After our early hands-on impression with DOOM: Eternal at E3 2019, we were thrilled to get a solid two hours to sit with the much-anticipated sequel at a private event on the south side of Downtown L.A. There, after a brief introduction by director Hugo Martin we were allowed to sit with the game in context starting directly from the first level. At E3 last year, there were two levels available to experience somewhat out of context and smack dab in the middle of the game’s intense fray. After experiencing that demo we referred to it as though it came “hulking through like the original Doom‘s steroid-riddled, uncontrollable, bigger brother, Eternal is a freight train of violence and shooting.” The splatter, action and gore was unmistakable even in that demo, but for a game built on carnage and melee intensity, it was a bit much to jump right into if you weren’t familiar with the controls and pacing. Thankfully, this new demo allowed for starting the game right at the onset.
Following the events of DOOM 2016, Earth itself is being invaded by the demons, denizens and destroyers of Hell. An orbital view shows legendary nameless Doomguy ,“The Doom Slayer,” arriving in a spaceship taking view of the worldwide slaughter. Narration provides for the intelligence that roughly 60% of the Earth has been fully conquered or killed already. Further in-game “pages” Doom Slayer can recover indicates how the humans mounted a worthy resistance but were easily overpowered by the legions from the infernal plane. Doom Slayer drops in immediately to one of the now ravaged cities and the scale of the game is immediately evident. Destruction can be seen on all sides. Massive skyscrapers are gutted, whole sections of the ground are now a burning wasteland and in God of War fashion, an absolutely monstrous, building-size Baron of Hell is walking around the cityscape literally carrying an entire chapel on his back. The scale differential between Doom Slayer and this massive baddie immediately couches the game in a larger scale than previous DOOM titles, and somewhat ominously cements how screwed all of our home world (and possibly Doomguy) are.
Doom Slayer is on the hunt for seemingly fallen angel the Khan Maykr, and apparently hidden in that back-laden moving chapel, she’s indestructible. He first sets his sights on three evil “priests” respectively known as Deag Nilox, Deag Ranak and Deag Grav. The game mercilessly eases you into its mechanics. You start only with the famous DOOM-style shotgun before eventually getting a machine gun (not quite the chain gun of old) and the plasma rifle. The chainsaw melee weapon is introduced early on and both requires fuel (discovered by way of gas cans scattered around the environment) and serves as your last resort for recovery if you run out of ammo. You can punch enemies, but even the intro level zombies, imps and corrupted humans are far too dangerous to go for using fisticuffs alone. No, when you run out of ammo you chainsaw the nearest enemy and he barfs out a bevy of health, ammo and other power-ups. Truly, chainsawing a Cacodemon is one of life’s great joys.
The new modus operandi of DOOM: Eternal is that ammo and health runs out of quick, and you have to be inventive about rebounding quickly in the line of fire. Two or three good hits and your health can drop from 100% down to nearly 35%. The good news is, the mechanics of retrieving health by chainsaw attack or the DOOM 2016 system of “glory killing” helps keep you from constant death. The key really is to keep moving and not going out fully soldier-of-fortune style. Missile weapon enemies are everywhere in this game and just standing and shooting a monster down will get you flanked on all sides within seconds. If you pace yourself and systematically take out your opponents you can hold on long enough to thin their numbers. Each enemy has a damage level where they flash blue. If you’re close enough to reach them in time (a la the power pellet mechanic with the ghosts in Pac-Man) you can press one button and activate one of a varied batch of glory kills where Doom Slayer dismembers the foe. They are satisfying in a perverse way, and prepping your battle for those allows you stay alive before the next wave hits.
Just as the weapons are slowly doled out as you progress, so are the ever-expanding types of killable Hell minions. It starts simply with brainless zombies, but quickly the famous fire-throwing imps appear and corrupted human soldiers. Before you have even a chance to feel like it’s just easy to mow those down you’re greeted with an upgraded form of the spider-brain-thing the Arachnotron. This is the first enemy where the game explains for you how if shot in just the right way, they can effectively be defanged. In the Arachotron’s case, you can shoot and destroy the two should mounted lasers its continually firing at you. As you are exposed to further enemies each are shown to have similar weaknesses you exploit. Also, as you progress certain installations allow for upgrading your weapons with new features. In our case, we chose the explosive sticky bomb option for the shotgun and the heat seeker missiles for the machinegun. Some enemies you can cut through fairly easily, but in our humble opinion, the best way to kill a demon from Hell is with the fewest rounds possible.
