Review General Critiques

DOOM Eternal

If you asked me, before Eternal had came out, from the footage I had seen and the gameplay mechanics the developers were asking, I would say that Eternal solved DOOM 2016’s biggest issues with its sandbox and, on top of that, expanded into a more complicated system which I would normally praise. Unfortunately, that’s the sort of thing thoughts that you have when you get to see cool gameplay but you don’t actually get to experience it for yourself.

Doom Eternal is weighed down by not even bad, but horrendously poor design wherein the combat has turned into a “puzzle” that the developers want you play the “right way” which I’m sure raises red flags to anyone with some sense, but to beat it home at the end of this I’ll link the developers reacting to a speed run.

Gameplay

From the outset, or even gameplay videos like some of stuff I’ll provide here to make the game look cool, and it’s worth noting, that the overall sandbox is actually fairly improved from 2016. The main problems however are that by comparison to 2016 which starts off strong and only gets stronger, Doom Eternal does not actually really open up until the player has the Super Shotgun, and the reason why it opens up there is… All sorts of wrong.

If Eternal was a straight upgrade to 2016, this is where I’d largely be singing its praises: the Super Shotgun and its new Meat Hook fixes one of the only real issues I could take up with 2016: your fastest way of getting around was facing backwards, which obviously just isn’t that acceptable for a few reasons. But that elation in exploring the potential with the Meat Hook gets dampened fairly quickly: as cool as it is, you’re constantly having to swap to the Super Shotgun to use it.

This wouldn’t be so much of a sin in and of itself in light of 2016; using the Gauss Cannon required swapping to it quickly so it’s definitely in the normal set of skills, but when you consider the console port of the game, you see comments like players not even really using the Meat Hook except where they had to for a specific boss fight.

So when the player has access to a highly impotent flamethrower whose only purpose is to make enemies drop armor and not really do anything else that might be cool or vaguely useful about a flamethrower like covering a wide area in a lasting damage over time effect or at the very least actually spraying for a decent amount of time over a larger area, you’ve got to wonder, why is it again that Doomguy needs a Predator-esque shoulder cannon instead of having the Meat Hook on demand, for any of the varying weapons? Hell, there’s a rune that specifically grants slow motion when the player uses the alt-fire function in mid-air, but to use it with the Meat Hook is to essentially to be wasting it the majority of the time.

The majority of the game sort of has that feel to it: you step forward, but then you’re sort of pushed back. It’s not like a one step forward two steps back thing, it’s like walking up the wrong escalator in FF7r: you’re just kinda… pushed back. Enemies now have a lot of different weak spots, and quite frankly, the localized damage and sectioned destruction is a huge step forward in regards to any sandbox, even if it’s only on some enemies.

However, even with enemy variants these weakspots become inconsistent. For Cyber Mancubus, you need to hit them with a Blood Punch – a horrendous conception for the melee attack I’ll deal with slightly later – and you can’t use the weak spots you’ve been taught on the earlier Mancubus to stagger them momentarily to close in and strike them. That sudden transition is sort of how it feels going from 2016 to Eternal: the variety in approach is there, but then suddenly, it’s taken away.

Still, having certain strategies to instantly set varying demons up for Glory Kills is a definite step forward in regards to what you can do with the game in regards to setting up awesome moments. The problem lies in that a lot of these feel slightly half-implemented – hit a Cacodemon with a sticky bomb from the Combat Shotgun right and it’ll go in its mouth. Keep shooting sticky bombs and nothing happens: every extra shot after the first just disappears.

The weapon mods are in a similar boat. Some of the mods are actually beyond decent: the Combat Shotgun’s rather useless grenades got turned into sticky bombs, and them sticking to surfaces (as well as having a large amount of aim assist) makes them great tools for a wide variety of situations and far easier to user than 2016’s. The Tactical Scope on the Heavy Cannon (2016’s Heavy Assault Rifle) was replaced with Precision Bolt from the Gauss Cannon, offering the same sort of explosive effect from Destiny’s Firefly as it did in 2016 and making it an excellent tool to sweep aside fodder efficiently.

