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.

Dead Cells Review

Dead Cells for Nintendo Switch - Nintendo Game Details

Dead Cells bills itself as a Metroidvania Roguelike. It’s a 2d platformer, where you find randomized loot and fight through procedurally generated levels. You have 5 slots on your character for items: 2 weapons, 2 tools, and an accessory. Your basic options are to use your weapons or tools, jump, double jump, roll, chug a potion, ground pound, or generic use button.

Dead Cells’ big influence is from Metroidvanias, and I think the influence is definitely positive on the game, but I don’t think it’s really a metroidvania, and I don’t think making it more like a metroidvania would be good for it. Metroidvania is a design pattern across the entire map of a game’s world, where the map loops on itself, allowing areas from later in the game to fold back on areas from earlier in the game, where objectives are dispersed across this map to encourage unique routing. Despite technically not being a metroidvania, the level structure it chose for itself is still extremely effective in its goals.

Maps in Dead Cells follow a few simple patterns, having an obvious main path with a few detour side paths (Promenade of the Condemned, Ramparts, Stilt Village); branching off into many separate paths with different exits, and teleporters to carry you back (Prison, Toxic Sewers, Ossuary); and having one clear path with few diversions (Ancient Sewer, Slumbering Sanctuary, Forgotten Sepulcher). Metroidvania structure is based on interconnection within the levels, and across the world. Since levels in Dead Cells branch without looping, they can’t have Metroidvania style interconnection. The exception is High Peak Castle, which has 4 maps in one. A main map that has a looping structure, and 3 linear sub-maps that connect different areas of the main map, thereby making even more loops. Tactically, it also has less teleporters than most of the other maps. It’s the second to last level of the game, which I feel is an appropriate ramp up in complexity. Much of the actual level design within maps is looping, even if the maps as a whole don’t loop, which is helpful for weaving around enemies, avoiding their attacks, and picking good positions to attack back from. The sewers in particular have large blocks of the map with a swiss-cheese-like composition, filled with enemies. Again, I’m being a little pedantic about Dead Cells not really being a Metroidvania. The branching maps and dense level design they took from their inspiration make exploring in Dead Cells really fun and it’s definitely a lot stronger for that influence. If they went further and made levels loop more, it would likely have taken away from the focus on quick clear times and speed that they included into the game.

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Dead Cells generates maps for different stages that each have a recognizable character to them that’s distinct between maps, which is really cool! It makes the experience of playing each stage distinct from the others, and gives you a level of regularity in the level/map design that lets you build expectations about how best to tackle each stage, and make informed interesting choices. The teleporters scattered across maps help you double back from dead ends, which is very helpful in the timed levels. Because most levels have a clear directionality to them, you have a general idea of whether you’re getting closer to the ending. Only the clock tower is really misleading, because it’s totally possible to go up a whole tower and it ends up being a dead end. Promenade of the condemned and ramparts both have a linear top path, with branches that go straight down with optional goodies. Clock Tower has paths straight up that occasionally branch into 2. Ancient Sewer and Ossuary are linear with some short diversions. Stilt village has a linear path to the end, but some big buildings with multiple rooms in each, one of which you need to retrieve a key from. Slumbering Sanctuary is Y shaped, having you go on a linear path to unlock all the doors in the level, but also spawning a ton of enemies, then you have the option to teleport back to the beginning of the level and retread your path for extra goodies that get unlocked, or backtrack from where you are. Forgotten Sepulcher is mostly linear with short detours, the darkness gimmick making up most of the challenge of the level. And High Peak Castle is a full looping layout, as described before.

