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Call me a masochist, but I always prefer it when the odds aren't in my favour. It's why I often turn the "Fill Squad" option off in Fortnite, dropping into matches as a lone wolf despite knowing full well that I'll barely make the top ten as a result, let alone score victory royale.
It's why I love being one of the remaining survivors on a game of Infected in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare; that sense of feeling totally outnumbered pumping the adrenaline like an intravenous drip of dopamine to the soul. And, I think, it goes a long way in explaining why I'm enjoying Doom Eternal's inventive multiplayer component, Battlemode, more than its indulgent single-player campaign.
Yes, yes, I know; that last sentence reads like blasphemous hearsay to the Doom faithful. The 2016 reboot of id Software iconic first-person shooter is beloved and adored not for its ancillary multiplayer mode, but in spite of it. Instead, the game was elevated by a meaty, powerhouse campaign that successfully paid homage to its ancestry while iterating on that original blueprint in all the right ways. But Doom Eternal corrects that imbalance, presenting a multiplayer component that's just as gratifying and enjoyable as its main course, and – subsequently – proves its worth as an integral rung on the double helix of the franchise's revamped DNA.
You'll often hear id Software use the language of chess when describing their design approach to Doom, referring to demons as different pieces on the board of each combat arena that the Doom Slayer finds himself in. It's an apt metaphor; one which emphasises the strategic, kinesthetic textures to every battle, where positioning, situational awareness, and resource management are just as important as squeezing the trigger of a loaded shotgun.
The studio has transitioned those key ingredients into Doom Eternal's multiplayer with no loss of flavour, ditching the forgettable Team Deathmatch of 2016's reboot and replacing it with the asymmetric Battlemode, which sees one Doomguy go up against two other Demon players, the latter capable of spawning AI enemies in with the press of a button.
Playing as the Doomguy in this scenario arguably presents the ultimate challenge for the vested slayer; a culmination of everything the campaign has taught you, and one which requires a near primodiarial fluency with the game's complex web of mechanics, concepts, and – yes – chess-like combat strategies. With victory only secured once you've knocked both demons out of the arena (and a mere 20 second timer between respawns), it's a relentless, breakneck gauntlet of pure, unremitting action.
Even in Battlemode's context, the power fantasy of playing as mankind's beefiest supersoldier remains palpable, but the added twist of two other humans embodying your foes suddenly throws a degree of unpredictability into the mix, disrupting the rhythms of play you might be used to navigating in Doom Eternal's campaign. Given my aforementioned obsession for stacked odds, then, it's fair to say I'm already addicted to playing as the Doom Slayer in Battlemode, but that's not to detract from the virtues presented by the other side.
On the contrary, the demons of Battlemode provide Doom Eternal with a refreshing breadth of gameplay variety, not just in their suite of new abilities, but in the opportunities to approach combat in a completely different way to that of the slayer. Battlemode lets you pick from one of five of Hell's offspring to play as – Archvile, Pain Elemental, Marauder, Mancubus, and Revenant – with each one offering distinct control schemes, mechanics, and playstyles. Beefy tank character Mancubus is leagues away from the aerial AoE-focused Pain Elemental, for example, while my personal favourite, the Marauder, is all about getting up close and personal, thanks to a devastating shotgun and axe combo.
While the Doomslayer remains the most powerful single chess piece in Battlemode, the demons' capacity to spawn in hordes of AI minions, heal themselves and their allies, and destroy potential health and ammo dumps gives them puppet master-like influence over the chess board itself, as both players work with each other to back their opponent into a figurative (and sometimes literal) corner. It's a different kind of power fantasy than the one offered in the campaign, with even the sight of the comparatively tiny Slayer scurrying across the map presenting an immediately satisfying target to pursue.
A match made in Hell
Of course, given we're talking about the studio that effectively invented the Team Deathmatch, I can understand the publicly aired grievances over id Software's decision to try something different for Doom Eternal, which ditches the famed mode entirely. But Battlemode proves to be a worthy replacement to Doom 2016's anemic online component, channeling the shooter's unique strengths as a real-time tactical FPS, and offering something genuinely different to the industry norm.
Asymmetric multiplayer modes are usually met with a healthy amount of skepticism, as initial interest in their novelty backslides into concern over their long-term entertainment value and competitive harmony. But Doom Eternal's Battlemode nails that critical balance between entertainment and fairness, all while offering a PvP experience that brings to mind the kind of offbeat tournaments enjoyed in the seventh console generation, when developers were more willing to experiment with the multiplayer format.
It should go without saying that Eternal's campaign is excellent, too. Sublime, in fact. But Battlemode cuts away all the fat – the overwrought story, awkward platforming, and convoluted progression system – and gets straight to the good stuff. It's not a conclusion I thought I'd find myself arriving at in 2020, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't having more fun slaying human-controlled demons in Doom Eternal than their AI counterparts.
For more, check out these seven Doom Eternal tips to help you raze hell, or check out our review of the game in the video below.