For about every distinctly good weapon mod in Eternal, there’s a bad one. The Rocket Launcher’s Lock-On Burst is an amazing way to spike damage, and if you have the ammo, you can keep laying it on a single target if necessary, though there’s few problems a single burst doesn’t solve outright. Remote Detonation, however, offers almost none of the perks of 2016’s and prevents you from firing a second rocket until the first has detonated.

The Ballista’s mods both leave a lot be desired when compared to 2016’s Siege Mode for the Gauss Cannon. The Plasma Rifle’s Microwave Beam is just awful, Micro-Missiles feels about the same but in the low ammo count environment the developers leave you in, it feels like a waste of ammo when the game is encouraging you to make shots count far more than necessary.

And in some ways, of course, some of these upgrades are almost too good: sticky bombs having the same rate of fire, higher damage, on top of a splash damage effect as the regular shots from the Combat Shotgun makes me question why I would ever use it ‘normally’ outside of setting up specific fodder enemies for a Glory Kill.

I mentioned the ammo capacity in passing, but it’s important to realize the nature of the beast completely when it comes to that topic specifically: Doom Eternal’s developers want the player to play Doom the ‘right’ way, but in reality, their choice and methodology should be apparent: they wanted to be lazy.

I’ve seen a few purists throw the accusation at Doom 2016 in regards to Glory Kills kind of just giving you free health whenever you want, or if your health gets low enough and the game decides you need it, you get health. If you thought that, maybe, things like regenerating health and other ‘modern’ facets of FPS game design might have been a greater straying from classic arena shooter design, Eternal basically doubles down on that.

Instead of relying off of ammo as it’s given to you through the course of the level including what you might take using the chainsaw and its limited fuel supply in 2016, Eternal lets your last chainsaw fuel pip always recover. The implications are obvious: all enemies that can be killed with a single fuel pip are now ammunition pinatas. This subsequently affects the design of every encounter throughout the entirety of Eternal.

While 2016 might have presented the player with too much ammo, especially for the majority of Eternal’s encounters, there’s a certain degree of strategy that is involved with knowing a level’s design including where the player might get ammo for certain weapons. Eternal essentially robs the player of that in exchange for the ability of the designers to reduce the player’s maximum ammo count by a factor of 70%. I’m not sure what good there is in teetering from one extreme to the other, but at the very least, it’s blatant no single encounter got as much testing as it deserved, and the fact it didn’t ‘need’ as much I’m sure stemmed from this design decision.

Marauder

Special mentions to our boy, the input reading bane of the average person who will complain about Eternal, and, rightfully so. Marauder’s issues in large part boil down to two parts: input reading and inconsistency.

The Marauder can be wiped pretty quickly, as with most enemies in Doom Eternal. All you need to do is some aggressive quick-swapping once you’ve got him staggered – but therein lies the problem. Attempting to stagger him when you should be golden doesn’t always work, even if you use a weapon which on a direct hit deals full damage.

Add that to his ability to cancel out of his one vulnerable attack (well, you can hit him at other times but you have to be extremely on point and using a hit-scan weapon) and in general as an enemy the Marauder simply isn’t very fun to fight. And it’s not that I can’t beat him, or beat him quickly, it’s just that in the course of fighting him multiple times, I’ve become acquainted with his overall nature as an extremely aggravating enemy, and one that really doesn’t belong in an FPS game like Doom.

I recorded a variety of engagements with this particular Marauder. They’re not all very clean, and I never bothered fully optimizing the attack opportunities (you can hit him with a Ballista -> SSG -> Ballista and potentially fourth attack) while I was recording these, but in general they present pretty typical experiences I’m sure most players have with the enemy.

