A few days after releasing the new trailer for the upcoming sci-fi first-person shooter DOOM Eternal (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch, Stadia), the good people at Bethesda held at event in Los Angeles where they gave journalists a chance to play the first three hours of the game in anticipation of its March 20th release.
What follows are my impressions of the game’s opening levels, and will obviously contain some spoilers.
At its core,
DOOM Eternal is a natural successor to 2016’s DOOM reboot. You still play as the Doom Slayer, an overpowered super soldier in power armor with overpowered guns and an overpowered chainsaw who fights overpowered demons and their overpowered minions. And you still move like you’re on roller skates, gliding from one fast and frantic gun battle to the next. Which is odd for a guy with so. Much. Power.
DOOM Eternal also picks-up, narratively, from where Doom left off, with those aforementioned demons invading the Earth. You mission, this time around, is to take out three Hell Priests, which will hopefully end the demonic occupation of Earth, and lead you to be greeting as a liberator…if anyone is still left.
Where DOOM Eternal begins to differentiate itself from its predecessors is in how you take out those invading demons. As before, you don’t have to reload your guns, while the ability to look down the barrel for added accuracy has been again been replaced with a secondary attack. In the case of the shotgun, for example, you have a choice of having it momentarily convert it into a fully-automatic shotgun or to launch some sticky bombs.
But DOOM Eternal swaps the grenades you tossed in DOOM for a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher, which is a much more effective means of distribution. This shoulder gun also has a flamethrower attachment called the Flame Belch, which you trigger with a different button from the grenade launcher and your regular guns. And while setting demons on fire doesn’t seem to hurt them — and why would it, given where they grew up — it does cause them to drop shards of armor you can use.
In a similar vein, DOOM Eternal also doesn’t consider your chainsaw to be just another weapon, one you have to equip to use. Instead, you whip it out with the touch of a button (“X” on Xbox; square on PS4). You still need to find gas for it, but the chainsaw does recharge some over time, and quickly. Not to the point where you can go full Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but enough that you can always count on it to get you out of a tight spot.
It also doesn’t take the place…
of your normal melee attack. Which is good because you’re going to want to punch people a lot more this time around. Like in DOOM, you can still stun enemies by smacking them or shooting them. Doing so causes them to glow, and punching them when they’re dazed not only takes them out but also causes them to drop some health, armor, and ammo. But unlike in the previous game, where you’d usually find enough armor, ammo, and health packs lying around, DOOM Eternal is a lot stingier, forcing you to perform Glory Kills a lot more often.
DOOM Eternal also adds depth when it comes to customization and upgrades. Consider how you improve your health, armor, and ammo capacity. While you still get to choose which to upgrade, the buttons for these are connected to other upgrades, two on each side; unlocking both grants you that middle upgrade. The kicker being that the two side upgrades are not the same kind, and not related to the third. So it’s not like you upgrade your health twice to unlock the ability to recharge your health faster. Instead, you upgrade your health 25% and your armor 25% and then have armor, health, and ammo pick-ups fly towards you from further away.
Similarly, when you upgrade the secondary attacks on your guns, you have your choice of two, but need both to unlock the option to add a third. In the case of the shotgun, if you opt for the sticky bombs, you can make them deadlier or reload faster, but need to do both before you can “Launch 5 sticky bombs before having to reload the mod.”
Even getting around in DOOM Eternal is more evolved. Though it never gets as clever as, say, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, there are times when you’ll have to do some fleet-footed running and jumping. You also, like in DOOM, have the ability to do a quick dash, which isn’t all that helpful on the ground, but is when you’re in mid-air and would rather not fall to your death. There’s even some cliff faces you can grab onto and climb. The nice thing being that you’ll actually dash ahead and grab on if even you’re remotely close to one.
All of the platforming in DOOM Eternal…
comes courtesy of the game’s change in venue from a Martian base to a thoroughly wrecked Earth. During the part of the game that we got to play — the opening couple of hours — most of our time was running around decimated buildings that didn’t have a lot of stairs, but were rich with long drops. This also has moments when you’re running around the innards of a fallen Godzilla-sized demon, kind of like the giant worm levels of Gears Of War 2. Doubly so since, like in a Gears game, you can’t jump like you can normally when you’re sloshing around a demon’s insides.
That said, the change in scenery doesn’t actually change the look of DOOM Eternal all that much. This doesn’t look like such post-apocalyptic games as The Division 2 or Fallout 76, or like the warn-torn locations in the World War II shooter Call Of Duty: WWII. Instead, it all looks like the Hell parts of DOOM.
So…how do all of these changes ultimately impact DOOM Eternal, especially compared to DOOM? Honestly, not a lot. This still has the same kind of fast and frantic shootouts, and while it can be exhausting, it was never frustrating. Or dull, for that matter.
In fact, the only thing about DOOM Eternal that might annoy fans of this series is how some of the button assignments were counter-intuitive. While you use the left bumper to launch a grenade, don’t use the right one for the Flame Belch, you instead use the “Y” (Xbox) and triangle (PS4). Even after three hours I was still tapping the right bumper when I was hoping to light a demon on fire. Though I think I remember seeing an option to remap the buttons.
Still, these is a minor (and possibly moot) complaint…
about a game that seems like it’s going to be as exciting and addictive as its predecessor. We’ll know for sure when DOOM Eternal comes out March 20th.