The underlying gameplay loop that made Doom (2016) so good remains as a foundation in Doom Eternal, but with many, many layers stacked on top - essentially, if Doom (2016) was a solid four-bedroom house, this game is a friggin mansion. Which is quite an achievement, considering how hard it was to imagine the loop of the last iteration getting any better. But, it turns out the ID Software were only beginning to plunder the depths that their new 'Rip and Tear' approach to combat was capable of.
The most significant elaboration is in the upgrades to movement. Doom Guy has been given a double-jump, a double dash, and a raft of interactive movement objects - such as poles to swing off and the meat hook grapple on the super shotgun - all of which ratchets the kinetic feeling of combat up about a thousand-fold. While a little overwhelming in the opening hours, your brain quickly adjusts to the speed and dexterity added by these new movement mechanics. Ultimately, the added depth to movement ends up feeling like the necessary evolution of combat from Doom (2016) - allowing you to feel like your power and skills are growing from game to game. Evidence of this is that I went back to the previous game after finishing Eternal, and while still great, movement suddenly feels like maneuvering a tank in comparison.
The second most significant evolution of the combat is in the added emphasis on loot management - with health, armour, and ammo drops coming from downed enemies. Probably the most innovative aspect of Doom (2016) was how it forced you to stay in the action by offering health through enemy glory kills, and ammo through the chainsaw. ID have doubled down on this mechanic, adding a flamethrower which makes enemies drop armour. But more than adding a new mechanic, they have emphasised the importance of using these loot drop mechanics. While in the last game it was possible to get through an encounter without using the chainsaw, in Eternal the well timed, but frequent, use of these mechanics is absolutely necessary for survival. Like movement, at first, this added complexity can be a little overwhelming, but with this also it doesn't take long before you are skillfully orchestrating combat to accrue all of the health, ammo and armour your heart desires.
The combination of these new elements combines into an unholy, and beautifully grotesque ballet of blood and viscera. As an example, after being stalked by several Mancubus and Arachnotron's, I am woefully low on health, armour, and ammo. With these beasts hot on my tail, I double jump into the area and dash across the arena - spying as I do, a group of lowly zombie demons stalking across the arena floor. Mid-air, I pop out my super shotgun and use the meat hook grapple to pull myself towards the group. Just before landing, I spurt out a flame belch - engulfing the group in flames. As I arrive, I nail the grappled demon with a shotgun blast and launch into a glory kill - ripping him in twain, and spilling out health, ammo and, because he is engulfed in flames, armour. All of this happens in mere seconds, and immediately I am ready to pivot back and rain destruction on my super-demon pursuers.
It is a loop that fails to get tired, even after the twenty hours, or so, of the game's campaign. Especially as the game layers in the added challenge and complexity of new enemies, more robust waves of enemies, and new and unique environmental challenges.
A lot of these new enemies will be familiar to old school players of Doom with famous (or perhaps infamous) enemies such as the Arachnotron, the Archville and the Pain elemental joining the fray. The game also introduces some new enemy types. These are all excellent additions to the canon, with one exception; the Marauder.
If you've been online since the launch, it is likely you have seen mention of this new enemy and the frustrations he brings. The issue with this enemy is that he has the difficult complexities of shielding against all attacks, unless kept at a precise distance and by waiting for a certain attack. There is definitely an argument to be made that the difficulty this character brings in the second half of the game is a necessary mix-up, and that it keeps things diverse. However, I would argue that rather than being a fun or interesting new variation on the loop, it actually runs in opposition to the mechanics and principles established in combat. The issue is, every time he enters a combat situation, he completely interrupts the flow in a way that no other enemy does - including the enemies that require specific strategies to defeat or weaken.
The Marauder, along with all of these other enemies, are introduced throughout the games bombastic and frankly bat-shit crazy, campaign. Like the last game, much of Eternal's narrative is delivered through codex entries picked up along the way - each of which expands on the history of the lore, Doom Guy and locations. Despite similar approaches to storytelling, there has been a distinct shift in the tone of it - where Doom (2016) was a gritty, relatively grounded meeting of science fiction with religious iconism, Eternal is far more fantastical and off the wall with its priorities. I began to think of it as the last game being a novel in tone, and this game being far closer to a comic book. Although I personally prefer a novel approach, the bombastic and insane events and tone of this comic-ey storytelling are arguably more fun - even if they are perhaps less serious.
Adding to this less serious feel are the new platforming sections of the levels, in which you have to jump, climb and time your way through sections of levels. There seems to be a divide emerging online between those who enjoy these sections, and others - like myself - who think they are too contrived. My issue is that even though the scenario you are in is crazy, at least the demons, and portals, and energy weapons all have justifications. Whereas the platforming sections have no justification beyond their game design - there is too often no reason for these poles, climbing walls, or timed traps to exist beyond their utility as an obstacle for you as the player.
While we are discussing the weaker aspects of the game, this is a fitting place to discuss the multiplayer. Eternal's multiplayer takes the form of 'Battlemode' - a 2V1 arena, which pits two player-controlled demons who can spawn other demons, against one Doom Guy. In theory, I was really excited about this mode, and even more so as I went through the modes tutorials and started to see the tactical complexity it could contain. However, in the ten or so rounds I have played, my interest quickly seeped away under the weight of poor balancing and worse network performance. Just off the bat, every round ran like soup - with terrible lags that made the endeavour seem pointless half of the time. When it did seem to be running well enough to engage with, I grew concerned that it has some pretty serious balancing problems right now - with the demons heavily outweighing the doom guy. Of the rounds I played, the demons won every single time, regardless of whether I was playing doom guy or them. As things stand right now, there is little there to stay engaged with, but hopefully, as network pressures ease and balances are applied it fulfils the potential I first saw in it.
Despite these few gripes, these are ultimately personal preferences and fixable issues in what is overall, an incredible piece of game design and execution.
+ Expanded loot system.
+ Incredible gameplay loop.
- Less serious storytelling.
- Marauder design.