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Dead Cells encourages you to speedrun it, and will naturally give you a movement/attack speed buff for killing 9 enemies in quick succession, letting you refresh it with each enemy you kill. Every stage has a post-stage locked room that can only be unlocked by satisfying a special condition, either completing the stage before the timer from the start of your run has gone too long, managing to kill 30-60 enemies in the previous level without taking a hit, or beating a boss without taking a hit. Speedrunning is the easiest of these conditions to clear and on normal difficulty, speedrunning can give you powerful weapons early, as well as being one of the fastest ways to farm cells. The killstreak bonus helps compensate for players who are more methodical and careful, more invested in exploring the whole level before moving on, but if you get touched, you can lose a long killstreak you were one kill away from completing, without enough enemies left in the level to make it up, which can be painful. In any case, it’s neat to see both of these play styles rewarded.

Dead Cells has a lot of control concessions made to make the game feel more smooth. All attacks let you change their facing direction right up to the moment they become active. Most attacks let you cancel out of them with a roll or jump during the startup or recovery, they even implemented Dodge Offset, so you pick up an interrupted attack string from where you left off, which is helpful because most weapons have strings where attacks grow in damage on the 2nd or 3rd hit (or where the hitboxes are different). The Rapier notably avoids dodge offset, because the first attack is the strongest. It’s frequently wise to get in a few attacks, roll or jump away, then continue where you left off. Rolls also have a TON of invincibility, even long after the point you’d expect it to wear off. These generous cancel windows, combined with punchy animations give Dead Cells a very arcadey feel, without taking away from the feeling of weight and commitment, especially on the heavier weapons.

You’re given some basic movement options to work with in Dead Cells, a double jump, roll, and ground pound (called stomp). Certain gear and runes can give you new movement capabilities, such as a dash, an even faster dash, wallclimbing/jumping, or more double jumps. The character also has automatic vaulting animations for climbing up small obstacles, up ledges, or onto platforms. These have an extremely generous snap-to area, to the point that it can be kind of annoying trying to fall down narrow pits. This vaulting system can make traversing the level feel very fluid and simple, as you platform normally, but try to aim at snap-to points for traversal. Rolling will pass straight through enemies, even letting you pass through them for a little bit after it ends.

It’s becoming a rather basic and ubiquitous thing, but Dead Cells copies the Dark Souls style of healing, requiring you to hold down a button and go through an interruptable animation to heal yourself from a limited reservoir that heals a set percentage with each use, and is only refilled at the end of stages (though you can also heal through random drops, or buying food from merchants; and higher difficulties reduce and eventually remove your sources of healing). There’s also a mechanic called Sudden Death Prevention, which insulates you from death. Any hit that would kill while your health is over 25%, instead reduces you to 1HP. This can help preserve the fairness and integrity of encounters by avoiding 1 shots, but is also loose enough that it won’t get triggered from you getting whittled down by multiple weaker attacks.

Even early enemies have a fair amount of variety that can make your approach to them fairly different. Some enemies are strong on their own, most others require synergy from others to cover for their weaknesses. All enemies mix well together and tend to have differently shaped zones that they attack, and some can only be attacked from some angles. This means you need to think about which evasion option you’ll use, and whether you’ll end up in an unthreatened space. Since enemies cover different zones with their attacks, their attacks can overlap each other, creating unique situations based on their positioning and the environment. If you can catch an enemy alone, you can almost always overwhelm it before it gets a chance to hit back, unless it’s an elite enemy.

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Zombies cover a big horizontal sweep when they lunge. Shieldbearers do the same, except not as big, and if you attack them from the front, your attack will bounce off, so you need to roll to stay behind them, or find a way to stun them from the front. Grenadiers and its evolutions leave an explosion on top of you, which requires you to keep moving to avoid damage. Bats and Kamikaze bats both die in a single hit, but one is dangerous because it gets directly on top of you, the other because it hangs around out of range until it lunges across your space, both can be very annoying to deal with if you only have slow or short range weapons. Sweepers and other enemies have shockwave attacks that travel through the ground, and cannot be dodged through. Disgusting worms are slow and have a small attack range, but take a lot of hits to kill and launch 5 explosives when they die, so they can sponge up your damage, and if you’re in a tight space, it might be hard to avoid the fallout. Scorpions and Knife throwers can appear suddenly and quickly shoot ranged projectiles while you’re occupied with other enemies, but they can also have their ranged attacks interrupted easily. Thornys will hurt you if you backstab them, and their rollout attack leaves their backside facing you if you get hit. Impalers can create spikes under you, requiring you to move to another spot quickly or take damage. Protectors need to be prioritized because they’ll protect all nearby enemies until eliminated. Shockers need to be focused on quickly or avoided as they hit a massive circular AOE around them.

