Saturday, April 11, 2020

Doom Eternal

As a fan of both Doom (2016) and Doom VFR, Doom Eternal was an easy buy for me, as I immensely enjoyed the fast-paced FPS action of those games and wanted more like it. I also ended up going in partially blind, as I hadn’t seen anything after the initial E3 trailer, so this was a very fresh experience with no unrealistically high expectations. After a delay in receiving my copy, due to a miscalculation related to COVID-19, I sat through and proceeded to rip and tear through the forces of hell. While I had an absolute blast most of the time, I found myself more frustrated during the final stretch, as the minor flaws in this installment’s approach to game design magnified greatly by that point.

Two years after the events of Doom (2016), Earth has been overrun by demonic forces that have wiped out 60% of the population. The Doom Slayer goes down to Earth from his Fortress of Doom to kill the Hell Priests responsible, but before he can kill the remaining two, Khan Maykr, ruler of the angelic Maykrs, teleports them away to parts unknown. Undeterred, the Doom Slayer is hellbent on using any means necessary to finish the job and save Earth.

Rip and Tear

Much like Doom (2016), Doom Eternal employs a minimalist narrative style where the story isn’t served through lengthy cutscenes, but rather quick exchanges between characters. Whatever cutscenes are there are just long enough to keep the player invested and get right back into the action. These cutscenes also feature some well-timed humor from the Doom Slayer’s silent reactions to the events around him, such as pulling a man by the neck with no hesitation just to swipe his keycard and open a door. Towards the middle of the game, however, we also get a flashback scene, also done in this quick style, that adds more depth to the Doom Slayer by giving an idea of who he is and how he came to be so powerful. I appreciated this, as it helped flesh him out without significantly changing the spirit of the game.

Doom Eternal also continues in the “modernized old-school FPS” gameplay style established by its predecessor, but naturally features new twists to keep things interesting. The most immediately noticeable change, and one that colored my entire playthrough, was that Eternal ramps up the difficulty. Enemies are faster and stronger and can tank more damage, meaning that mobility is even more important now. I’ll admit here that this was to the point where I eventually dropped down from “Hurt Me Plenty” (Normal) to “I’m Too Young to Die” (Easy). This was mainly for the sake of completing the game in a timely fashion, but I don’t really regret it, as the game makes no effort to shame you, instead encouraging you to play the way that makes you feel comfortable. Every once in a while, I also actually missed how comparatively simple the previous game was, but I’ll get to that later.

A good amount of this increased difficulty comes not just from the addition of new demons and the shifting of how damage works, but also the increased complexity of the combat. The arena style of the previous game is back, but now with much more of an emphasis on mobility. The Doom Slayer can now dash twice in a row to control distance and there are now monkey bars and more boost pads within the environment to control elevation. Enemies now also have specific weak points to keep track of, which really stretches your ability to divide your attention within the heat of battle when surrounded by an army of demons. There are also new obstacles to track, including the Buff Totem, which appears in certain areas and infinitely spawns buffed demons with increased power and speed until you destroy it. Adding to the complexity is the ability to find and upgrade weapon mods, as well as upgrade the Praetor suit, increase capacities with Sentinel Crystals and gain new abilities with Runes. One change made to help mitigate the difficulty is the introduction of Extra Lives, which are located throughout different levels, though they’re not always easy to obtain.

Doom Eternal has a variety of interesting locations.

The Doom Slayer’s arsenal has undergone some changes, which includes the addition of some new tools. Gone is the Pistol, as players now start with the more powerful Shotgun right out the gate, a change that reflects how players approached the previous game. Apart from this, the most notable additions are the Flame Belcher, which sets enemies on fire and causes them to drop armor; Ice Bomb, a Frag Grenade variation that freezes enemies; the Meat Hook attachment for the Super Shotgun, which pulls the Doom Slayer toward enemies and ties into the game’s heavy mobility focus; and the Chainsaw, which consumes fuel and causes enemies killed by it to drop ammo. There’s also the Crucible, a special sword that can kill any demon in one swing, but consumes charges to function.

