Picking up where the 2016 reboot of Doom left off, Doom Eternal offers the merest breath of exposition before you’re handed a shotgun and required to start blasting through demons at breakneck speed. And that’s absolutely fine. Combat is quick, movement is quicker, and both come together in spectacular fights where hundreds of powerful enemies dispatched by the protagonist Doom Slayer – unless he stands still for a fraction of a second.
As in Doom, clever tricks encourage risky, aggressive, thrill-seeking play. Low-health enemies can be ripped apart by up close and personal attacks – “glory kills” – which drop health, encouraging the player not to retreat in the face of danger but to instead get closer.
It’s a spectacle of violence, but one with impeccable design. Each arena offers clever verticality, meaning constant movement in three dimensions. The game’s heavy-metal soundtrack urges the player onward, while the rest of the sound design offers plenty of gory rips and squelches, but also the sharp smash of a collapsing statue or the echo of the Doom Slayer’s footsteps in a high-ceilinged corridor.
But while the previous title felt like it outstayed its welcome in the latter half, Doom Eternal never gets old despite its longer play time. Though the foundation of the fighting might be the same, there’s far more variety to keep it fresh throughout. Some of that is within the combat itself, such as new enemies that require specific techniques to overcome and different kinds of encounters that put imaginative spins on the otherwise formulaic waves of increasing difficulty.
There are also multiple upgrade systems for weapons, abilities and suit, gained through ordinary progression as well as completing optional challenges. And Eternal intersperses the familiar scorched red wastelands or gore hives with missions that take place in ivy-wrapped ruins or snowy expanses; it’s just as well that there’s a photo mode to take advantage of them.
The game offers many quieter interludes to take in the scenery, too. Hidden secrets and mandatory platforming challenges use all of the Slayer’s additional movement abilities and offer light puzzles to break up the relentless speed, cleverly pacing out the game’s most intense moments.
Combat and platforming are meticulously tuned. Hitboxes, on both enemies and grabbable walls, are forgiving enough to afford a constant sense of mastery over the building blocks of the Slayer’s kit. And there are other systems in place to keep the player moving along and prevent any frustration. Difficulty modes can be switched on the fly without affecting progression, and any cheat codes found hidden away are also fine to use throughout the campaign. Dying multiple times on a boss fight unlocks the option to take hugely reduced damage. Though it’s possible to crank up the difficulty and play to erase any mistake, doing so isn’t necessary to enjoy the feeling of power it affords.
For those who do want to overcome the tougher challenges, the multiplayer “battlemode” will allow players to face one another as either the Slayer or the demons. (Servers weren’t available during the review period.)
But it’s the momentum of the single-player experience that makes Doom Eternal a joy – both within fights and in the broader pacing. Though the story is vague, it doesn’t matter. The Slayer’s indifference to it is showcased throughout; his desire is clearly only to keep moving to end the demonic invasion. The reaction of other characters to his presence also adds some excellent comedy.
Doom Eternal is clearly a continuation of the franchise, but it is also a clear improvement on its predecessor. Every design detail serves to propel the player forwards with as little friction as possible, with enough surprises and twists to prevent the formula becoming stale. It’s a real delight to be the Doom Slayer: to put everything else aside and focus on just the problem in front of you. Especially if that problem is a swarm of angry demons.