If there’s one thing I feel more acutely these days, it’s rage. Rage at my current unemployed self— towards crises beyond my control, to a certain person in the White House, to dipshits waiving guns and “liberate” banners in front of barbershops and Baskin Robbins. It’s rage every day, all the time. If Doom 2016 was a replenishing demon-run day at the spa, then Doom Eternal is the ultra-violent purge for our stir-crazy souls at this confusing and downright infuriating moment in time.
I sound like I’m about to get political, but I assure you I’m just angry; I’m struggling to stay sane and productive daily while raging against the machines. Doom Eternal hears me, lets me know that my rage matters.
If you’re looking for a plot rundown, you’ll have to read up on that somewhere else. I wasn’t paying attention during any cutscene because that’s not what I was here for. (Any mention of Khan Makyrs or “argent energy” was a reminder to refill my whiskey glass.) This isn’t to say the effort to inject Doom Eternal with a grandiose story was pointless. I just needed to let off steam, and Eternal bottom-line gave me that.
All you need to know can be gleaned from the game’s cover: Hell has invaded Earth, decimating much of the population, and you are humanity’s last salvation. Legends are unearthed, prophecies are foretold. What happens next is written via the mighty sword of the Super Shotgun, punctuated by the awesomeness of the BFG 10,000.
Gone are the meta-jokes that defined Doom 2016’s attitude towards self-serious shooters. John Carmack, former lead programmer of id Software and godfather of the Doom engine, summed it best: “Story in a game is like story in porn. It’s expected, but not that important.” Doomguy is no longer smashing intercoms to smithereens. Now, we need certain info, crucial context. Eternal takes its narrative and mythology seriously than perhaps the series ever has as the game strives for bigger, loftier ambitions. Some might groan at this 180 shift, but a little bit of grandiosity never hurt anybody.
If the point of every campaign shooter post-Call of Duty 4 is to bombard you with intense firefights – while showing off impressive mechanics and a glorious engine – then Doom Eternal is the gold standard. We are in the last wave of games before the dawn of the new console era, and Eternal squeezes every last breath out of this generation. I’ve never heard my Xbox work harder in its lifespan.
Design-wise, Eternal is a complete overhaul from its predecessor, which used a minimal red and grey scheme to render both its corporate and literal (if otherwise drab) hellscape. If what came before was a rough draft, then Eternal’s depiction is a chrome finish. From ruined cities to gargantuan fortresses to grotesque interiors like the insides of leviathans, the grandeur and devastation on display ought to make John Milton proud.
A broader canvas means a lot more demons per square footage. Massacring the damned deserves a proper arsenal, and Eternal’s revitalized weapons structure is a chef’s kiss made manifest. You don’t even fuck with a pistol anymore. It’s all systems go from the get.
The gun wheel from Doom 2016 remains largely unchanged. (Hey, if it ain’t broke…) Weapon upgrades are juiced up a dial or two and for the better. Whoever’s idea it was to give Doomguy over-the-shoulder Predator weaponry AND a meat hook attachment for the Super Shotgun deserves a goddamn raise.
What’s different this time around is the sheer combat customization. Rune upgrades provide versatility to the action with your choice of more mobility midair, brief slow-mo while scoping, or launching into glory kills further away. It’s endless what you can do and how you can straight up violate the Geneva Conventions. (The devil was most definitely harmed during the making of this game.) The overload of ability unlockables and refined weapons utility achieved something I didn’t think was humanly possible – it makes Doom 2016’s combat look like child’s play. The punishment doled out on the battlefield, as a result, is of biblical proportions.
I never approached any two stages of any chapter the same way. Some levels I took care of the fodder demons first to boost my confidence. Other times I’d methodically farm the fodder for resources as needed while battling Arachnotrons, Hell Knights, Mancubuses, and Revenants simultaneously. Each demon is a veritable pinata, providing you with armor shards, ammo pickups, or a clutch-saving health boost. But if a Marauder was ever in play to push my luck, they took precedence over all, and I had to get utmost creative with the layout of the map.
Marauders are new additions to the series and current pains in my ass. Described as a “defensive powerhouse,” the Marauder can only be attacked mid-range during brief windows of opportunity. Stand too close and he’ll catch you with his shotgun. Back away too far and he’ll launch projectiles or set a spectral hound on you. Never have I been more flustered than when a Marauder showed up.
Eternal is the most challenging shooter to come my way since Contra: Shattered Soldier. It’s harder than hell, but the fun lies in chaining your movements into an Old Testament-style fuck ‘em up. What was once an action ballet is now an all-out mosh pit. Concentrating on a Cyberdemon? Here’s some Pain Elementals to come at you sideways, Pinkies charging at you like linebackers, and an Archvile summoning even more swarms in case you were feeling confident. When the fighting starts, Eternal does not allow you a moment’s respite. “Rip and tear until it is done,” you are told by a higher power, and that’s as motivational a speech as you’re likely to get.
You’ll need a method to survive the madness, or perhaps just plain madness. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted by the gameplay on occasion. There were times I couldn’t recall how I survived the assault, but the glory of seeing demons diabolically dismembered on the map was satisfying enough. If you can pull off the breathless mayhem, you’ll feel as badass and formidable as a killer of the gods, or ostensibly like an actual god.
If I had a bone to pick with Eternal, it’s the platforming. You’ll jump-dash across expansive vistas, maneuvering perilous drops and scaling along steep cliffs, but the mechanics aren’t always seamless. You might require an additional try or two to reach that faraway ledge no matter how aggressively you toggle the stick. Or the map will throw in rotating fire bars straight out of Super Mario (on top of timed corridors) to really flex your hand-eye coordination. The level design will surely test your timing, other times your patience.
The tradeoff is that there is so much more room to play. Each combat stage is the arena mock-up you’re used to, but packed with vertical devices for your play-style to truly achieve liftoff. Monkey bars and air lifts used to be a means of temporary escape. Now it seems placed purely for combat amusement, to amp up the creativity of the slaughter. This is definitely the most vertical Doom game by far. I found myself fiendishly grinning after executing 2 Cacodemons and disabling a Doom Hunter before I even hit the ground floor.
Some of the boss battles aren’t nearly as fun as the mid-level skirmishes. But the game’s final boss – a hulking titan named the Icon of Sin – will go down as an all-timer for the series, if only for the sheer scale of the encounter. The entirety of the final chapter itself throws so many foes at you in the lead up to this colossal climax that it’s damned awe-inspiring. By the time I got to staring down this Demonic Kaiju in my crosshairs, I was dumbstruck. Frankly, all of the game’s previous chapters are mere training and tutorials for this massive showdown.
Let’s face it, we’re all battling demons during lockdown. Staying in is perhaps the most crucial thing we can do for each other despite how agonizing it might be. We may not be able to travel anywhere at the moment, but Eternal’s itinerary to hell and back is an epic heavy-metal escape to satisfy your wanderlust, or bloodlust. I said this in my Doom 2016 revisit but it bears repeating: if the modern FPS slate seemed clogged to oblivion, then Doom Eternal is a quadruple bypass of rip-roaring awesomeness. Fellow quarantined gamers, occultists, and weirdos in between, rejoice! Doom Eternal is paradise found.