I’ve gotten around to beating Doom Eternal and while the broad strokes of my Day 1 review still apply, the game changes significantly from the opening hours, ramping up in difficulty and introducing new challenges in ways the first game didn’t. Not that it’s all that different of a game from the 2016 installment, but there are some small but significant changes applied here that can make the game feel bloated at times.
Something that surprised me about Eternal was the emphasis on platforming. Early on the game introduces a midair dash feature, and I had no idea in my Day 1 review that it would be so crucial to the game’s platforming sections. In addition to bars you can swing off of, the game introduces climbable walls and vast gaps between platforms at times, meaning you need to make full use of your moves in order to traverse the environment. There are even later stages with midair rings that can slingshot you great distances. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was getting Super Mario Galaxy vibes from those rings. The problem is the platforming sections feel incredibly token, there only to break up the pace between combat encounters. And while there is some visceral fun to be had from launching yourself huge distances (it does a good job of making the player feel Doomguy’s momentum), these sections never overcome the feeling that they’re there to pad out playtime. To me, searching for the many collectibles in the levels was more than enough to break up the pace.
The combat, thankfully, grows more and more intense as the game goes on. This becomes a much tougher game than its predecessor, throwing simply gigantic waves of enemies at Doomguy. By the end, you’ll be zipping across whatever map you happen to be fighting in, switching weapons every few seconds and ripping enemies apart, more out of a sense of desperation and will to survive than anything else. That’s not to say combat isn’t fun. Of course it is. It’s an absolute blast. But more so than the first game, encounters become about pressure relief and resource management. Ammo in particular is a resource you need to stay on top of if you hope to come out the other side successfully. Thankfully, I was never without gasoline for my chainsaw in the later stages of the game. id Software did a good job of making sure the player has all the resources they need without making them feel comfortable.
The game introduces several new types of enemies for Doomguy to kill, and each non-fodder enemy has some sort of weakness to exploit that makes killing them easier. For instance, the cannons on the Mancubus can be blown apart to stop them from using their flamethrowers. Much like the balancing of ammo, these weaknesses do a good job of making fights manageable without turning them into a cake walk. By the end of the game, you’ll have to use every weak point in the book, because some of the encounters, particularly in the last level, are positively lousy with big bads, including multiple hulking Barons of Hell, which can easily eat up all your ammo.
For the most part, arenas do a good job of providing Doomguy with enough space to maneuver, although there are some that feel weirdly cramped leading to some cheap feeling deaths. Most of the time, if you die (which you will, and often) it’s your own fault. I played on the standard difficulty, and I was sweating quite a bit during encounters. It never reaches the level of something like Sekiro, but it puts up a stiff challenge.
There are times, though, where the challenge feels unfair or outright broken. I am, of course, referring to the much hyped Marauders. About halfway through the campaign, the Marauder is introduced to the player. Lore wise, they used to be like Doomguy, a slayer, before turning to the other side and becoming a bad guy. Or something like that. I didn’t bother with most of the lore entries. Anyways, this means the Marauder is better equipped to fight Doomguy than most of the legions of Hell. It’s a tantalizing idea for sure, one that could have turned out well. The problem is that they are a terribly designed enemy in execution.
Let’s discuss briefly the gameplay loop of these new Doom games. They are largely about crowd control and keeping track of seemingly random chaotic elements. They’re all about zipping around and chipping away at the larger enemies while using smaller enemies for resource like ammo and health. The good thing is that you can do a little bit of damage to an enemy at a time if you choose to play that way. It’s all about moving and applying pressure back to the enemy. Marauders totally go against that philosophy. They have a shield that can block any weapon in the game, including the all-powerful BFG and awesome sword you get later on (which can kill any enemy in one hit—but is extremely limited). The only time they’re vulnerable is when they’re about to swing their axe. The problem is that they only do that if you’re the right distance away. If you’re too far, they’ll shoot energy waves. Too close and they’ll blat you with their own Super Shotgun. You have to be a certain distance away from them, and then maybe they’ll swing their axe.
The first encounter with them is bad enough, with small enemies peppering the arena while you just try and concentrate on killing the Marauder. They have a ton of health, meaning if you die, your progress is set back significantly. And they can spawn these weird spirit dogs that chase you down relentlessly and don’t go away until you turn your attention on them (and usually take a hit from the Marauder in the process). In a game all about movement and constantly doing damage to enemies, the Marauder stands out like a sore thumb since you have to be a certain distance away from it to do any damage and you have to wait for them to do a certain move to even harm them. It would be like if, say, Super Mario Odyssey became a first person shooter right in the middle for no apparent reason. These encounters are not fun, and beating one brings only relief, not satisfaction.
This does lead me to my other major gripe with Eternal and, by extension, the first game as well. They just don’t know how to do boss encounters that are challenging yet satisfying. I don’t have the answer for how to make a good boss fight in a game all about running and gunning, but the fights in 2016 and Eternal ain’t it. Not that they’re the worst bosses I’ve encountered, but every single one is a bullet sponge that goes on for far too long. For instance, in one near the end of the game, you must take down the shield of a flying boss, then get in close to do a Blood Punch (one of the many new upgrades that sends out a shock wave when you melee an enemy that can’t be Glory Killed). This boss has a fixed amount of health, and you must contend with small enemies blasting at you, while also dealing with the arena being covered in electricity that does damage extremely quickly. It’s not a particularly tough fight. It’s just boring. It goes on for far too long and does not feel satisfying to overcome. The same goes for the other bosses, including the final one, which is kind of ludicrous for how tough the fight is and how long it goes on for. Fights feel more like wars of attrition than tests of skill.
I know it sounds like I’m being harsh on Doom Eternal, but that’s because all the good stuff I said about it in my Day 1 review still applies after beating the game. When it’s letting you fly around an arena ripping enemies apart with the fantastic arsenal it provides, it is the cream of the FPS crop. No other modern AAA shooter can come close to touching how breathless, relentless, and intense the moment to moment gameplay is in Doom and Doom Eternal. The thing was that, as the game went on, signs of bloat started rearing their ugly heads, mainly in the mini-boss and boss encounters. And from what I’ve seen, not everyone minds these. It might just be me, but I didn’t find these bullet-spongy enemies to be particularly fun, especially those damn Marauders which, again, seem to go against the entire design philosophy of the game.
The magical thing is that I forgot all about that every time I was put into another combat arena. When it was just me, the demons, and my host of great weapons, all the frustration borne from fighting the bosses, or the tedium of the platforming sections, dissipated because of just how focused I was on killing as much as possible while trying to stay alive. This game is worth an FPS fan’s time and money. Just prepare yourself for some largely unnecessary elements.