DOOM Eternal Review: Flow the Game

DOOM Eternal is a game that you turn on and think “okay, it’s time to kill some demons”, and get killed by demons instead. This is something that will continue to happen repeatedly until you decide to take it seriously and adapt to the changes it has made from DOOM 2016. Personally, I thought DOOM 2016 operated inside of this sweet spot where it provided plenty of tension and atmosphere, while still allowing a margin of error for the player’s mistakes or miss-clicks. The only time that game was really punishing was within boss battles. This is not the case for DOOM Eternal. You will have to learn it’s dance because, if you don’t, you won’t just sprain your ankle from falling, but lose your entire foot and thereafter be devoured by hundreds of demonic entities.

There has been a lot of talk about difficulty in DOOM Eternal, especially back when it was released, because of how much more punishing the game became. I played it one setting lower than what I played DOOM 2016 on, and still found the game to be more difficult than its predecessor. However, I don’t think that is a bad thing because of how the developers have expanded the sandbox in such a way that allows for some of the most fluid and dynamic combat I’ve ever experienced in a first person shooter. And there’s no real way to tell you how exactly it feels to play DOOM Eternal other than to say that it puts you into a state of flow like no other game I’ve ever played.

‘Flow’ is: ‘In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.’ – Wikipedia.

Think of the time you tried to get a 25 Killstreak nuke in Call of Duty. Think of all that pressure dissolving into pure focus the moment your mind realised that goal was within reach. How every time you saw an enemy, the engagement was simultaneously the most important one of the game, but also one to which your actions within felt automatic and efficient. Or the time you helped your buddies capture the flag in Halo. You’re driving the warthog and your buddy gets out to grab the flag. He doesn’t come back. Your gunner runs in, runs out into the passenger seat and tells you to haul-ass out of there. Gun fire surrounds you and the vehicle is flipped halfway to home base by an enemy grenade. Every gun on the enemy team is aimed at your buddy and YOU, the man who has never scored a headshot in his life, drop a killtacular out of nowhere without even fully processing the desire to do that. You just did what had to be done to get that flag. THAT is a state of flow. Complete and utter immersion in your desire to succeed.

It is a feeling DOOM Eternal somehow instils in you inside of every encounter of the game and not one you need to think about getting into yourself. One moment you’re hopping along and admiring the destroyed landscapes and brilliant skyboxes, the next you’re just in the zone.

And this is brilliant because I think the game would be unplayable were it not for its ability to so effortlessly get you in the state of flow. The reason being that although the Doom Slayer moves a lot slower than he does in DOOM 2016, the game as a whole is infinitely faster paced. Not only will you be facing more enemies in every encounter, but stronger ones too. Whereas the chainsaw’s ammo replenishment had been a “get out of sticky situations” sort of weapon in DOOM 2016, here it is a necessity for survival and will be used at least once in every encounter. Relying on glory kills to restore health is now not doable, as you need to combine the glory kills with other methods of restoration, be it upgrading your ice bomb to make frozen enemies drop health when damaged or by allowing your blood punch ability to syphon health from killed demons. And your health will go down a lot. One moment you’ll be on 10HP, and the next you’ll be at the full 200HP as you dance with these demons for control of the arena. The more you allow your health to fluctuate the closer you are to taking a risk too big and getting yourself killed, which is why you had better be spamming your flame belch to refill your armour as much as possible, and spamming your frag grenades to stagger larger demons to give yourself openings. Every single tool at your disposal serves a purpose and neglecting the purpose of even one of those things could mean death for you in a difficult encounter. It makes the game both more difficult than it’s predecessor, but also infinitely more rewarding when you figure out a strategy. For example, I found that freezing a cluster of demons and using the ballista’s energy blade secondary attack to wipe them all out was a highly efficient method of both crowd control and health restoration. While most stratagies you discover will be applicable to almost all situations, depending on the lay out of the arena and enemy demon composition, the same cannot be said for bossfights…

While the high-octane thrill of killing progressively harder demons in arenas is by far and wide nothing but an improvement upon the foundation set by DOOM 2016… The boss battles are not. I like that they still kept the cheesy health bar at the top of the screen, but other than that I felt frustrated by a lot of the boss fights because in this game about learning what enemies can do so you can be more effective against them in future, you only fight bosses once, and many of them aren’t effected in the same way by your equipment as regular enemies. And since their skill sets are USUALLY highly specialised, by the time you’ve memorised and learnt what they do you’ll most likely never need to apply that knowledge again, with the one exception being the Doom Hunter. The result is a series of battles that feel unique, yes, but also out of place.

I think even the developers know this since every boss fight freezes the game before it begins, so the game can show you the exact way you’re supposed to fight and counter the boss in a tutorial. And being told how to kill the boss in a tutorial instead of discovering the best way to damage them and avoid their attacks yourself, as was the case in DOOM 2016’s boss fights, is not fun. In fact it’s boring. In DOOM 2016 they were a highlight for me, and I often replayed entire levels just to experience them again. but in DOOM Eternal I’m more likely to return the main menu when faced with the idea of fighting a boss for the second time.

Some of the bosses have such arbitrary ways of being defeated; the main offender is the Khan Makyr who you must grapple-hook towards in order to land a blood punch on since she is flying for most of the fight. Is it just me or does that seem too oddly specific? It feels like the type of technique a player should have to experiment with in order to get right, and to inflict maximum damage, but in reality it is the ONLY way to beat her. Like, why is the flying boss the one you are FORCED to defeat in hand-to-hand combat? Boss fights like this take a game that otherwise encourages the use of your entire arsenal to merely survive, and just tell you to use whatever bits of it the developers decided need to be used for this specific scenario. It’s dumb, inconsistent, and creates scenarios that undermine the game’s otherwise brilliant sandbox of tools.