Before I move on, though, I just want to say: my first Marauder killed himself. Ran right behind the pillar and killed himself. I don’t even know how. The level just ended about fifteen seconds after his introduction, but, more on that later.

Level Design

Transitioning from a playthrough of 2016 and going into Eternal really underscores the weakness of the latter’s level design. In 2016, the opening levels were heavily non-linear, and the player could obtain weapons early by finding them stashed away in maps, making for a radically different experience should the player choose to diverge from their previous route.

In Eternal, levels are largely linear and your route can’t differ until one of the ending levels. Instead of items stashed away carefully, they’re instead often simply barred from the player’s immediate access with a giant yellow question mark saying there’s a secret here, now find the go around so you can get your toy (often, literally).

When a level in Eternal opens up, it’s for an arena, and as quickly as you’re through with it, you’re back into linear hallways linking these different engagements together, sometimes populated but usually infrequently. If anything, there might be a few here or there to annoy the player more than actually deter them.

Then, of course, there’s the platforming. There’s a fairly interesting thing to be aware of when it comes to the matter of the dash recharges which frequently show up: apart from extremely early on where you simply don’t have the gun, so long as the player has ammunition for their Ballista, none of these are needed: nearly every single one can be cleared by using basic movement techniques that have been present since 2016.

Coupled with the blatant Mario spinning fireballs, and the level design just really feels like something that’s not the standard Doom 2016 set at all, but instead something that’s extremely conformist to modern video game design, and entirely unoriginal spoofing of ideas that have been tried long before.

It’s crazy to think that with the Meat Hook existing, the developers didn’t choose to utilize that as a standard mechanic for the platforming mechanics of Eternal. What could’ve been a fun and wild ride manipulating an id game’s physics to get to where the player wanted to go, instead we’re climbing on walls and supposed to be happy about it like it’s midway through the Xbox 360 and PS3’s lifespan.

Aesthetics & Acoustics

Eternal feels like a mixed bag on the aesthetic front. The base shotgun, before you get any modifications for it, looks quite decent – it looks like an actual gun. After that, it’s appearance changes significantly and neither of the weapon mods quite capture that same look that makes it seem like it could be an actual, futuristic shotgun.

Some of the skins that are available for guns and the player character are really good, but it’s important to note that things like demon customization, can’t actually be applied in a way that affects the campaign. So that Doot skin isn’t something you can see in the campaign, and for a lot of people, that probably makes it essentially worthless, along with almost any other skin you could get for demons, since they’re only going to be used in the multiplayer mode.

That said these skins are complete skins, and there’s not really any layer of customization that could make for a happy medium. I like the fully armored, no skin exposed look of the Doom 2016 Praetor Suit, but I do think the Eternal helmet is more visually appealing. There’s a lot of different colored options you can unlock through play, but then you’re eventually going to run out of ones you unlock through the base game and instead be confronted with the presence of those from the season/battle pass, which after one season and looking at the current, I can tell you that your mileage will definitely vary.

I would’ve killed for some Sentinel armor in 2016, but in Eternal, there’s only a crappy gladiator’s suit taking its place and I doubt we’ll have any option to don some crusader armor and go full Deus Vult on some demons.

And, the above in particular is something that crops up a lot in the Super Gore Nest level: you have a huge amount of barriers which the player can’t really pass that, quite clearly, the Doom Slayer should be able to deal with, with ease. In fact, this specific arrangement, where an entryway is almost shut but there’s a little bit of a gap at the bottom, was the sort of thing you’d see in Doom ’16 as an entrance, but in Eternal, they use this as a barrier to the player. It’s a little detail, but it’s one of those things that coming from ’16 it’s hard not to miss. On the art level, this is just one of those things that shouldn’t really pass, and it’s why Ubisoft for example, never makes walls of a certain height.

