EDITOR'S NOTE: Doom Eternal won a "highly recommended" honor for best music/sound at the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
The Doom series has always held a special place in my video game-loving heart. Doom II was the first shooter I ever played. My brothers and I hijacked the family’s shared computer for hours, as we took turns shooting demons and roaming the game’s hellish corridors. To hear my father tell it, he didn’t even want this obviously violent game in his home with three young kids, but we saw it on display in a store, and begged for it incessantly.
These days, thanks to uniformly enforced ESRB ratings and the internet, no one would dare mistake Doom Eternal ($60; PC, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia) for a kid-appropriate game. Doom Eternal, the long-awaited follow-up to Doom (2016), is definitely violent. You’ll tear all manner of creatures limb from limb, ripping out eyeballs and punching in faces as easily as you breathe. Still, despite all the blood and guts, there’s a wholesomeness to Doom Eternal that not many other shooters can claim. After all, the things you’re killing are demons, and your mission is to save Earth.
It just so happens that the work feels so good.
Editor's note: Multiplayer servers were not live before launch, so this review covers the single-player campaign only.
Welcome to Hell
Doom Eternal picks up where Doom (2016) left off. If you’re not sure where the previous game left off, that’s fine. All you need to know is that demons from the Hell dimension have invaded Earth, leading to mass casualties and generally unfavorable conditions. Everything’s on fire — literally — and only the fabled Doom Slayer can stop the demons' progression before Earth is lost forever.
Even though Eternal largely adheres to series canon, it’s also a great jumping-on point for players who are new to the series. It doesn’t take long to figure out the Doom Slayer’s purpose: send those pesky demons back from whence they came, using a variety of increasingly powerful weapons. Classics like the super shotgun and chainsaw are still around, as well as some new tools, like the supercharged melee Blood Punch, and an ice bomb that nicely complements the frag grenade. There are also a few blasts from the Doom Slayer’s past, which I won’t spoil here. The weapons get doled out at regular intervals throughout the game, which helps propel ol’ Doomguy forward with impeccable pacing. An upgrade system lets players customize gear to their hearts' content, and use weapons in ways that best suit their play styles.
Environmentally, Doom Eternal builds on its predecessor in a big way. One of the biggest complaints about Doom was that its repetitive, enclosed corridors and arenas all started to feel the same after a dozen hours or so. Doom Eternal hasn’t completely lost the hellish aesthetic, of course, but the game also takes you to unexpected new places. In them, you might find yourself checking out the beautiful scenery, or gazing out at the stars while you contemplate the vastness of space. I should also mention that Doom Eternal looks gorgeous running on the Xbox One X, with only a handful of minor technical hiccups marring an otherwise smooth and consistent performance.
Eternal also shows a lot of variety in its enemies, slowly ramping up the intensity from shotgun-fodder imps to bigger, stronger, more intimidating creatures. The game's developer, id, has woven these environments, weapons and demons together masterfully, resulting in a wonderfully varied, fast-paced shooter that never stops pushing you toward the next objective.
Slay all day (now with more platforming)
Here’s the thing about the lightspeed pacing of Doom Eternal: For the most part, it's a good thing. It’s easy to lose an afternoon, a day or a weekend in this game, because it’s so satisfying. Every time you think you’re ready to take a break, there’s a new weapon in front of you, or you’ve earned some points to upgrade your armor, or you want to go back and find those last few collectables from a prior mission.
While you’re actively engaged in combat, there’s almost no breathing room. As one of the game’s loading screen tips says, if you stop moving, you’ll die. You’ll find yourself dashing, jumping and using teleporters frequently just to stay ahead of the pack, all while switching between weapons on the fly.
Despite its frantic nature, fighting enemies in Doom Eternal also requires a good deal of strategy. Most foes have weak points you can target for quicker takedowns, but that’s easier said than done when you’re constantly on the move. Doom’s Glory Kills make their triumphant return, allowing you to stagger enemies, then take them out in one brutal finishing move. So while you’re swarmed, you’ll be managing attacking demons, limited ammunition and keeping your armor and health up.
Most battlefields have a decent amount of ammo and health pickups, but often, it’s not enough. The demons will provide the resources you need if you attack them correctly, though. Using Flame Belch to set them on fire drops armor, chainsaw kills provide ammo and Glory Kills give you enough health to stay on your feet just a little bit longer. It feels like a lot to keep track of at first, but when it all clicks, it’s immensely satisfying. Understanding how all of these systems work together is crucial to Doom Eternal’s gameplay, making it a deceptively smart shooter.
The game does occasionally give you a few minutes to breathe in the form of surprisingly complex platforming segments. Platforming might seem antithetical to a franchise so deeply rooted in push-forward combat. However, these sections give you a bit of relief between skirmishes, and feel fulfilling in their own right. It feels great to line up a series of perfectly timed jumps, swings and wall grabs, particularly when these skills help you collect the otherwise out-of-reach secrets scattered throughout each level.
For the first 75% percent of the game, Doom Eternal hits that ideal balance of challenging and satisfying. Even if you fail, you’ll want to get right up and try it again, changing up strategies until you break through. However, the last few chapters of the game introduce a difficulty spike that’s less like climbing a steep hill and more like ramming face-first into a wall. In some cases, I spent an hour or more on a single encounter, burning through extra lives (one of the game’s many throwbacks) and reloading over and over again. Some parts were downright cheap, making me feel like more of a puny mortal than a demon-slaying god.
The pacing also goes a little wonky at the end, which is a shame because the game progression feels effortless until then. The climax is overly drawn out, tacking on an extra few hours of gameplay that probably weren’t strictly necessary.
Doom Eternal is one of the best first-person shooters I’ve ever played, and certainly the most fun I’ve had with the genre in the last few years. For every moment of frustration, there are ten others that will have you cackling in satisfaction as you tear a cacodemon’s eye out of its fleshy face and shove it down its throat. (Come on, that can’t just be me.) It’s a power fantasy, for sure, but it’s not gratuitous or gross. There’s no ambiguity about your actions, and no reason to contemplate whether all the violence is necessary. You’re literally saving Earth from turning into Hell! What could be a more worthy cause?
There are lots of other things to love about the game, too, like the thoughtful nods to O.G. Doom and other flagship Bethesda franchises. There are collectable records with music from previous games, hidden toys that make the game's grotesque monsters adorable and plenty of story references to what came before. I also appreciated Doom Eternal's extensive accessibility options, including difficulty levels that you can change on the fly, colorblind mode, subtitles and more.
Even now, after spending 25-30 hours playing Doom Eternal — including a couple of all-day marathon sessions — I can’t get it out of my head. All I can think about is the collectibles I missed, the upgrades I didn’t get and how badly I want to keep ripping and tearing. Sure, it’s got some issues sticking the landing, but even so, Doom Eternal will likely keep my attention for a long time to come.