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Elite enemies can be very interesting. They have more health to prevent you from just obliterating them on the spot, and a number of special abilities, usually lasers that themselves attack a unique spatial zone, such as one that rotates around the enemy like a clock, a horizontal one that raises up across the screen, one that surrounds the elite in a large rectangular box to hurt you if you try to run away, a spherical one that surrounds the area directly next to the elite, a horizontal one that hits on both sides of the elite and needs to be jumped away from, a gem on both sides that need to both be destroyed in order to hurt the elite directly, and a gem that hovers above the elite and rains shots down on you as you try to fight it. Elites can also teleport after you once they’re below 50% health, so if you commit to fighting an elite, you better get ready to kill it or be killed.

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A lot of character progression across a given run is facilitated through levelup scrolls, of which there are about 2-4 in each level. These let you pick a stat to level up between brutality (damage focused weapons), Tactics (long range weapons), and Survival (Mostly boosts health, only the primary stat of shields and defensive powers). All of these multiply health and damage and boost the stats of mutations you have applied. You can pick a mutation after each stage, giving you a buff, I found mutations to be a bit underwhelming and they don’t get buffed much by levelups either. That said, they can help make character builds a bit more unique and I did find myself optimizing my character to overcome specific encounters, based on the weapon loadout I had available. Most of the mutations are insignificant in comparison to weapon upgrades or leveling up.

The other form of character progression in a run is through assembling a loadout with randomly dropped Gear. Gear is divided between melee weapons, ranged weapons, shields, traps & turrets, grenades, and powers. You have 4 equip slots, the first 2 holding weapons and shields from the first 3 categories, the second 2 holding utility gear from the latter 3 categories. Many locations in the game drop gear, from treasure chests to shops, to rooms where you can choose 1 item between 2 or 3 selections, all of the same value. Helpfully, the in-game timer is paused during in these rooms to help you make decisions (though you can turn this setting off).

Most weapons have a condition that triggers critical hits, such as striking repeatedly, hitting the enemy from a particular side (assuming the enemy has sides), pushing the enemy against a wall, being at close range or far, attacking after a roll, hitting multiple enemies, or multiple in quick succession, letting you charge it for a crit, or critting when the enemy has a certain status condition. Others might not crit, but still have useful properties, like inflicting a status condition, bypassing shields, knocking enemies back, lassoing you to the enemy, freezing enemies, or hitting across a unique zone. Together these can really affect what angle you try to attack enemies from in terms of distance, high or low, front or behind, how many you target at once, etc. Because multiple enemies can be overwhelming, crowd control is a big deal, and which weapons you have available affects your ability to manage a crowd.

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Weapons also have randomized loot effects that helps distinguish them from one another, and make your loadout more unique across playthroughs. Sometimes I’ve gotten abilities that synergize very well for massive combos, and debated giving them up for weapons with lower base damage than the combo, but a higher crit damage under more dangerous circumstances. Most special effects either inflict statuses or deal bonus damage to enemies currently affected by status conditions, so trying to line those up between your weapons adds a small layer of adaptation to your runs and can sometimes shift you away from your preferred weapons to pick up a high damage combo based on random drops happening to line up with each other. The overall table of effects is massive and many are tailored to specific weapon categories. Figuring out how to synergize weapon effects on the fly can be very fun during runs. Also seeing when you are about to have a special effect combo with another, and rerolling or watching out for the right effect to complete the combo. It adds a layer of meta strategy to how you approach a run, and it has a big effect on your damage output. I normally don’t use throwing knives, but getting a weapon that deals extra damage on bleeding enemies can make it worthwhile.