There’s elements of Zdzisław Beksiński’s work that become apparent when you get to see Doom’s interpretation of heaven, and it’s fairly interesting to see that same sort of styling applied to paradise when I’d normally equate his work with hellish landscapes, often looking at his art when I look at Wayne Barlowe’s, but besides that high point, a lot of what is going on visually is less than inspired. I’m impressed, I suppose, with color palettes that are not black and grey or red and brown, but visually not a lot of truly impressive things are going on – with the exception of textures generally looking nicer than 2016.

The HUD elements can be colored in a few different ways, and certain elements can be enabled or disabled. You can’t quite get something that’s colored quite like 2016’s HUD, but you can get fairly close depending on the option you choose.

With the way the audio is mixed, there’s no room for sound cues besides a distinct pop for headshots. You’re not going to be able to determine what demons are around by listening, and in many ways that hurts gameplay significantly. You can play it as an entirely visual experience, but on the audio level, there’s simply no room for almost anything else other than the music.

The music, however, is amazing. Doom 2016 suffered from a problem with its music: Mick Gordon was poorly directed in that he was pushed away from his and the Doom sound, in order to make Doom ’16 a more ‘serious’ experience which (contrast this concept with Eternal and the above pop noise on headshots…), ended up with us really only getting one specific song that actually had Gordon shredding, which was then played in the game dynamically. It’s important to realize that that actual song isn’t even present on the official soundtrack: Mick put it out afterward on Youtube with a little extra flourish, after players had already ripped most of it from the game and mixed it into a decent loop.

Unfortunately, while Doom Eternal does sport a better directed soundtrack that actually embraces what it should, the problem is that the official soundtrack has been poorly mixed to the point that Mick Gordon is seeking to mix it himself – and simultaneously has said that it’s unlikely he’ll be working with Bethesda in the future. All things considered, that seems pretty reasonable, and while it’s unfortunate for us, the real loss is by Bethesda and id.

Story

The story for Eternal is all over the place, and for the most part, it’s not very good, and at it’s worse it’s pretty cringe inducing. The majority of the dialogue can essentially be explained as different characters telling Doomguy he can’t do that, which he then proceeds to do anyway.

The story seems to want to ask a question, and that question is, what is Doomguy?

There seems to be much the same problem here as what took over and crashed Halo into the ground: instead of viewing the Master Chief as a vehicle for the player and their power fantasy without dipping into overt implications, instead the story dives head first into trying to present Doomguy as something other than what he is, and giving him dialogue that only serves to parody himself.

If 2016 embraced the myth, Eternal attempts to do that twice over, but with little understanding of what makes it good or great, to the point that instead of affirming it, instead Eternal just manages to make itself look pathetic.

Technical Issues

Doom Eternal is one of the few games where I can legitimately say it was plagued with technical issues from start to finish. From the time I launched the game, up until the final boss, my experience was filled with major and minor technical issues that given a game of this caliber and the resources with id and Bethesda should have at their disposal that never should have happened.

First and foremost, being that I am a true hobbyist, I have a multitude of peripherals I use with my computer. From flight sim hardware to gamepads for experiences built not for the mouse and keyboard, I have to say that I’ve encountered a number of different control issues throughout the years, but none ever compare to the experience I had launching Doom Eternal for the first time.

Being that I usually have a gamepad plugged in, I was bound for trouble, as Doom Eternal has an amazing set of ‘features’ regarding gamepads. For example, if it detects one, it will lock out your mouse and keyboard from providing inputs. The only inputs you can actually do are really just Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

Now, once you’ve done this, every time Doom Eternal launches it will then lock your mouse and keyboard out. Initially, I had just gone so far as to nuke it from orbit, closing the program immediately and relaunching, but as I mentioned, every time Eternal launches, it will still keep your controls locked out.

You can go delete your config files and it will stop doing this, at least, until the next time you launch the game with a controller, but as it turns out the only real work around is to either Alt-Tab before the game locks out your keyboard or Ctrl+Alt+Delete after it has, and bring Eternal back into focus. The real insanity, and the part that frustrated me more than anything about this, is knowing that someone probably thought this was a ‘feature,’ instead of the horrendous thing it is.

