Yes, I am playing Doom Eternal, as the only GamesBeat employee brave enough to tread back into the jungles of social media. I am the lone savior of our planet, which on March 20 will be overrun with everything from Cacodemons to Dread Knights. Doom Eternal comes out on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Stadia — and then you’ll all find out how merciless its gameplay is.
[Updated: I’ve finished the game and it now has a final score].
My job, and your job as the player, starts without much preamble. The demons have invaded Earth, killing millions and overrunning 60% of the planet by the time you get there. You can stop the invasion by locating the hell priests and bringing them down.
I can confidently say that it is one of the finest first-person shooters that I have ever played. And for those of us who need a distraction from our own apocalyptic reality, I am so glad that I can spend many more escapist hours fighting bosses and demons in Doom Eternal — all to the sound of heavy metal and gunfire.
It’s a bit ironic that this bloody game about shooting and bludgeoning everything in sight may very well help us all keep our sanity.
What you’ll like
Speed and power
Id Software’s previous game, Doom 2016, set the tone for this game. It is all about fighting increasingly powerful and numerous demons. As the Doom Slayer, you are Earth’s only hope at pushing back the horde. You fight alone, but you have speed and power, with an ability to rip apart demons with your bear hands. And you get more and more weapons along the way that can do satisfying harm to the demonic horde.
Doom Eternal is like a forced march, or maybe a marathon where all you do is sprint. You have to keep moving to stay alive. If you camp in a corner or try stealth, the demons will spawn on you and kill you. To motivate you to move, the designers have devilishly put very little resources on the ground for you to pick up. Rather, it is by moving and killing that you can collect what you need.
If you do a Glory Kill (melee) attack on a stunned demon, you kill the demon and get health. If you use your flame belch, the enemies you burn will drop armor plates. If you do two Glory Kills, you can fire a massive Blood Punch to take out multiple enemies. And if you find cans of fuel on the ground, you can quickly refill your chainsaw, which otherwise gradually refills itself over time. And if you use the chainsaw, you can get ammo. The trick is to remember all of this in real time.
It’s not just a horde you’re fighting
It may seem like a horde, but I counted more than 25 different types of demon minions and bosses that you have to fight. And none of them are the same. You have to change weapons on your weapon wheel (I played with a game controller on the PS4), and you have to remember a lot of different ways to fight. It’s hard to remember to use your ice bomb or flame belch, but you won’t be victorious without these weapons.
The plasma gun works against enemies carrying shields or the Carcass Demon, who can deploy a shield to protect other demons. The heavy cannon has a Precision Bolt mod that lets you pull up a sniper scope and knock the turret off the top of an Arachnotron, a spider-like enemy that can deal massive damage from both far away and up close. The Pinky demon is like a rhino, but it’s vulnerable from behind.
The Hell Knight, remembered by its exposed skull, forces you to run faster because it is so fast. You have to use the Dash button a lot to escape. Once he catches you and corners you, you’re dead. So you have to run away from him and fire at the same time. It takes a few big hits with a rocket or sticky bomb to bring him down. If you have a bunch of enemies including the Hell Knight, you have to deal with the Hell Knight first.
One of the earlier bosses, the Doom Hunter, requires two different types of weapons. It is a hybrid, part creature and part machine. You take out the creature’s shields with a plasma rifle, and you can disable the mechanical part with rockets or the precision bolt mode of your heavy cannon (which is like sniper rifle).
Most of the enemies you see in beginning are familiar, as the inspiration for the monsters came from the rich history of Doom itself. But later on, you’ll see new characters. These enemies include Imps, Zombies, Cacodemons, Demons, Prowlers, Whiplashes, and Revenants. The new ones are the Doom Hunter, Marauder, and the Gladiator.
A delicious array of weapons
When you finally locate that BFG, that’s the moment in every Doom game when you feel like you’ve arrived. But the weapons and their modes and attachments really save the day. Without the shotgun and its add-on sticky bomb, I would not have survive the hordes charging at me. I could use the sticky bomb to do damage at range, and I used the shotgun or its even more powerful Super Shotgun to fight up close.
The Super Shotgun has a meat hook attachment, which shoots at an enemy and brings them to you, so you can fire the Super Shotgun and turn them into little pieces.
Bosses that fill you with a sense of panic
There are many difficult bosses in Doom Eternal. I know. I lack credibility here, and I think everything is hard. But I’m telling you. It ain’t easy.
Just when you think you’ve finished a gargantuan firefight, you have another level to clear and another boss to fight. Each one seems tougher than the last, and the combat is seriously stressful. This will cause you angst, panic, frustration, anger, sadness, and a fine sense of fatalism. And that’s all good in a video game. Don’t play it if you don’t want to feel like throwing your gaming machine out a window.
The game also has Slayer Gates. If you find a Slayer key, you can use it to unlock an optional arena. If you are leveled up enough, you can survive it after what feels like an eternity of battle as wave after wave of demons attacks you.
While I played it on the PS4, I’ve seen how the game looks on a PC. And it’s quite spectacular. While it’s not as crazy as the colors of Rage, the orange of Hell spawns and the green of radioactivity and the cacaphony of colors in explosions makes it a joy to play. It’s like watching a fireworks show while you’re playing a video game. Id Tech 7 is the game engine, and it can create some amazing imagery that seems to go by at 200 miles per hour. I was pleasantly surprised that the graphics didn’t make me seasick.