The Flame Belcher is a small, but significant addition to combat.

By far the most powerful new weapon, actually a returning legacy weapon, is the Unmaykr, which consumes the same ammo as the BFG 3000 but rapidly fires in a spread pattern. To balance its power, the player is required to obtain six Empyrean Keys by finding and completing six Slayer Gates, which teleport the player to a special arena filled with powerful enemies. The player can also find Cheat Codes that alter how the game is played, usually in beneficial ways. There’s no penalty for using them, but they can only be used through the Mission Select screen and their use cuts off access to Slayer Gates, so you’ll have to get the Empyrean Keys the hard way no matter what.

Between most levels, the player can explore the Fortress of Doom, where they can view toys and albums they’ve found throughout the campaign, as well as use Sentinel Batteries to unlock different upgrades or alternate suits for the Doom Slayer. Additionally, there’s a room where players can play the complete original Doom (1993) and Doom II (1994), though the former is locked behind finding every single Cheat Code in Doom Eternal and the latter behind a cheat code of its own (entered into a computer). The best thing about the Fortress of Doom, however, is that is serves as a good breather, allowing players to complete the game at their own pace instead of going directly between missions like in Doom (2016).

If there’s one real complaint I have with the experience, however, it’s that upping the difficulty from Doom (2016) feels like a double-edged sword. For clarification, I don’t have a problem with the level of difficulty, as it keeps the player on their toes and victories feel earned, but rather the execution as the end of the campaign draws closer. One of the smaller complaints in this department is the increased reliance on killing demons with a chainsaw to refill ammo, as your ammo capacities and ability to refill them are more restricted than in Doom (2016).

You're gonna use the Chainsaw a lot.

Compared to Doom (2016), there are a number of new demons, including returning ones with an art direction that more closely reflects the designs from the classic Doom titles. Among these, a handful feel cheap for the wrong reasons, aside from enemies being able to tank more damage in general. The new Whiplash demon, for instance, is more difficult to hit than other demons due to the quick, frequent snaking in its movement pattern and its propensity to hug the ground before getting up to attack, which considerably varies its hitbox. Archviles return from the classic games, though now they act as mobile Buff Totems that appear without warning, plus they now have a flame shield that allows them to tank hits from weapons like the BFG 3000, making them harder to kill to stop the infinite swarm of buffed demons.

Speaking of cheap shots, in spite of the increased emphasis on mobility, some stages have sections with purple goo all over the floor, preventing the player from jumping or dashing. To make matters worse, the goo is also effective at hiding the new Tentacle enemies, which can pop out of the ground and take a pot shot at you if you’re not prepared for them. While normally you’d have a sense of where they are with clearly marked spawn points, the purple goo obscures them, so you have to keep your finger on the trigger during these sections.

By far the most frustrating demon, however, is the new Marauder. Its abilities are very similar to the Doom Slayer, which is a neat concept, but it’s not so great when they’re a regular enemy type. The Marauder’s power set is very defense-oriented, with faster movement speed than the Doom Slayer and a shield that blocks everything, including the Crucible, BFG 3000 and Unmaykr. Distance is also a factor, as it swings energy blades with its Ardent Axe if you’re too far away and fires its own Super Shotgun at you if you’re too close. If that wasn’t enough, it can also spawn a flaming wolf with a small hitbox that also moves quickly and has a bite attack that obscures the screen and slows the player’s movement. And if that still sounds too easy, Marauders are also often accompanied by other demons, including Whiplashes, yet still demands your complete and undivided attention.

Get ready for the fight of your life.

Of course, the Marauder isn’t invincible. It’s vulnerable when its eyes glow green and it’s not immune to splash damage, so rockets and grenades aimed at the ground nearby do decent chip damage. Plus, you can cheese a win by staggering it with Super Shotgun and Ballista shots during and outside of its intended vulnerability window. However, its sheer speed can make it hard to hit even when you do have the chance and every encounter slows the pace of combat down to a crawl, turning the fight into a test of patience more than skill.