Other bosses are copy and pasted versions of lesser enemies, most notably of the Marauder. The Marauder is a fun enemy because he pops up out of nowhere when you think the action is coming down and demands that you fight him in a very specific way. Unlike bosses, however, he can be staggered and distracted efficiently because he is still a normal enemy. Yes, there is a specific strategy involved with killing him but he also doesn’t over stay his welcome, so he never feels like he’s restraining you. But bosses like the the Gladiator, or the DLC’s Dark Lord are nothing more than Marauder’s with bigger health bars and more damage to their attacks who cannot be so easily distracted or staggered by your other tools.

Speaking of DLC…

The Ancient Gods Part 1 is a great little piece of DLC that is incredibly, incredibly difficult. Not frustratingly so, but to the extent where you’re required to play to the best of your ability, regardless of your difficulty settings, if you want to win. It adds a couple of new enemies over a handful of new levels that, rather than expanding the sandbox to include new features, try to put you in unique and unknown scenarios to test how you can use your knowledge of the sandbox to survive. The result is a DLC that is full of tense encounters and challenges.

The Ancient Gods Part 2 has bits and pieces of this, but is strangely easier than Part 1. Sure, it features an incredibly over powered new weapon that is hella fun to use, but I don’t think that’s the cause; After some speculation by the community, the developers eventually became very open about the fact they were trying to ease things up a bit for new or less experienced players. For me personally this wasn’t a bad thing since the game was still incredibly fun and the fact that it was easier didn’t correlate with it being devoid of challenge entirely. But the community still had a field day being torn by this revelation, for some reason I cannot understand. All in all, this DLC is okay but isn’t as good as the Ancient Gods Part 1.

Across the main game and the DLC it should be noted that DOOM Eternal is still as self aware as it’s predecessor was, and I still think that is to the benefit of this new DOOM franchise. A highlight of the game is someone telling you that “You cannot shoot a hole into the surface of Mars”, and then getting your objective updated to “Shoot a hole in Mars”. Another one that gave me a good laugh was someone telling me “That is a gun, not a teleporter”, before the Doom Slayer loaded himself into a gun and shot himself to where he wanted to go.

The game also feels like a game, which is refreshing. What I mean is that in this world of hyper-immersive titles trying to convince player’s that what they’re seeing is real, Doom Eternal is happy to have weapons float, pickups glowing all the colours of the rainbow, big health bars, slow moving projectiles and telegraphed weaknesses on enemies. The game doesn’t need to worry about immersing you with it’s visuals or atmosphere, because the state of flow it gives you already does that. So the game instead focuses it’s visuals on providing clear feedback and readability of the environment, enemies and resources to the player, which I think is absolutely fantastic. But that isn’t to say the game looks bad, because it doesn’t sacrifice anything on the graphical front; It looks beautiful and so does all of the art direction. The music, as good as it has ever been, only adds to environments you find yourself in, which are more varied and open than seen in DOOM 2016.

What isn’t so immersive though is the story, which is put at the forefront of the game in this case. Truth be told that it shouldn’t have been because I have absolutely no idea what’s going and and- and- and- I don’t care. The story is so overly complicated, needlessly prolonged and even occasionally retconned in it’s own DLC’s that I just cant’ be asked to even try and follow it. That said, given that this is a review, I will give you a run down on the story to the best of my knowledge:

The Doom Slayer is actually the original Doom Guy from the 90’s games who travelled to an alternate dimension, was enslaved by aliens and forced to fight in their wars against the demons wherein he earned his freedom and became a hero. The aliens you fought for were the Sentinels, and their bosses are some weird look folks called the Maykrs. The Maykrs are angels but evil, and have struck some kind of deal with hell (I think) to invade Earth, and consume the population to… Okay, I admit it. I don’t know why Earth is being invaded. At a guess, I’d say it’s something to do with immortality since the main villain preaches about godhood a lot. In the DLC’s Samuel Hayden becomes an evil Maykr and you kill him, and then you fight the Dark Lord. Then the Dark Lord is like “I created all of reality”, and the Doom Slayer stabs him in the throat, returns to his coffin and is buried for some reason. Yes, the leader of hell who has been built up to all this time, and who created reality itself, is killed by being stabbed in the throat during a cutscene. It’s in moments like this that I worry the franchise’s direction might lean towards becoming the very games it set itself apart from so successfully in my DOOM 2016 review.

I really think they dropped the ball with the story. In DOOM 2016 it was there for those who wanted it, but they knew it it wasn’t the best thing ever, and thus made it almost entirely optional to the experience. By contrast, DOOM Eternal’s story is much, much, much worse and far more complex than 2016’s, and they push it into the forefront of the game. Even going so far as to present it as something the Doom Slayer investment in. Now, I don’t know about you, but the Doom Slayer I’ve been playing as doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to kneel to the hologram of a king because the story demands it, but that’s something that happens in a cutscene. Was that ludonarrative dissonance? I think it might have been. Truth be told, there will be more of it if you try to invest yourself in the story too much because it’s so melodramatic, and often leads to the Doom Slayer being depicted in ways that I can’t always buy into.

My final thoughts are that DOOM Eternal is immeasurably more fun to play than DOOM 2016, with the exception of its tedious boss fights, and yet still feels as though it never quite reached it’s full potential. Bogged down by a dumb plot that’s not only hard to follow, but also hard to be invested in, gives me the feeling that if some of that creative energy had been put elsewhere into the game, we could have had something close to perfect. Although that close to perfect game isn’t what we have with DOOM Eternal, what we are left with is one that is still pretty great and one whose gems outnumber its flaws. I would highly recommend DOOM Eternal as it is a game that has long entertained me since the day of its release.

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