After first getting my hands-on Doom Eternal at a pre-E3 2019 event, without even thinking, I turned to executive producer Marty Stratton and asked "Can I do it again?" He said "sure," and so I did it again. I finished the Doom Eternal demo much faster and more cleanly the second time around, and then immediately started another run. Sadly, I didn't get to clear the demo a third time, and even more sadly, I haven't been able to play Doom Eternal since - you know, because it's not out yet. And reader, that's a crying shame, because this game is fun as hell.
Doom Eternal is exactly what I wanted from a follow-up to 2016's delightful Doom reboot. It's a fast, no-nonsense, old-school first-person shooter, and it builds on the previous game in meaningful and noticeable ways. It's still got secrets to find, guns to hoard, and lots and lots of demons to kill. But it's also a smarter, more creative Doom that uses old favorites and new tricks to refine the rip-and-tear formula without sacrificing what makes it so compelling.
Carefully orchestrated chaos
"Take what you need from the enemies" was the mantra at my demo. In Doom 2016, you could kill enemies with the chainsaw to make them drop ammo or dispatch them with a glory kill to make them drop health. That idea – killing stuff in specific ways to get resources that ensure you can keep killing stuff – has been expanded in Doom Eternal. You can still glory kill for health and chainsaw kill for ammo, but you can also rapidly land two glory kills to add a devastating Blood Punch AoE to your next melee attack, or you can light enemies on fire with the new shoulder-mounted flamethrower to make them drop armor packs.
These two seemingly minor additions have a huge impact on the way you'll approach encounters in Doom Eternal. It changes the way you see enemies by bringing method to Doom's intoxicating madness. Three weak enemies up front, big guy in the back? Pepper the weaklings with the plasma gun, glory kill them, then Blood Punch the big guy. Easy. Gang of Imps nearby, couple of Cacodemons sniping you from afar? Light the imps on fire, take out the Cacodemons while the Imps burn, scoop up the armor the Imps drop, then glory kill them and head into the next engagement with a Blood Punch at the ready. Low on everything but chainsaw fuel? Saw the biggest dude in half, stock up, then strategically weaken some nearby demons with collateral shotgun damage to set them up for glory kills. Doom Eternal basically turns you into a John Wick-style master of strategic slaughter, and I am here for it.
On top of dismantling crowds in specific ways, you can target certain parts of some heavy- and super heavy-class enemies to disable their strongest attacks or expose their weak points. Those weak points aren't always obvious glowing crit spots, either. You can blow limbs off, take guns out, and use exploding enemies to kill other enemies. And you do all this while managing the cooldown on your flamethrower and frag grenade, using Blood Punches efficiently, applying your chainsaw liberally, swapping weapons and firing modes as needed, and so on. This makes for a wonderfully varied maelstrom of violence which I was incredibly reluctant to put down.
Combat's also been enhanced by new movement options. Now you can double jump, dash twice in any direction (on the ground or in the air), slide around, and climb or cling to specific walls. Oh, and you have a grappling hook. Did I mention the grappling hook? Because there's a dang grappling hook attached to the Super Shotgun and it's frickin' sweet. You can pull yourself to enemies, pull enemies to you, or use flying enemies as anchors to swing yourself around, and you can chain all of these abilities together to pull off some truly exhilarating stunts. Naturally, all this can also be used to explore and find secrets, and as Stratton and Martin explained, they also helped improve on the weakest areas of Doom 2016: The ones between the big arena fights.
"We wanted to improve the incidental combat spaces," Martin tells me. "I think the arenas were great, but we needed to make sure that in the fourth quarter, the third act of the game still had something to offer players. We couldn't run out of steam in the final quarter, and we made sure that the game is compelling not only in the arena spaces but also in the connecting spaces. They need to be as engaging if not more engaging. There's plenty to keep you on your toes and engaged throughout every inch of the level now."
"My favorite movement tool from a gameplay perspective is the Meathook, the grapple on the Super Shotgun," adds Stratton. "It's just so – I can't get enough of it. No matter how you're using it, whether it's enemies on the ground or enemies on a ledge above you. Once you get good at it you learn you can air-control yourself and then jump before you get to where you're going, then dash or whip yourself around, or grapple off a flying enemy and whip yourself to the other side of the arena. It's the most unbelievable thing. It feels so good, and that combined with double jump and double dash makes you feel so powerful."
Building on Doom 2016
As Doom Eternal's E3 trailer revealed, the upcoming sequel is also looking to expand the game's universe with new, angelic-looking enemies and environments. Martin and Stratton wouldn't share too much about where these fit into the bigger picture, but Martin assured me the Doom Slayer has "upset a lot of the higher-ups," so I'm gearing up for some heaven on hell action. This has more than lore implications, too. Stratton and Martin confirmed that Doom Eternal is considerably larger than Doom 2016 in every way.
"We came away from 2016 where you fought mostly on Mars and Hell, so we wanted to expand the universe," Stratton tells me as he teases some of the new environments we should expect to see in Doom Eternal. "The stuff you played is in this in-between space of Phobos and Mars, but man you're gonna go to some places that you've never even dreamed of in a Doom game."
"I feel like you really go on a journey. The levels are without question bigger," Martin added, joking that "it probably frustrates Marty how big they are."
"[Laughs] They're really expensive!" Stratton replied.
As Bethesda and Id Software looked for things to improve in Doom Eternal, they also looked at the lynchpin of the whole operation: The Doom Slayer himself. One of my favorite parts of the now two-part Doom reboot has been seeing the mysterious Doom Guy develop more of a personality through his actions in cutscenes and little nods in Easter eggs. Stratton says that kind of characterization will continue in Doom Eternal, and that the sequel will tell us much more about the man behind the helmet.
Who is the Doom Slayer?
"The Slayer is like a superhero I would say," says Stratton. "That was a goal going into Doom 2016, to turn him into a superhero in kind of the most badass way ever. It's part of Eternal, that struggle between good and evil. He is always on the wall fighting the demons. I think his irreverence, his power, his persistence make him such a badass."
"Over here we might have a John McClane, Die Hard, Sylvester Stallone-type hero and there's a certain amount of humanity with those guys, they struggle to overcome things," Martin explains. "They're more human, they're kind of one of us – ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Over here is Michael Myers and The Terminator, who are kind of inhuman killing machines. I think the Slayer falls in the middle and closer to Michael Myers. That's what makes him so compelling. Rather than constantly revealing his humanity through scenes where he's emoting and talking to people, he only reveals his humanity in tiny, subtle moments which makes them that much more interesting. It's kind of like when the Terminator would pause and smile at John Connor, everyone's like 'oh my god, he's like a real person.'
"And you're gonna learn a lot about him in Doom Eternal," he stressed. "A lot. I think we're going to answer a lot of questions, people are very curious about him and who he is. Is it the same Doom Guy from 1993? You're gonna learn all that stuff, him, his personality, what he does. But he'll still be a mystery. Michael Myers and all those guys are always a mystery."
As excited as I am to see the story of Doom Guy continued in Doom Eternal, mostly I'm just looking forward to killing more demons – including plenty of new ones like the Dread Knight, Whiplash, and Carcass, as well as freshly modernized oldies like the Pain Elemental and Arachnotron. Stratton says that while there's plenty of Doom 2016 in Doom Eternal, from essentials like the shotguns to icons like the Cacodemons, "everything's updated, there's nothing from 2016 that just got brought over." Quite frankly, the combat connecting all that new stuff is so fun that I will gladly hunt down secrets and extra lives and weapon upgrades if only as an excuse to kick a little more ass.