I also felt weary as I went through the final stretch of the game, since it seemed to slowly give up on the “tough but fair” philosophy in favor of the “kitchen sink” approach, filling increasingly small arenas with increasingly large groups of demons. This didn’t truly come to a head until the final level of the game, where one particular building perfectly encapsulated this feeling. In this section, you have to fight every enemy type all at once, then do it again but with multiple copies of every heavy and superheavy demon thrown into the mix, then fend off a Marauder that’s joined by Imps, Gargoyles and Revenants, then one last round where you fight an Archvile and all of the buffed enemies he summons. I realize that this section was meant to test every skill you’ve learned and your knowledge of every enemy weak point, sort of like a final exam, but this went on for so long that I stopped having fun, since I had no idea what I needed to prove anymore.

Imagine, at some point, a room full of demons of nothing but this class.

There are also the last two bosses, which felt like a letdown compared to their predecessors. For the penultimate boss, it had a very limited power set and a regenerating shield that you have to break six times before it finally goes down, which dragged things on just a little too long. The limited power set also gives way to a reliance on stage hazards, so you have to play “the floor is lava” about halfway through the fight while dodging Hammer of Dawn-style beams. Health and ammo are also scarce in the small arena in which you fight, so you also have to rely almost exclusively on scoring headshots on the enemies that accompany the boss. Following this boss is also the final boss, which felt a bit too easy, especially by comparison, with very little in the way of real strategy through another dragged out fight.

I know that I just spent seven paragraphs complaining about the execution of the difficulty, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the game. In fact, I really enjoyed the game and found the skill required to complete it thrilling, it’s just that these blemishes left a bad taste in my mouth.

As far as any glitches, I did come across just one where I somehow fell through the map and into an infinite void while trying to get back onto a boost pad and could see the entire level geometry. I wasn’t able to reproduce this, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Since you’ve gotten this far in the review, you may be wondering what the Battlemode multiplayer is like. However, I won’t be talking about this mode because I didn’t want to make the Bethesda account the game tries to force you to have on startup (because enough game companies have my data already and Bethesda isn’t exactly known for their lack of data breaches). Without this account, it’s very likely I won’t be able to take advantage of the asynchronous Invasion feature that will come later down the line, not that I’ll really lose much.

If you’re like me and want to play Doom Eternal without having a Bethesda account, all you have to do is disconnect from the internet before you launch the game. I’ve had success with disconnecting after launching the game, but your mileage may vary there. Also know that once you get to the main menu, you can reconnect to the internet without risking another screen asking you to make/have an account.

The voice acting was pretty good for what was in the game. Returning voice actor Darin De Paul puts on a good performance as Samuel Hayden, delivering some pretty funny lines with a straight deadpan that elevates the humor. Kevin Schon’s Vega filled in a similar role as the Doom Slayer’s computer while Edward Bosco plays double duty for both the Marauder and the final boss with threatening vocalizations. Out of all the voice actors, however, the most surprising was Nika Futterman as Khan Maykr. I know her best for some more comedic character roles, so Khan Maykr showed me that she has range and can play a threatening villain pretty well.

Nika Futterman shows range as Khan Maykr.

By far one of the best things about Doom Eternal, however, is the killer score by Mick Gordon, who also scored Doom (2016). All of the songs are pure fire, as the heavy metal approach provides the perfect background music while the player rips and tears through what is arguably already a very metal game. It’s so good, in fact, that as soon as they announce a physical CD of the soundtrack, I’ll want to own it alongside my physical CD copy of the Doom (2016) soundtrack.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled FPS that challenges the upper limits of your skill while still remaining (mostly) balanced and backed by one of the best soundtracks of its kind, then Doom Eternal is the game for you. In spite of my personal issues with the difficulty, especially towards the end, it’s easy to recommend this to any fans of Doom or FPSs in general and I’m looking forward to the next game. Just keep in mind that even though it doesn’t get in the way of the action, there is more story and lore this time around.

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