Hands On: Doom Eternal

Hands On: Doom Eternal

Consider my worries ripped and torn

Doom fever recently swept over London as the first QuakeCon Europe gave attendees the chance to play a 30-minute demo of Doom Eternal. It was the first time the game was playable outside of North America, and I was lucky enough to try out the demo three times, giving me a decent chance to test out the Doom Slayer’s updated arsenal on a horde of new and nastier hell demons. 

If you’re a fan of Doom (2016), you’ll be pleased to know that Eternal is mostly more of the same and then some. Ultra-fluid, gore-filled combat carnage is back. Mick Gordon returns with a new, thumping soundtrack. And kills are even more brutal and silly.

After getting some time with a good selection of the Slayer’s tools of destruction, I noticed that they were functionally quite similar to their 2016 counterparts. However, new weapon mods and appearances have helped to freshen them up a little. For example, your starting weapon, the Plasma Rifle, is still a rapid-fire rifle but it looks less like a sleek experimental SMG and much more like a heavy, reliable autocannon like in the original Doom. Additionally enemies killed by the Plasma Rifle explode with a satisfying pop and it even does extra damage against shields. 

I got to try out the new microwave mod for it which fires a continuous beam that locks onto demons, prevents them from moving and eventually causes them to violently explode. Surprisingly, this mod can be used on even the biggest of demons. After panicking at the sight of a Baron of Hell charging towards me, I was able to stop it in its tracks and throw its innards across the arena with the help of the microwave beam.

One of Eternal’s best new additions is the Flame Belch ability. It activates a jet of fire from the Slayer’s shoulder-mounted flamethrower, causing any demons caught in the firestorm to spew armour packs when damaged. The addition of Flame Belch feels like a missing piece of a puzzle that I didn’t know was missing. With Glory Kills giving health and Chainsaw kills granting ammunition, armour from Flame Belch kills creates a holy trinity of resource management and combat survival. On my first time with the demo, I kept forgetting that this ability existed, but once I made a conscious effort to use it and make it a part of the combat loop, it was immensely satisfying. 

Even though the weapon sandbox has been updated, it’s the expanded demon roster and new behaviour that adds further depth to the gameplay of Doom Eternal. Iconic demons from Doom (2016) such as the Mancubus, Cacodemon, Baron of Hell and Hell Knight return and are supported by a host of new demons and variations, like the Pain Elemental, Arachnotron and Dread Knight.

In a livestream at QuakeCon, Creative Director Hugo Martin said: “every AI is a chess piece and it’s got strengths and it’s got weaknesses.” Knowledge of those strengths and weaknesses is crucial to overcoming the demon hordes. 

In the same stream Martin mentioned that the Super Shotgun would not be the answer to every fight. This was nicely shown by some of the new demon behaviour which lets the demons control the arena space as much as the Slayer. Notably, the Mancubus will try to keep the Slayer as far away as possible by creating a shockwave with its cannons. Players can try to defeat it with ranged weapons, or by performing a skill shot, another of Doom Eternal’s new demon killing methods.

Certain demon types in Eternal have weak points which can be destroyed by performing a skill shot. In the case of the Mancubus, its arm cannons can be disabled by shooting the lower portion of them with a well-placed shot, allowing the player to get in close. Getting these skill shots isn’t easy (hence the skill in skill shot) but disabling a Mancubus’s cannons or the turret on an Arachnotron is exactly the small victory you need in combat and is easily the most efficient way to dispatch demons. 

Movement in combat is arguably even more critical than it was in Doom (2016), especially with Eternal’s new lateral double dash which allows the slayer to quickly evade attacks, catch up to demons or escape danger. More abilities and resources to keep track of and improved demon behaviour means the combat skill gap is much higher. 

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Overall, I felt like I was punished more by the demons for making mistakes, but the suite of weapons, abilities and the extra lives, which instantly put you back in the fight, gives you plenty of opportunities to recover and come out on top. While the Doom Slayer might argue that power is power, knowledge on where to go, how to get there, which weapon to use and what demons to use it on is often just as important.

My one concern with the demo was the platforming. When you weren’t killing demons in Doom 2016, you were probably navigating some corridors or trying to climb up or down somewhere to progress to the next fight. Eternal tries to do away with corridors but the replacement might not be as good. The demo I played featured one particularly frustrating platforming section that felt a little too long. 

The main issue I have is that the Slayer’s new ability to climb on special walls feels awkward. Given that he will contextually mantle, having to press a button for him to latch onto the wall felt weirdly unneeded. Oddly enough, dashing while close to a wall will make the Slayer hold on without the need for the button press. Several times I found myself plummeting because I would dash at a wall and then accidentally let go of it because I’d press the climb button anyway.

It’s a small gripe but for me, the platforming slightly took away from the fast and flowing nature of Doom, even outside of combat. Given that the demo was made up of three combat-heavy encounters from three different sections of one the early levels in the game, it’s clear that platforming will be a key part of the level design in Eternal. I hope that the final game will see traversal introduced in a much simpler way, with it growing in complexity throughout the missions. 

Ultimately, the demo proved the most important thing, which is that the high-octane, demon-shredding nature of Doom is still fun. Some of the new features shown at QuakeCon last year and at this year’s E3 had me a little worried, but I now feel much more confident about the game now that I’ve had some hands-on time. Doom Eternal has even more depth and new ways to overcome the onslaught from hell. Hopefully, the depth added to the combat will also be reflected in its universe and story too. You’ll be able to start ripping and tearing again on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC on 22 November.

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