Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia
DOOM Eternal builds on what was already great about the 2016 rebirth of the franchise. It offers relentlessly fast-paced FPS action, a lengthy single-player campaign with brutal difficulty, and a wide variety of weapons, power-ups, and gruesome finishing moves to discover. If you liked the 2016 DOOM, you'll like this one even more.
But Eternal isn't just a re-do of what we got four years ago. Instead, the franchise adds in a few new elements that help make things feel fresh, forward-looking, and experimental. Some of these new elements, most notably the emphasis on platforming, are going to be controversial. Others, like the online enhancements and XP system the game offers, suggest an exciting future for primarily single-player FPS games.
DOOM's gameplay loop
It's tempting to think of Eternal as a "classic" FPS game, since it's from a venerable franchise and it's so focused on "old-school" speed and intense action, but it's remarkable how unorthodox the game actually is. To survive in Eternal you need to start seeing the game's enemies as opportunities for "farming" health, ammo, and armor, rather than obstacles in your way. The gameplay loop involves platforming sections separating large-scale arena fights in which you have to keep moving and look for opportunities to stagger enemies so you can farm them to keep yourself supplied with resources. This farming element distinguishes Eternal from the vast majority of other shooters, and leads to a different sort of interaction with the enemies that fill the world.
After a few hours of warming up and unlocking some basic weapons and abilities, the game jumps from one epic highlight to another, throwing exhausting waves of enemies at you and forcing you to quickly adjust tactics depending on the specific heavy enemies that confront you. Different heavies have different weakpoints and are best taken out with specific weapons in your arsenal, and you'll quickly have those tactics internalized. The mixture of heavies (and eventually super-heavies) in different battles, along with the terrain you're dealing with, serves as the main driver of the game's challenge.
Enemies across the board are well designed, challenging you in different ways and keeping you on your toes. And as soon as you grow the slightest bit comfortable handling a specific type of enemy, the game throws another wrinkle at you - unleashing more of them at once, or versions with upgraded abilities, or mixing them together with late-game foes like the Marauder and the Archville, both of which can turn a difficult fight into a punishing one.
Eternal is challenging enough to test even seasoned FPS players, with its toughest moments coming as the game demands fast-reflexes and quick thinking stretched over battles that just keep going. You'll need a combination of rapid reactions and enduring focus to get through the hardest battles, and you need to fight against the impulse to just go on autopilot. A few seconds spent using a weapon that isn't optimal to your current situation, or running out of ammo at the wrong time because you weren't paying attention, can turn almost any fight deadly. Eternal demands attention, and won't show mercy if you try to take an easier, less mentally taxing approach.
Online elements and replay value
One of the most interesting aspects of DOOM Eternal is the way it uses online elements distinct from traditional multiplayer. Eternal feels like the answer to the question of how you make a AAA FPS title that's primarily focused on a single-player campaign appealing in an age ruled by battle royale titles. The game has built-in XP progression, with cosmetic unlocks to earn and rotating challenges, clearly inspired by the systems at work in games like Fortnite. The cosmetics aren't quite as important as they are in those solely multiplayer games, but the challenges look like they'll do a good job keeping the game fresh, encouraging players to replay campaign levels under different conditions and with different goals in mind.
People replayed 2016's DOOM again and again because it was one of the finest FPS games made in a decade, and Eternal is a game built from the ground up to be replayed. Each level is packed with secrets to find, and as you play you'll unlock cheats that can be applied when you revisit stages in the future. There are also ultra-challenging Slayer Gates and Secret Encounters in each stage, providing an even greater level of difficulty than the core campaign for those who want to seek them out.
A gothic world of blood and gore
Eternal looks and sounds great. It offers stunning environmental and enemy design, bringing heavy metal album cover nightmares to life, taking you to Hell, and covering Earth in gore. It also has a great sense of itself, treating the over-the-top gothic, bloody insanity on display with exactly the right amount of seriousness. When one of your early tasks in the games is to "Punish Demons in the Demon Prison," you know that Eternal is striking just the right note. It's less self-serious and "bro-y" than a game like Call of Duty while also featuring some of the most intensely violent visuals and action ever seen in a game. Importantly, though, Eternal isn't a self-parody. It's a game that knows exactly how awesome it is to shoot screaming demons in the face with a shotgun, and it celebrates that feeling of bombastic, Old Testament heroism at every turn.
2016's DOOM earned composer Mick Gordon a ton of well deserved praise, and Eternal is a worthy musical follow-up. The industrial metal, chugging percussion, and relentless guitars that kick in during fights are the perfect sounds to accompany the action. Even in the game's less intense moments, though, the sound design is top-notch. Sinister echoes, ominous chants, and distant screams really make you feel like you're in dangerous, hellish places.
One small area where Eternal falters is with certain elements of its story. While the narrative is mostly strong, and sets up some deeply satisfying payoffs and illuminating looks at lore questions, occasionally it feels like the game steps over the line into over-explaining and revealing things that might have worked better if they had been kept mysterious. It's a minor complaint, but because tone is so important to a game like Eternal, any cutscene that feels slightly off will stick out.
Jumping puzzles and other frustrations
At this point everyone knows that one of the big changes for DOOM Eternal is that the game has a lot of jumping puzzles and platforming elements. Air dashes, double jumps, and wall-climbing are major parts of how you make your way through the game, and this is likely to be the most controversial element of the title for players. It all mostly works just fine, and when it does it allows for mind-blowing level design where you transition quickly from "Where the heck do I go?" to "There's no WAY I can get all the way over there!" to "Wow, it actually worked!"
But there are a few too many moments where your path isn't clear, or where the window for error is a little too narrow, and you'll fall, take damage, and respawn over and over again. The developers deserve credit for how rare these sections are, given how much platforming there actually is in Eternal, but when you're stuck for ten minutes because you just can't do a jumping sequence right, you'll be frustrated in a way that doesn't feel quite right for a DOOM game. Kill me with enemies all day long, sure, but don't just drop me in a pit over and over.
Speaking of frustration - if you're playing on a difficulty level that's appropriately challenging for you, there are very likely to be a few fights in the game that cross the line from hard to maddening. A lot of the time this is due to the presence of a Marauder, an elite and thankfully rare enemy that requires all of your focus and skill to defeat. Some of the game's toughest moments involve battles that stretch on and on, and when you die at the end of one of those fights and have to go all the way back to the start, you can't be blamed for needing to take a break to cool down.
DOOM Eternal's multiplayer is a big experimental swing for the franchise. Rather than a traditional deathmatch format, Eternal has an asymmetrical multiplayer in which one Slayer takes on two player-controlled demons. Playing as the Slayer feels a lot like playing the normal campaign, while playing as the demons is a totally different experience. As a demon you can summon other, lesser demons, set up areas for healing your allies or damaging your enemies, and use a variety of other attacks and movement abilities depending on whether you're an Archville, a Mancubus, or even the dreaded Marauder.
This multiplayer mode doesn't always feel much like playing DOOM, at least on the demon side. Playing as a Marauder feels the most DOOM-like of the demon options, while playing many of the others presents a steep learning curve, and is more about area control, summoning, and resource denial than head-to-head FPS action.
It's interesting that multiplayer battles don't see the sides trading off the Slayer and demon roles (which would admittedly be hard to work out in a 2 vs. 1 format), instead just running the quick battles until one side gets three kills. There are abilities to upgrade during a match, and different loadout possibilities for different demons, which makes for some interesting metagame potential. But it remains to be seen how many DOOM fans actually take to this weird mutiplayer experiment, which can at times feel more like a MOBA than a multiplayer FPS match.