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Skills are gear that occupies the second two inventory slots, divided between Traps and Turrets, Grenades, and Powers. Skills work on cooldowns that take a while to refill, which can cost you time if you really want to use skills on multiple enemies in a row. Traps and turrets deal damage over time, sometimes inflicting status effects for even more DPS. The effect of these can depend on how mobile the enemy is, or the terrain. They tend to inflict more damage overall than grenades, but it takes longer for that damage to play out, which can be better or worse depending on whether a grenade would have oneshot the enemy or if you’re in for the long haul. Traps and turrets also effect different areas, such as a certain patch of ground, or anything onscreen along a horizontal line, or holding the enemy in place. Grenades vary between damage and status effects, some of which stun or hold enemies in place briefly, but in my experience the stun effects aren’t very helpful in comparison to that of the wolf trap or freezing weapons. Powers have a lot of varied effects that I’m not gonna bother listing here.

Dead Cells is an extremely fair game. All enemies have telegraphed attacks with a clear way to avoid them and even your most basic combat options are enough to beat any enemy. It’s always possible to get into any enemy’s face and smack them, then move out of the way when they’re going to attack. I feel like the hand of the king was more overwhelming than most, but I only fought him like 3-4 times total, so I can’t really judge. You have free reign of when to engage enemies, so if you end up in an inescapable situation, it’s your fault. The times when I died, I immediately said to myself, “Darn, should have done this.” I feel like across the many weapons you encounter on a given playthrough and all the mulligans you’re given, it’s nearly impossible to assemble a completely ineffectual loadout as long as you’re deliberately trying to succeed. Getting extremely effective layouts is more rare, but I’m not a speed runner (and they rely on static drops or custom game modes to reduce drop randomness), so it doesn’t really matter to me.

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Following in the roguelite design trend, there are permanent upgrades you can unlock with currency (cells) you earn in runs. Most of these are new gear that gets added everywhere across the game. You can upgrade the number of healing potions you have, you can add a random weapon or shield at the start, gain the ability to sell any piece of gear at a fraction of the cost, retain gold from the previous run (up to a maximum), and add new options to shops. There are also Runes that can be obtained by fighting elite enemies that spawn in particular parts of particular levels, instantly giving you permanent upgrades, mostly in the form of new traversal options, granting access to levels that are normally gated behind vines, teleportation sarcophagi, breakable floors, or tall towers that must be walljumped up. You collect blueprints from enemies that enable you to unlock new gear and mutations as you play. Some blueprints are in static positions, but most are rare enemy drops. The Hunter grenade is an item that lets you get a blueprint guaranteed from an enemy by turning it into an elite enemy, and weakening it, much like a pokemon battle, making the process of getting blueprints out of specific enemies less tedious. The legendary forge always appears after completing the first boss stage, allowing you to increase the drop rate of higher level gear you discover across runs, even up to 100% and across 3 tiers of upgrade. You are by no means required to get these upgrades to complete the game, and the game is specifically designed to be completable regardless of whether or not you have unlocked a variety of weapons and other upgrades.

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You gain a new boss stem cell every time you complete a run on a new difficulty level. Later difficulty levels have different combinations of enemies, with new effects and more health/damage, and less healing readily available, but temper it with allowing you to upgrade weapons further, and gain more levelup scrolls during levels so you can ascend to a higher level of power. There are many doors leading to bonus rooms that can only be opened when you’re on a certain minimum difficulty, with more becoming available as you go. I’ve only made it to very hard mode, but looking at the list of changes between difficulties, the higher difficulties look extremely scary, demanding a level of perfection, while also bombarding you with enemies that track you tightly with teleportation.