Heavy metal soundtrack
Doom Eternal would be Doom Mortal if it didn’t have a pulse-pounding soundtrack. Composed by Mick Gordon, Doom Eternal’s music puts you in the mood to fight. Rip and tear and listen.
Fine-grained difficulty controls
If you find that you can’t beat a level on Hurt Me Plenty or Nightmare, you can reset the difficulty level so that you can beat it. And you can raise it again later on. These difficulty controls are really necessary in a game that can throw so many challenges at you.
Very few bugs
During many hours of gameplay, the game quit on me only once. Once in while, it slowed down when there were insane amounts of things happening on the screen at once. But overall, it is a very well-built game.
Boss battles with lots of badass demons
The ending is long and drawn out. And, as is fitting, you have to deal with very difficult bosses. Each one is hard. The Gladiator is an arena fighter that has one vulnerability, and you have to strike at the right time to beat it. The Khan Makr is protected by Makr drones, which you have to take out by sniping their heads. They drop on a lot of ammo and health, which keeps you alive in that boss fight, but it is very distracting. When you are sniping the drones, you obviously aren’t watching the deadly Khan Makr, which rains down area effect flames on you.
Then you go through an enormous number of enemies, battling to the top of a building, so you can finally take on the last enemy, the Icon of Sin. That is a huge monster, and it can spawn a bunch of demons that will keep you busy. You have to take out its armor first and then take it down. Fortunately, you have a lot of Crucible (one-shot kill swords) that respawn, as well as BFG ammo that respawns.
Meanwhile, the Marauder appears at the end of multiple levels, and it is extremely hard to take out. The Marauder is a fast demon that is good at both short-range melee attacks and long-range ax throws. Your only chance is at medium range. And you can’t fire anything else at it, as it will dodge the slower weapons. It will also shield itself against most attacks.
Your only hope is during a well-timed moment. When the Marauder’s eyes glow green, it’s about to strike. That is your chance to fire the Super Shotgun at it. If you hit it once, you can fire again and hit it twice. After that, it will move around you and you have to be prepared to run. I had a hellish time trying to run away from the Marauder during one battle. I kept running and waiting for minions to spawn so I could get back armor and health. I finally got enough shots in on the Marauder to stagger it and take it down. But it was grueling. It’s best to take out all the minions and other demons around it so you can give the Marauder your full attention. Eventually, I got better at the Super Shotgun timing, but Marauders were always the toughest enemies.
What you won’t like
I know I said there are a lot of variety to the demons. But you mow down so many of them that you get to feel like you’ve seen all of this combination of characters before and know just the thing that will take care of them.
Toward the end in particular, the game throws relatively few new things at you. It makes up for that with volume. That is, it throws tons of enemies at you at the same time. Toward the ending, there were 10 Cacodemons on the screen, and a bunch of Pinky demons as well, all hunting me down while I was supposed to be taking out the Icon of Sin. This makes the game difficult, even on the easy setting, but it’s almost as if they ran out of other things, like new demons, to throw at you.
It could use more new characters and story
While the demons are familiar, they don’t have personalities the way that the Orcs did in the Shadow of Mordor series. You got to know those Orcs and their personalities by fighting them over and over. But the boss demons feel like they’ve all got the same basic evil going on. I wish there were someone like Darth Vader or a sniveling coward, much like there are so many different weapons.
But I realize that this game is not about characters and story. John Carmack once famously said that stories in video games are a lot like porn films. You don’t need them. Of course, he was wrong. But it feels like this game swings back on that heritage a little too much. Doom 2016 conveyed more story in its holographic scenes, but you don’t have that in the same holographic images in this game. Rather, you have to read about the lore in the Codex as you collect missing pages of a book. But it’s a bit boring to get your story from reading in a video game. I’d rather see a lot more of that conveyed in cinematics or some other fashion.
More hints for the puzzles?
I put a question mark after this one because I was highly frustrated when I had to work on puzzles over and over again, either the kind that were just mentally hard to figure out (like one scaling a skyscraper) and the movement puzzles that required a lot of magical controller skill to execute. If there were a way to get a hint about where to go next (the map has this, but it’s not always obvious) or what to do, that would ease a lot of my near heart-attack level of rants and curses. But when I solved the puzzles, I felt like a genius. And then I would notice there was a bright green light showing me what I was supposed to notice the first time around.
But one of the things that the puzzles do is slow down what is otherwise a lightning-fast game. That’s the part which I find hard to swallow, as getting frustrated and unable to move forward is counter to the core philosophy of the game of keeping the player moving. It certainly stretches out the length and the “enjoyment,” but it really adds to the challenge.
Marty Stratton, head of the id Software studio, has said he believes Doom Eternal is the best game id Software has ever made since the first Wolfenstein and Doom games in the 1990s. Call me a mouthpiece, but he’s right. It’s certainly the best Doom ever, and I can say that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the agonizing journey to the finish with Doom 2016.
Just when you thought power fantasies couldn’t get any better, Doom Eternal comes along with its universe of blood and gore to put you in a state of flow. I have had so much fun, like getting a lucky shot at a Cacodemon. I’m going to enjoy finishing this one and finding the ultimate gun, the BFG.
I enjoyed the ending, but it was so long. I had to wipe the sweat off my forehead. But it felt so good to be done.
[Updated: 5:47 p.m. 3/21/20 with post-game thoughts and final score]
Disclosure: Bethesda Softworks gave me a copy of the game on the PS4.