Some small elements that can be uncovered as you explore each level hint at a long history of Earth being well aware of the existence of Hell and its inhabitants. Apparently, there was even a presence in this canonical telling of some of those inhabitants, perhaps referred to as the “firstborn” initially. Those firstborn may have brought even larger, towering demons into our realm known as the “Ancestrals.” As we attempted to make our way to the Khan Maykr we dispatched of the Deag priests but then had to venture to an ancient church in search of components. After reaching the right part of the massive monument, Doom Slayer encounters the apparition of a long-gone leader, King Tovik. Tovik makes a cryptic speech implying he’s well aware of Doom Slayer (and that perhaps Doom Slayer is not just a nameless killing machine after all). As each level unfurls different environments are revealed. Fire strewn landscapes literally can melt you alive in seconds. Purple swamps are swarming with tentacles and are so thick jumping is impossible. Doom Slayer can even Uncharted-like (well, sort of) repel and climb walls. It takes a little getting used to timing things correctly, but ultimately it really helps open up the world. In between the staged arenas of constant carnage you have to navigate around the world and unlock the right path. The relics of the lost world allow for a Thor-like combination of technology and magic. A statue of a giant Viking in one place blasts open a door way after a trigger is hit, but in others space-age blast shields only part after all enemies are destroyed.
The game also has numerous built-in secrets such as collectible toys (we found an action figure Arachnotron) but also Easter eggs like Daisy the Bunny. According to director Hugo Martin, “In every single level there is Daisy the Bunny.” Another neat mechanic happens sporadically when you’re playing the game in a network shared with other players. Sometimes the game will serve you up an “empowered demon,” signifying with copy over the minion’s head what player he slayed and serving as a supercharged form of the monster, almost as if that demon got a promotion for effectively stopping a player from progressing. It’s a thrilling challenge when it happens, but may make the level a bit too hard to progress through. The game’s score is an impressive, chugging ‘90s industrial-strength, electro rock by Mick Gordan. The music keeps the tempo up high so any time you’re facing demons, it’s playing to the action heightening the thrill.
Beset on all sides by Revenants and Hell Knights, we stopped our three-hour journey into DOOM: Eternal’s roller coaster of death to partake in a brief Q&A with Martin. Martin indicates to us that the three hours we played through here is just a sliver of game’s content. He claims it will be “22 hours or more.” “You will still be getting introduced to new enemies all the way through last level,” he says. He further points out that in DOOM: Eternal the aim was to recognize the criticism levied at DOOM: 2016 and improve upon those areas. “The legitimate criticism was that it got too repetitive,” he explains. “We really wanted to expand the options.”
The mission was to really flesh out the mechanics of DOOM: Eternal’s world so it wasn’t “Arena / Hallway / Arena / Hallway.” He also offers that inside the orbital “hub” that Doom Slayer uses as a base there will be a man cave of sorts filled with all kinds of hardcore DOOM nerd lore. “[Doom Slayer] has a collectible shelf,” he explains. “Whenever he finds a toy if will be on that shelf. If you find all the toys, you get something special.” There’s also apparently Easter egg albums scattered around the game you can find where back at the hub can be listened to on a record player. Each will be a piece of music from classic DOOM or Quake games. While declining to say whether the aforementioned giant Baron of Hell (or any other mega monster) would feature in a God of War-style boss battle, he did offer proudly in conclusion how strong of a finish the game will have. “The third act has as many surprises as the first act,” he says. “The footage from the last three levels is just bonkers.”
Overall, our now expanded time with DOOM: Eternal proves it’s a worthy successor to the legendary industry-changing titles brought forth by John Carmack and John Romero in the ‘90s. To be sure, it’s as intense all get out, but it’s designed and paced to be a balls to the wall first-person shooter that teaches you how to be an expert at first-person shooter games. After all, the demons from Hell aren’t just going to destroy themselves are they?
Check out fifteen minutes of our gameplay preview footage below. Doom: Eternal will be released on March 20th, 2020 for PS4, PC, Xbox, and Google Stadia while coming to the Nintendo Switch at a later date.