The next big issue is that Doom Eternal demands a monopoly on all sound for the default sound device. When it’s up, any audio played on the device that Doom Eternal is on, is muted with the exception of Eternal’s audio. Another insane feature, given that I frequently like to listen to music or watch videos in the middle of sessions, usually to give myself a moment’s break before continuing on through the level.

With my first Marauder killing himself, and subsequent Marauders only sometimes acting like they should, there’s also a fairly large stigma I have regarding a majority of the enemies. I’ve seen an Arachnotron that was supposed to crawl on the ceiling be animated as if it was still walking on the floor. I’ve figured out the Lock-On Burst from the Rocket Launcher leaves a highlight on enemies if it doesn’t actually hit them.

When it comes to weapons, I’ve had all sorts of quirkiness come out. At one point my Rocket Launcher was single-firing homing rockets on its normal fire, every now and then my Meat Hook would do… Whatever the hell that is. I know players can get both weapon mods to equip simultaneously to different weapons, and I’ve had my Ballista firing on its own from some buffered shot it’s decided to make.

At some point during the final boss, I had the above happen: some of my guns went to their low texture versions and stuck there, and my cooldowns and ammo count entirely went away. If I tried to load the checkpoint after that, the game would lock up until I closed out of it and relaunched it, this happening about three times over the course of fighting the big guy.

Community

I wouldn’t think that I would ever have to write about the community of a Doom game but this kinda needs to be put out there: as far as communities go, they’re a special one. Some places on the internet, some communities, are actually really open and decently level-headed. Doom Eternal’s community… Not so much.

If you have genuine complaints about the game and you just don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, a good portion of the community acts like you just kicked their puppy. If you have technical issues, it’s your fault for running such a set up – until someone comes in and provides launch parameters which can sort the issue. If you think Marauder doesn’t abide by his rules and has situations where he’s blatantly broken, with evidence, well, they’ll tell you that it just makes him unpredictable and exciting rather than inconsistent and unfair.

If you have a very specific question on how to do something consistently, you will be told by someone who doesn’t know any better, to always be ‘bhopping’ even when it’s entirely different from what you asked. When you tell them that, they’ll tell you something else they know that you didn’t ask. It’s frustrating to deal with, and quite frankly, it seems as if the majority of them think they’re better than they are, when quite frankly, they’re not.

Which then makes it even more crappy when someone actually does know what they’re talking about, does know the game and understands its flaws, doesn’t just outright worship the ground the game is walking on and interprets anyone who might have any sort of issue as hurting their precious little Doompuppy graces you with their presence.

My point being: if you have any issue with the game, you’re almost better off solving it yourself, instead of capitalizing on the capacity of us human beings to communicate valuable information which might save each other time and hassle, and god help you if you so much as need to ask a question.

Closing

Do I recommend Doom Eternal? Quite frankly, no, I don’t. The technical issues are amazing, some people are having their Steam accounts associated with Bethesda accounts that aren’t theirs. The ammunition design is nothing short of lazy and gets in the way of fun so the developers can say you’re doing things ‘the right way’ even though who’s to say what the right way to play Doom is?

If the Meat Hook replaced the useless Flamebelch, and the Meat Hook was the primary way in which the player got around the platforming sections, perhaps I could say that Doom Eternal is overall a worthy upgrade to Doom 2016. If the level design wasn’t linear and the weakness system more open ended, I’d think the game was amazing.

If the soundtrack wasn’t poorly mixed, I might actually recommend it, too, but instead you’re best off waiting for Mick Gordon to display his artistic integrity and properly present his work in a fashion in which it deserves.

So all in all, I don’t recommend Doom Eternal unless you’re picking it up for cheaper than $30 USD, and if you’re lucky, perhaps maybe the purple goo will stop you from deciding to pick the game up.

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