DOOM: Eternal is a cathartic sprint

DOOM Eternal is a game.

And a damn good one at that. It’s been over a month since the wrap-up of the DOOM saga, and I’m here to rave about the best game I’ve ever had the privilege to lay my grubby hands on.

Image courtesy of Bethesda

Released back in March of last year, the buildup to its release was overwhelming. And it delivered. Just not what we were expecting.

From getting my shit kicked in as I died over and over to brutal melee attacks from the demonic Cacodemons, to the overwhelming pressure of deadly Arachnotron-mounted cannons, I was getting my bottom handed to me.

But each served to teach me something. It made me adapt my strategies, no longer waltzing up to demons and dumping two barrels of shrapnel down their throat the way DOOM 2016 let me. This time Hell fought back, and hard.

It taught me to manage different threats at a blistering pace, prioritizing those Arachnotron turrets to give me some breathing room, or to keep my distance while raining fire on Cacodemons before going in for the kill. Where we expected DOOM 2016 rehashed, instead id Software reinvented the wheel, creating systems that allowed players to show their mastery of it. Anyone can shoot a demon until it’s a red paste, but to accurately prioritize, neutralize, and stylishly execute it all on the fly was much more badass.

But like a disobedient child, I rebelled. I hated the systems. I wanted to shooty shooty demons and feel awesome immediately. I wanted to feel powerful now. Getting Doomguy gibbed over and over as I stared into a greyed death screen wasn’t the power fantasy I wanted. But as I was forced to learn and adapt, along the way something… clicked.

The confidence of id Software

When I first booted up Eternal’s DLC (The Ancient Gods Part 1), my first impression was one of incredulous surprise. They really made this. A DLC for a mainstream, triple-A game aimed at the mass market. It showed tremendous respect for their player's skill. It was such an unprecedented move I couldn’t help but admire it for boldness of it all. It demanded a high-level understanding of Eternal’s mechanics to beat it on even normal difficulties. DOOM 2016 gave you a power trip. Eternal made you earn it.

Both DOOM 2016 and Eternal are heartfelt love letters crafted for gamers. The biggest contrarian to the conventions laid by modern shooters like Halo and Call of Duty. Gone are cover and regenerating health mechanics. Done away with hit-scan weapons that instantly take away your health with no interesting ways to avoid it besides hiding.

Enemy attacks in DOOM are fast and deadly, but manoeuvrable. Health is earned, not given through non-gameplay (like hiding). It’s brutality pulling no punches, teaching you through tests and making sure you earn it. And when you do earn it, which you will, the game never lets you down unfairly. It teaches you through challenge and fair balance. It respects the player in an era of waypoints and handholding. It’s the second breath of fresh air after 2016’s reboot, except now it’s fully committing to its ideas.

Nail-biting combat and difficulty

When I showed my friend this game, he couldn’t help but think this was mindless carnage, all spectacle. But it’s so much more.

With enough experience, brutally dismantle foes that once were threats with short notice. Dispatch them back to where they came from.

Each encounter made me grit my teeth, intense and unrelenting. I had the tools at my disposal to be a badass, but nothing else. I had to earn the right to be the Doomguy, and as I got better, it felt like I had.

It pushes you to physical exhaustion. I found myself breathless after fights, 5~ minutes of pure unfiltered badassery and just a tinge of violence. It’s effortless when mastered, but otherwise, a brutal challenge that will test what you think possible for a video game to ask of you. It shows immense confidence on the part of the developers, and I’m in awe of what they’ve managed to accomplish. I’ve never been asked so much from a game before, I never thought myself able to reach such heights, and somehow the game turned me into the Doom slayer.

Power fantasy earned is so much more rewarding than one handed to players, and armed with that philosophy, id Software set the gold standard for FPS.

Trivialize elite enemies. You don’t learn the combat, you master it.

The game sets parameters not to restrict your freedom. It’s to allow you to utterly dominate the combat loop. Anyone can shoot a demon. It takes mastery to quickscope their weak points and swap between different weapons to obliterate the toughest enemies.

When you are mowing down demons with a mix of ferocity and grace, that’s what id Software and the community affectionately dubs “The Funzone”

Game Texture

Weapons feel meaty, from the industrial sound of the Super Shotgun’s Meathook to the punchiness of the Combat Shotgun. Oh, and yeah I guess weapons other than Shotguns sound neat too. It’s sound design that sends shivers down your spine.

Visual feedback is terrific, as your carnage rips chunks of Demons off, a gloriously visceral indicator of their health. Doomguy even handles like he’s angry. As you zip around the field, you don’t feel agile or nimble. You handle each hefty dash with rage.

I can’t praise the combat enough. You enter a zen-like state of flow. It’s catharsis.

How Systems drive the game

When your resources aren’t rechargeable but found spurting out in bright colour-coded loot inside an unsuspecting imp, you approach things differently. Need health? Glory kill. Need ammo? Chainsaw kill. Need Armour? Light 'em up with a shoulder-mounted flamethrower kill.

When Doomguy is close to death, he gets angrier. You’re encouraged to be aggressive to gain resources. It’s brilliant gameplay design.

Weak points are reinforced in later DLC with the “Sentinel Hammer” and “Weak Point Shockwave” rune

Violence: The Parody

It’s so over the top it pushes to the point of absurdity parodying violence, but never callously. It’s fun, arcadey and bombastic. It’s over-the-top testosterone and hard to take seriously, whereas more gruesome games make the horror intimate and personal.

Brevity and self-awareness show in comically brutal takedowns that parody itself.

Conclusion

As it stands Eternal has become my favourite game of all time. A single-player experience with such an immense skill ceiling, I can’t help but return to it. Accompanied with a rip-roaring soundtrack at the heart of it all that drives the blistering pace of the game. The kind that makes you grin at how cheesy, over the top and self-aware the game is. Its head pounding and adrenaline-filled. It’s the junk food of video game music. I can’t get enough of it.

Doom was my renaissance to the boomer shooter genre, and I’ve been enthralled by fast-paced action ever since. (A few of my favourites include Ghostrunner and Dusk)

To future fans:

Don’t let me intimidate you. This is just the way some people sink their teeth into this meaty game. At its core, Eternal is about moving fast and using all the tools at your disposal. The only other rule is to feel like an absolute monster doing it. You can hop in, put your slayer helmet on, no matter your skill. The game will teach you to be the Slayer. It’s time to Rip and Tear.

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If I was 20% cooler I’d be published already

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