Dead Cells actually has a number of hidden or subtle mechanics, such as Rally, taken from Bloodborne, where you can recover immediately lost health by attacking enemies. Breach is Dead Cells’ version of Poise from Dark Souls. Enemies and weapons take/inflict different amounts of breach damage, depending on the enemy’s state, and too much breach damage will inflict the stunned status on enemies, preventing them from acting for a second. This can be useful for crowd control. There is a speed buff granted for killing 9 enemies in quick succession, letting you refresh it with each enemy you kill. Curses will kill you instantly if you take damage, unless you can kill 10+ enemies first. Liquids on the floor can be frozen or electrified, and prevent enemies from burning. Breaking through doors will instantly stun enemies, and some weapons even take advantage of this. These touches can be really significant in your moment to moment strategy, even if they’re subtle.

Dead Cells is extremely successful at its core competencies. It has a genuinely varied set of enemies and weapons that interact uniquely and synergize amongst each other. It has level design that frequently changes how you approach encounters. The only thing I’d say holds it back is that each weapon can only perform 1 attack, and while there are certainly synergies between the elemental types and critical hits of different weapons, only having 2 weapons and 2 cooldown powers is kind of limiting. There could be more movement and defensive options and there could be more types of obstacles in the levels than just spikes, chainballs, and acid/poison pools. Even so, it asks you to carefully consider your position, movement, and choice of option in a way that is different per encounter, and which naturally shifts over the course of most encounters. You can approach a lot of early encounters as rushing down whichever of the 2 enemies is more vulnerable, then locking down the lone enemy that remains, but this gets harder on higher difficulties and later stages as you have more to worry about, and enemies get more competent individually. Dead Cells has a large number of combat abilities that by themselves would be very deep in an NES era game, and lets you pair them up and play off the environment with them. When encounters have 3-4 enemies, or 2 complex late-game enemies is when I feel like the game really starts to shine, as you can’t perform a quick rushdown and unload all your ammo and abilities to get an enemy out of the way quickly, or focus fire an enemy without worrying about another interrupting you.

I’m really conflicted on the score to give this game. My anti-hype gut says 8, my personal like and enjoyment of the game says 9, and a lot of my mechanical reasoning wavers between 8 and 9. I think I’ve given some games on its level a 10, so it’s a really tough call. I think I have to go with a 9.

A Critique of Doom Eternal’s Story

Doom Eternal - Doomguy Confronts Khan Maykr Scene - YouTube
There have been some complaints about the story of Doom Eternal in comparison to Doom 2016, and I’ve gotta say, I agree. Doom Eternal’s story is disappointing, largely because it doesn’t build on the premise of 2016 and introduces a bunch of characters that we don’t get any time to become attached to as villains. That said, this has absolutely no bearing on Doom Eternal’s quality as a game. It’s a vastly better game than its predecessor, and is one of the best FPS games ever released, very possibly the most tightly tuned FPS game ever released, in a way reminiscent of fighting games, in a way stylish action games should be envious of.

I know I have a bit of a reputation for being “fuck story”, but it’s not that I don’t enjoy stories or enjoy analysis of them. I’m willing to put up with an actively bad and obtrusive story in the name of a good game and likewise I can appreciate good stories from bad games (Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver is my go-to example for this). I don’t want to build a platform where I’m expected to have a nonsense hardline position where it doesn’t make sense.

Some people have been complaining about the story of Doom Eternal, and I think their complaints have merits. Anyone saying the lame story makes the game bad can shove it.

I enjoyed Doom 2016’s dismissal of story elements by the main character. I thought the core concept of 2016 was good, corporation leverages hell to power energy crisis earth, devolving into intracompany demon cults going rogue and fucking everything up. Hayden is like, “but energy tho” and Doomguy does not give a single fuck. We have a neat sequel hook of Hayden betraying us at the end, and Eternal just does absolutely nothing with that. Continue reading

Doom 2016 Review (Guest Post by Durandal)

Editor’s Note: This is another guest post by Durandal. Join our discord for more in-depth gameplay discussion. http://discord.gg/EfPY4r9

DOOM (2016) was the first game to mix character action design with first-person shooting. Unfortunately it also half-assed the execution. But, that means there’s plenty to learn from its mistakes.

