DOOM Eternal Hands-On Preview – Hell Has Never Felt So Good

2016’s Doom was a revelation that brought the series into the present without losing the series’ aesthetic and core appeal. Constant movement, versatile weaponry and a variety of enemies in situations specifically designed to push you to your limit then have you coming back for more. It gave players all the tools they needed to overcome the obstacles placed in front of them and simply asked that they learn how best to use these tools for success.

Upon walking into the preview room and seeing a bunch of computers set up and ready to play a new Doom, I wanted nothing more than to jump in immediately – the allure of Doom is real. Some at the event were keen enough that they just started playing, but we were quickly asked by a Bethesda rep to wait so the game’s director, Marty Stratton, could give a short introduction to what we were all about to jump into.

He spoke about the game design team’s intention with Doom Eternal. They absolutely expect you to fail, even multiple times before overcoming some combat sections – in the hope that you’ll take each death as a learning opportunity. You have everything you need to defeat the foes in front of you, you only need to use these tools skilfully to overcome – and based on my short experience with the game he was absolutely right. At a few select combat sequences I got obliterated – multiple times. Each time though served as an encouragement to experiment with the new additions to the established Doom formula, and there are quite a few of them.

The key to Doom 2016’s addictive gameplay loop was the ever changing, fast paced combat that forced you to re-evaluate your situation almost constantly. You’d need to keep track of enemies in the environment, your own health and ammo reserves or where you can safely move to gain an advantageous position or avoid a damaging shot. You had a series of tools you could use to navigate these situations and try to turn it around to your advantage. The most compelling new aspect of the Doom Eternal demo I played was the range of new tools you’re given, giving you even more options at every moment to deal with each situation. Alongside using Glory Kills and the chainsaw to manage your health and ammunition, you now also have a flame weapon which can set a large group of demons aflame. For doing this you’ll get some armour in return. Blow them to pieces while they’re on fire and you’ll get much more armour. You also get grenades which can place a group of demons into a stunned state, primed for Glory Kills.

It’s not just new weaponry either. Eternal gives even more options for movement than its predecessor. With the right weapon equipped you gain access to a grappling hook – enabling you to target an enemy, quickly pull yourself to them ready to deliver a close range shotgun blast to the face. You can use this to get out of tight situations as well. Regardless of your weapon loadout, you’ll have access to new double jump and air dash abilities which can be chained together to keep you moving around the arena at a breakneck pace.

Eternal brings with it destructible demons, and you’ll certainly want to experiment and find out which demons are most affected when you blow something off of them with a rocket. Being able to forcefully remove the arm of a Mancubus (an arm with a rocket launcher attached) can really help turn the tide of a battle, or at least give you one fewer explosives to worry about in the scramble.

Based on the demo we got to play, which offered short slices of various areas throughout the game to make sure we got to play with all the new toys on offer, there is one element from Doom 2016 returning that I feel could have been left behind. It might just be me, but I found that during certain moments between combat I’d be sitting just stumped as to where to go next. One particularly egregious section in the demo challenged me to navigate a series of floating space-islands, connected by boost pads or accessible through smart jumping and climbing. This was the only point during the entire demo that I found myself frustrated. When you’re walking around in circles looking for some ledge or platform you’ve missed there’s no getting better after retrying, you just need to wander until you happen upon the path developers intended for you. I found it really killed the pace of the session, and rather than serving as a short breather just became frustrating.

I mentioned climbing before too, and this is the one new ability introduced into Doom Eternal that I’m not sold on from my short time with the game. During the sections I played, climbing was never part of a combat situation but only found during those lulls between combat. The walls you can climb are limited to those clearly marked, free-range climbing à la Breath of the Wild this ain’t. You need to press a button when close enough to the wall to grab on, but I found this needlessly picky. When you often need to combine a double jump, dash and wall grab to survive and the wall grab just doesn’t work because you weren’t exactly in the sweet spot… it gets a little grating. This may well be changed by final release, but placed a singular dampener on an otherwise thrilling early demo.

I suppose the most telling part of the whole demo experience was the fact that as soon as I finished it, I realised I had some time left and jumped right back in to start the whole thing again. Throughout the demo I found myself recalling the skills and techniques I’d honed in Doom 2016 and had just begun to combine them with the new options in Eternal. The game had its teeth in me. I wanted nothing more than to keep playing and improve on how I played the first time. I don’t yet know when Doom Eternal will be coming out, and have my reservations about the platforming exploration sections but damn, this taste of Doom left me wanting more.