After reinventing a legendary franchise, what do you do for an encore? That was a question facing director Hugo Martin when creating “Doom Eternal.”
The answer wasn’t to make the same game all over again. That would have been repetitive; instead, he and his team looked at the flaws in their first game and expanded the abilities of the protagonist Doom Slayer. The result is a game that appears vastly improved from the original.
Martin compares the difference between “Eternal” and “Doom” (2016) as the divide between “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead 2.” The original film introduced players to Ash and the concept of the Necronomicon while the sequel refined those ideas and pioneered the horror-slapstick genre.
In the same way, Martin said the team stripped out everything that didn’t work in “Doom” (2016) and pushed players toward a certain style of play.
“We’re OK with frustrating the players as long as they learn something entertaining and engaging,” he said. The problem with the original is that it let players deviate too much from how the developers intended the game to be played. Martin said that led to harsh reviews, in which critics called “Doom” (2016) repetitive.
When played correctly, “Doom Eternal” is a ballet of bullets and violence. Players must constantly move. They shoot an enemy in the face, jump over to the next victim, perform a glory kill, switch weapons, disembowel another and finish by collecting the dropped supplies. Players can deviate somewhat from this formula, but Martin said the game would nudge players toward the intended style.
After three hours of playing a build of the game, it hits the familiar notes of the original. Players will encounter arenas, where they’ll have to run and gun. To survive, they’ll have to manage their ammo, health and armor. Players will perform glory kills to restore health and run around to find ammo for their weapons.
The game’s depth comes in how players handle enemies. They could concentrate fire on big foes such as Arachnotron and hit its weak spot — a gun on its rear — so they can wear it down. Afterward, they can cut down the fodder by popping them open like pinatas with the chainsaw and collect ammo power-ups afterward. That’s how players keep their stocks healthy. How they manage enemies adds a strategy element.
Further on, other confrontations will require players to use the flame belch to set enemies ablaze. This will generate armor in order to keep players alive during tougher confrontations, when they’re battling numerous heavy adversaries and an empowered demon. Those special creatures are stronger monsters that have killed a fellow player in another game and are tougher but also boast more power-ups.
One of the bigger changes in “Doom Eternal” is the focus on traversal. The developers give the Doom Slayer more moves and tools to whip around a level. Players have a double jump, dash and a wall climb. When these moves are layered with objects such as monkey bars, players can reach seemingly out-of-the-way locales.
Some of the harder Secret Encounter missions will ask players to weave double jumping, dashing, shooting and glory kills in order to defeat enemies within 25 seconds. At first glance, it can appear impossible, but as players learn the systems and master them, they can link these moves together seamlessly. The Slayer Gate, which require a key, are tougher test of endurance and more unforgiving, but they also give players a reward that upgrades the Doom Slayer.
Martin compares the way players learn skills to the belt system in martial arts. He said by the time players finish the game they’ll be black belts at running and gunning.
Although players will spend plenty of time slaughtering demons, “Doom Eternal” also uses traversal for puzzles and exploration. The new moves let id Software expand the level design. Stages are more open and have different paths and shortcuts. Players will be tasked with jumping on platforms that drop in lava and leaping between electric circuits that block their passage. Other areas encourage players to wander off the beaten path to find a secret collectible or power-up.
As for the structure, it has a hub called the Fortress of Doom. It’s a ship that resembles a cathedral and hovers in orbit over Earth. It’s large and players can explore its depth as they earn upgrades for the vessel and the player. They’ll also find extras such as Riptorium that lets them practice defeating demons without fear of dying.
The id Software team reworked some mechanics tied to weapon mods, runes and suit upgrades. It’s more flexible this time around as players can switch weapon modifications on the fly and tweak their overall setup between runes and armor upgrades. Players have to make some tough choices with some boosts tied to increased ammo or health. Players have to choose between one or the other, they can’t have both when bumping up the power for grenades or the flame belch.
“If it isn’t obvious, the goal of “Doom Eternal” is to stop hell’s invasion of Earth and that requires the Doom Slayer to kill three hell priests that make it possible. They’re scattered around the globe and finding them is part of the mission. Once located, the ship creates a portal to the destination and that kicks off the stage.
Buttressing this quest is an expanded lore for the franchise; players will uncover more details about the origin of the Doom Slayer and his purpose in this apocalyptic tale. The lore is fascinating, and for fans, it will keep them engaged as they try to save what’s left of humanity.
Judging by how “Doom Eternal” manages to sink its teeth into players with its challenging but fair game systems, the campaign won’t have trouble holding fans’ attention. The game rewards skillful players with power-ups and better gear. Completing encounters is how you can earn gun mod points.
If the original pointed to a new direction for the franchise, the sequel takes the series headlong down that road. It fleshes out and refines the systems that Doom (2016) hinted at and establishes a firm identity for the future of the franchise.
Doom Eternal” is scheduled for release March 20 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch and Stadia.