First, some context. DOOM (2016) plays nothing like DOOM (1993) (henceforth referred to as nuDoom and olDoom). In olDoom combat and exploration intertwined, but most combat in nuDoom takes place in locked-off arenas. This was done to get around the Door Problem in olDoom and encourage aggressive play. Long-term resource management through item placement shifted to short-term by having fallen enemies drop most of your resources. You will spend most of your resources in the arenas where most of the enemies are, so this change makes sense. To make up for the simple enemy AI, olDoom relied on placing the enemies by hand and designing the levels around them. Trying to kill and trying to run past the enemies were equally risky. But in nuDoom, the enemies (and the player) have more movement options. To allow the enemies and player to exert their newfound mobility, the layouts became more circular and vertical. And instead of enemy placement, encounter design in nuDoom relies more on mixing different enemy behaviors. However, enemy design and level design is where nuDoom falls flat the most.
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Guest Post: Durandal on DESYNC

Ed Note: This is our first guest post here, from Durandal, about DESYNC, originally posted to the shmup system11 forums. It was written on June 3rd of 2018, and the game has been patched a few times since, so not all the details are correct for the modern version, which has slightly easier to understand language and tutorials, but it should still give a good overview of the game. If you would like to submit a guest post, join the discord and pitch it to me. I do not earn any money from this site and I will credit you as you would prefer to be credited.

I recently tried my hand at a lesser known FPS called DESYNC: a poly-neon arena shooter about killing with skill á la Bulletstorm. It’s so obscure, only me and a handful of other people know how you’re really supposed to play this game. In fact, this post might very well be the most informative source of information about DESYNC on the whole Internet. Continue reading

DBFZ Impressions

What’s your opinion on FighterZ so far?

Alright, I checked out the DBFZ beta while it was up. I played some ranked, and honestly got my ass scraped. Had like, a 50% win ratio exactly. Feel like I gotta count my losses too.

Felt like I had no idea what the hell I was doing or how anything fit together, but then I watched a vid that explained the universal moves and the basic combo mechanics and it made a lot more sense. Once I actually got the game, I started winning a lot more, and overall the pieces fit into place a lot more, it can just be a bit rough starting out.

I’m gonna use anime numpad notation, so look that up if you don’t know it. 2M and 6M are a universal low, and a universal overhead respectively. 6M is a lot like the 3rd strike UOH, but it can’t be hit meaty, and doesn’t chain or cancel into anything, so unless you call an assist before using it, you can’t combo off it. 2M is a sweep that usually moves forward a bit.

Dragon rush is this game’s equivalent of throw, but it has a startup period before rushing forward to grab. It has low priority, so anything with range will knock you out of it. It sometimes loses to normals, always loses to beams, it’s a pretty crappy throw. It also serves as your snapback, letting you force the opponent’s character out if you land it. Since it has a startup, tick throwing in this game is basically absent. You’re only gonna get tick dragon rush off maybe an assist block pressure, or a reset really. Otherwise, you need to make them scared enough to continue to hold block long enough for the dragonrush to start up, and that’s probably reactable. This means that if you want to fuck up someone who is blocking, you need to mix them up, high and low.

Also, you can cancel ground pressure into superdash, vanish, or S (Ki Blast) to extend it. Ki blast can be canceled into projectile specials, then super, which sometimes can serve as a weak confirm, however your real damage comes from either confirming into H, or getting a combo off 2M.

So that’s the next deal, there’s an interesting progression in the combo system that has all these parts that are really easy to tack on to add up to bigger and bigger combos. First you have the L and M autocombos, which do like 2 normal hits, then a unique attack, then for the L combo, it leads into a launcher, then hard knockdown, and for the M combo, it does the 3 hits, then cancels into special, then super. There doesn’t appear to be any scaling on these, so they get decent damage, like a quarter to third of someone’s health. If you hold back, you can get the unique 3rd hit, without getting the rest of the autocombo. So you can confirm off random hits in neutral, then autocombo your way to victory as an introduction, then you can ramp up to doing L > M > H, which the tutorial shows you how to do. 5H and 2H are your launchers. 5H will launch horizontally and wallbounce, and is usually a big poking move, 2H launches vertically, and is invincible to air attacks, which is important. Then you can do an air combo like L > M > H for a hard knockdown, and then super when you land.

