And how I learned to be inDOOMitable again.
I didn’t get Doom Eternal at first, and I’ll raise my hands to that. I spent the majority of the first level running around scared and confused, desperately trying to suck up any ammo I could, while fruitlessly punching demons with little to no effect. Because you see, back in my day – that being when Doom 2016 came out, which I will now just call Doom for the sake of brevity – ammo was plentiful and only became more so as the game went on, and fodder would melt underneath your fist into bloody mush.
It was a strange experience, because I’d never thought I would have such a hard time readjusting to what I believed was essentially the same game but with a few extra additions. When I went from Bayonetta 1 to 2, sure there was a few newly added wrinkles to the fights, but it was largely business as usual as I deftly dodged and punished with familiar and trusted combos. In Eternal, however, I was lamenting the fact I was without Doom’s dinky pistol with infinite ammo, because even that was preferable to having nothing at all.
I even started to resent Doom Eternal as old strategies left me staring at the game over screen. Being told you’re playing a game wrong is a bitter pill to swallow, and it’s far easier to soothe a bruised ego and convince yourself that it’s everyone else who is wrong. But in truth, the answer was always with me, even if Doom had conditioned me to never use it, and that answer was the chainsaw. Because in both Doom and Doom Eternal, the chainsaw makes enemies gush ammo along with their blood and guts. However, there are some slight differences in how they operate, which end up having a big difference in how you use them.
In Doom, you could use the chainsaw three times before it ran out of fuel, meaning it was wise to conserve it until you were desperately in need of munitions – which wasn’t that often as I stated. The chainsaw was almost a fun reward in that sense, something to end a particularly pesky foe’s existence with a brutal merger of serrated steel and demonic flesh. Not the case in Doom Eternal, however, since the chainsaw now recharges a third of its tank automatically, which is enough to cut through smaller beasts. This encourages the player to use it far more often, and thus begins a cycle of cutting a demon down for ammo, then expending that ammo, and then finding another unfortunate victim for your chainsaw, which should have refuelled itself by then. A strict max ammo limit also helps to enforce this behaviour pretty much throughout the entire game. To put it in perspective, you could hold up to 60 shotgun shells in Doom, but in Doom Eternal this has plummeted down to a mere 24.
Strategy, that’s what this adds. As you bring your arsenal down on Hell you are always on the lookout for an angry, screaming refill when that low ammo message comes up. And that melee that does barely any damage can still be used to interrupt enemy attacks if you need some breathing space. Looking back at Doom, it was admittedly too easy to just repeatedly punch a demon into a stupor, ready for the Glory Kill. But, it doesn’t stop there, and the more I play, the more I find Doom Eternal to be a smarter version of its predecessor. For starters, larger demons now have weak points you can hit, disabling them from using certain attacks.
A decent plan I’ve started to use is to freeze a hulking demon with an ice grenade and then snipe its armaments off with the Heavy Cannon. The Flame Belch – like the regular melee – isn’t for basic damage dealing, instead hitting an enemy with it will shear armour pickups off them. Killing that enemy will reward you with a burst of armour meaning it’s a good idea to focus fire on that target, lest you waste the opportunity since the Flame Belch needs to recharge after every use. Thumbing through the Codex now reveals the weaknesses of each enemy type, such as using the Plasma Rifle to burst shields, which really felt like something you should have been able to do in Doom.
Platforming is a more contentious aspect, since it doesn’t really mix well with a restricted view where you can’t always see beneath your character. But I still found it a welcome break from the action and an interesting way to make use of the Doom Slayer’s improved mobility, as well as adding some spice to exploration. And speaking of exploration, thank Hell for the ability to fast travel, which makes hoovering up those missed collectables so much more painless. I also enjoyed the added personality in the demons’ faces, especially when you shove a blade into their skull and they stare back in slack-jawed confusion.
So Doom Eternal is the clear winner over Doom right? Well, no. The biggest negative that I can throw at Eternal is its story, which has seen a larger focus this time around. In Doom, the mastermind Samuel Hayden provided most of the exposition, and the Doom Slayer’s indifference to his prattling mirrored the player’s indifference to the plot. The Doom Slayer was there to rip and tear, almost to the point where saving humanity was just an afterthought when compared to destroying the spawn of Hell. This helped the player to assume the role of the Doom Slayer, because we weren’t playing Doom to be the big hero, we were there to squeeze an Imp’s head until it imploded. There still was a story, but it was one that knew it was secondary to the gameplay instead of the other way around. And with a cast size of just four (including the Doom Slayer himself), it allowed for some simple yet effective character building that rarely bogged the pace down.
Not only does Eternal slam the brakes on the action more often, but the times it does, it shoves characters into your face that the game seems to assume you already know. And despite being able to follow the basic narrative, a lot of the locations, people and events just washed over me, leaving only bewilderment in its wake. Maybe all the unexplained plot points are covered in the Codex – like how the Doom Slayer got ownership of a fucking space fortress – but Doom’s story worked perfectly fine without having to do some light reading.
That all said, I still prefer Doom Eternal over Doom, it has a more interesting combat system that forces you to think more often about your next step. That may sound like an obvious conclusion with it being a sequel and all, but let’s not forget the law of diminishing returns, with overfamiliarity taking away from an otherwise technically better game. But Doom Eternal exceeds the original in so many ways, that it comes across as an evolution rather than just a refinement, which sequels usually fall into the trap of.
While I don’t think Eternal makes Doom irrelevant by any stretch of the imagination, it does what a sequel always should do, and that’s to stand proudly on its own merits.