just stem from my playstyle). I also feel the Chainsaw at two pips is fairly useless; maybe allow for heavy removal with two pips when they are in a glory-kill state? As for the superweapons, the Crucible and BFG are rather boring. The Crucible just removes 1-3 enemies and that’s it. I wish more was possible with it, and I’ve heard some ideas like a ground slam and sword lunge. The Slayer’s Testaments mod for Quake allows it to hit multiple enemies, for instance. The BFG is a decent cleanup option and it does help with quickly eliminating superheavies, but is otherwise less interesting than the other weapons. The Unmakyr is a pretty decent superweapon and it’s probably the closest to interesting as it has a large spread from afar, but is an enemy deleter up close.

9. Ripatorium and Mod Support: The Ripatorium is a neat addition and has some cool hidden encounters (Archvile that summons twin buffed Marauders, good lord), but I wish it could be customized more. Also the lack of mapping features for this game is a real downer, especially because some juicy encounters could be made with that enemy roster and maybe even some neat platforming maps. The Master Levels do compensate for this partially, but I do hope for some mod support in the future. It might even be possible as the devs say they made the tools very easy to use, but creating a modding utility is still absurdly challenging for a AAA title.

10. Miscellaneous: The story is decent, but not as subtle as 2016’s, I guess. It’s good we can skip cutscenes this time though. The bosses are decent and nothing to write home about, which is commendable for an FPS. The ending was fairly weak as well.

That’s mostly it. Some of the above border on nitpick territory, but I feel that’s reflective of how strong a game Eternal is. It’s commendable that the Doom franchise itself is targeting the FPS trends it established. People praised Doom 2016 for buckling the trend that military shooters fell into. I praise Doom Eternal for something more. It’s far more ambitious a game as it breaks decades old habits and trends, while vastly improving a unique formula. We have the indie scene and mapping communities exploring the design space of older shooters, so I’m glad that it’s a AAA title that pushes the boundary this time. The Doom franchise means many things to different people, but one thing it doesn’t have is a hard-set identity. Each Doom game excels at different aspects. Doom 1 is this fusion of horror and action. Doom 2 is a more abstract, gameplay-oriented expansion pack. Doom 64 and Doom 3 opted to explore the horror side more. Doom 2016 serves as a return to form and criticism of the direction FPS took, but wasn’t as uptight about preventing cheese and forcing interesting decisions. Doom Eternal now criticizes the foundation of the genre itself and offers its own style of play based on soft counters, fostering interesting decisions. I for one am excited to see what they do next. It’s now clear that NuDoom and Classic Doom are fundamentally different games, and that’s for the better.

Turns out Doom is Eternal after all. 10/10.

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