Once you’ve gotten those basics down, you can get a bit more mileage in a couple different ways. First, you can do 2M to sweep, then 5M to launch from the sweep and jump cancel the 5M to follow into the air. Then in the air, instead of doing L > M > H, you can do L > M and jump cancel into another L > M, then cancel to special, then to super. Or, instead of the special into super, you could do 2H, which launches them even higher, and lets you follow up into L > M > special > super. You could also vanish instead of super, letting you combo the wallbounce from vanish into dragon rush for a snapback. You can integrate these combo extensions at pretty much any point for a little extra damage, and far as I know, they’re universal across the cast. Even if you don’t do 2M > 5M, you can still integrate jumping L > M double jump L > M from the H launchers.

Oh, and the chain system is weird, you can chain any button into any other version of that button, but you can’t have the same move in a chain twice, so you can chain 2M > 5M or 5M > 2M, but not 5M > 2M > 5M, which is what would lead to a launch, if possible. This also means you can chain 2M > 6M, the low into the overhead, but 6M cannot chain, so the overhead only combos with an assist.

Beyond that, there’s advanced character-specific combos, which involve comboing off specials or using assists or other business to extend, but still, there’s a basic template that lets you get a good combo, which you can steadily ramp up through and improve at without adding too much complexity at any given point. It also means you can pick up a new character and figure out how to do basic-bitch combos with them fairly quickly by following this template.

The superdash is a big deal, it’s kind of like a street fighter jump, in that it lets you get in, it’s safe on block, and combos on hit, but if they’re paying enough attention to AA you, there’s not a damn thing you can do, and they’ll get pretty decent damage off it to boot. 2H is completely air invincible, so if properly timed, it will beat superdashes clean. Superdashes can come out quickly however, and are tough to react to at close range. They deal a hit as they come in, which can be combo’d off. If blocked, then the attacker is not punishable, and they can get out an attack before hitting the ground, making it kind of a mixup scenario on block, which I’d guess is weighted slightly in the defender’s favor. The attacker can also double jump on block to make it almost completely safe. Unlike normal aerials, superdash can be blocked low or high, and you can cancel into superdash from L, M, and H, extending pressure. This move is gonna be the noob killer, because of how difficult it is to react to and shut down and how high priority it is. It goes through small ki blasts, but can’t go through beams and larger projectiles, so you can use those as a less guaranteed and lower reward anti-air, albeit with less harsh timing requirements than 2H. Superdash also has reasonably high priority vs normals.

I’m a bit disappointed by the tutorials and combo trials. The tutorials explain the bare basics, but don’t explain how to play the standard game, or that 2H is invincible. And it’s lacking Guilty Gear Revelator’s more advanced mission modes that fill in that type of information. The combo trials are also fairly simple, and don’t really go through the ramp up in complexity that I mentioned, at least, not nearly as far as Guilty Gear Revelator’s. So a lot of people are gonna have to go online to learn more information about the game, which is disappointing, and might detract from the image of the game, as people get stymied by simple tactics.

The game has a ton of hidden features, both character-wise and system-wise, so it’s shaping up to be an excellent game overall. My notes file on the game is huge. I like the game a lot so far, but I haven’t dedicated much time to improving in it.

Absolver Impressions

What’s your take on Absolver? It’s an online brawler with big emphasis on customization, reminds me of God Hand:

It’s interesting, and manages to make single and multiplayer combat work fairly well in the same system by taking a lot of the lessons from dark souls and increasing the pace slightly. It’s just kinda simple because you don’t have access to that many attacks at any given time, and can’t switch stances very quickly. Continue reading

First Impressions on Icons: Combat Arena

What do you think of Icons: Combat Arena?

Literally everything about this game looks bad.

The name is bad, coming off as generic or misleading. The characters aren’t iconic, they’re unknown. The name doesn’t sell the unique premise of the game or stand out in any way.

The character designs are bad, looking like bargain bin MOBA characters. The only one that stands out as being distinctive or identifiable to me is The Kidd and I dislike the way he looks. They lack personality and a big part of making a fighting game appealing to people is giving the characters personality.

The sound effects are weak, sounding like someone punched a pillow while wearing mittens. The particle effects are lacking, using the same hitspark for practically everything. Attacks don’t seem to have any hitstop, especially not smash style hitstop where the character will vibrate for a bit before being sent outwards.

The animations are especially bad. They have extremely weak or non-existent anticipation phases, and almost no followthrough. The biggest problem is just that the posing is weak and not exaggerated nearly enough. The lack of hitstop doesn’t help. Most motions just go straight from A to B with no breakdown or anticipation, sort of just popping into place. People tend to underestimate the amount of exaggeration you actually need to make an animation look impactful.

As for the moveset design, I’m seeing Fox, Captain Falcon, Ganondorf, Marth, and an original character. If the game is just going to be practically a carbon copy of melee but worse, why the hell would anyone play it?

This is the problem with Smash Clones. Smash Bros is an extremely detailed game, in every facet of it. It has detailed models, animations, mechanics, sound effects, and more. Smash Clones don’t put in the work to recreate all of that. They don’t put in the work to develop new systems that have as much detail as smash’s systems. There’s a ton of traditional fighting games out there, and they all have very different plays on what you can do with that control scheme and game mode. We have a few smash clones, a few platform fighters, and they all have very samey plays on smash mechanics, with a little extra. Rivals is smash except without grabs, with parries, and no ledge, plus ridiculously broken recovery. Brawlout is smash with no blocking of any kind. PSASBR is smash except no DI, and only supers kill.

If Smash Bros is Street Fighter, then we’re not seeing KoF, we’re not seeing Guilty Gear, we’re not seeing Marvel 3, we’re not seeing Samurai Shodown. Smash Clones aren’t very good at copying smash and they aren’t very good at making their own appeal. Project M got all this stuff right, but it also inherited a lot of its backbone from Brawl.



Tekken 7 Overview

Have you played Tekken 7? If so, what do you think of it?

I’m playing it now, I’m still learning how Tekken works, not really having any 3d fighting game experience and I think I’m starting to get it after a lot of studying, guide reading, and a little play with friends and ranked netplay.

Like, the framedata is REALLY different from the fighting games I’m used to. Nothing faster than 10f startup? Different inputs? Everything except jabs is minus on block? -13 is mostly safe? Block in the standing position by default with lows and throws being the reaction tester guard break options? Pressure with jabs is real and loops into itself, but it can be ducked and whiff punished? Continue reading

Hollow Knight Review

I feel like Hollow Knight sits somewhere at the intersection of an older style of game and a newer style of game. Older in that many enemies have contact damage, and simple geometric movement patterns and newer in that the main character and enemies have a significant number of animations, which don’t necessarily have instantaneous startup, and have varied effects across their play time. It leans way more heavily towards the older style however.

The health system is interesting. You have a limited number of hits you can take, and attacking enemies lets you gain souls, used to heal, so only by attacking and killing enemies can you gain a source of healing, which is cool. Feels a bit like what Joseph Anderson suggested BloodBorne was trying to do, and a bit like Doom. The amount of enemies you need to kill to fill it up and the amount of health pips it will heal are not the same, you need to kill more enemies to fill it up than it will heal in pips. Killing enemies when it’s full is a waste, so if you’re down a pip, it’s more efficient to heal first, then kill them, but it take a while to heal, so there’s risk inherent in trying this. Versus stronger enemies you can have a loop of attacking them and pulling back to heal. In boss battles where they have a lot of health, you can go through loops of attacking them and healing when you find opportunities, or shooting them for extra damage. The heal animation is so long that few enemies give you opportunities to heal however.
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