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In these days of self-quarantine I decided to play Doom Eternal. Yeah, the same title some consider one of best FPS since a while. It’s debatable since games that have shocked the FPS foundation lately have been few and far between. The latest should be Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds with perfecting the drop-loot-kill cycle in a fun way, at least until Fortnite took the crown with quality content.
It’s difficult to say that Doom Eternal is a title that shifts the FPS foundation enough to win the war, like the first did — in that time, the success of the original Doom translated in a lot of “Doom Clones”, and you could see that same effect when the original Modern Warfare arrived into the market, saturating the market of military-themed shooters after its launch with the same multiplayer progression or TTK. Games as a Service are what is driving the industry nowadays, and Doom Eternal is clearly not one of these.
So, what is the interesting part of Doom Eternal? Is how it decides to change some of the fundamentals of rules of FPS by asking the player for proficiency.
The Dance of Eternity
One thing it picked up my interest was the core mechanic introduced in Doom Eternal, something that is broadly referred as the “Doom Dance”. This is concept as the subsequent elements:
- Moving: Maintaining movement to open, less crowded areas.
- Killing: Managing your arsenal and demons weak points efficiently.
- Refilling: Using the Chainsaw, Flame Belch and Glory Kills to replenish on ammo, armor and health, respectively.
These are available in the gameplay thanks to various systems that play nicely with one another:
- Arenas are bigger and with multiple verticality levels, allowing to lose potential predators or dangerous mobs. This defensive-evasive mechanic is supported by the Ice Grenade, and ammo at the edges of the arena to lure the player there.
- Some weapons are more effective on some demons than others. You are encouraged to use little ammo on killing, to avoid arsenal shortage. Weak points on demons rise your survival chances as these lower their damage, mobility or health.
- Your limited ammunition forces you to keep the Chainsaw multiple times. Flame Belch and Glory Kills must be prepared wisely, and the more your progress in the game the less easy opportunities are.
Most of the game upgrades and unlockables follow this three-pillar system: defense, offense and renew. The overall game action can be resumed in a cycle:
- Move around the level and cherry-pick dangerous targets using your arsenal to full extent.
- Chainsaw to replenish ammo, flame belch a tank or low level mobs for armor, or quickly prepare a Glory Kill on something for health.
By result, the “Doom Dance” borns. Mobility is important, and the game rewards it — you can note the ammo in the edges of the map. Failing at the Doom Dance means:
- You didn’t abused your mobility.
- You didn’t replenish your stats.
- You used the wrong weapon for the wrong moment.
The Ice Grenade is mostly your panic button until you are consciously of its existence, where you can use it offensively for elusive medium-level-demons that like to avoid your crosshair. And this concept is what separates whiney babies from real men: killing demons without wasting resources means better survivability. Do the contrary, and the Marauder will make you restart from the checkpoint.
Think about this: Use the Ice Grenade to stop the Whiplash, incinerate the mob, and and let it eat a three missile lock-on, is far more efficient than just spraying your way using the shotgun and plasma rifle.
Luckly, Doom Eternal weapons have alternative fire, which allows a weapon to have a mode that raises its strength, or alleviates its weakness. A clear example is the Ballista which is a pinpoint single fire weapon: the Arbalest mod offers a charged shot that deals much more damage, while the Destroyer Blade clears a horizontal path of enemies once fully charged. I understand these exists to quickly use the same weapon for difficult moment, instead of reaching another weapon that may have empty ammo. In other words, mods offer an alternative to do the same job. This supports the flow of the “Doom Dance”.
Comparing the drawbacks
One of the drawbacks of Doom Eternal, and what I consider its Achilles Heel, are the sections where mobility is limited and tanky demons are present, forcing you to spread ammunition to clear a path before they get to you — this is commonly referred as “bullet sponges”. As you can read, big arenas with a lot of mobility opportunities are a necessary evil to keep the game fun since it's not a shooting gallery like Call of Duty, where you can sit down behind cover and pick headshots. These are just a few occasions where the game becomes less fun that it should.
Again, this is done in all the game except on some “bosses”, where you need to rethought some of your strategies and focus on a given mechanic to succeed, like when you face the Doom Hunter for the first time (and after you kill him, *cof*). These “bosses” represent a clear in extremis message: force-brutting your way in Doom Eternal will be equal to the same amount of frustration.
Telling the user what they need to do to succeed, and slowly offering the tools for him to reach higher levels of proficiency, is well paced, specially when the game offers you liberty on covering your weaknesses or strengths first. For example, the “slow-mo rune” is very useful to land headshots on hectic battles, where the “Blood Punch health” gives you a quick way to stay fit for battle. These were my first choices and these saved my ass multiple times.
Doom Eternal has very few “bad” parts. When reviewing a game — not that I am doing it right now — I consider bad parts as mechanisms or concepts that impede the main game progression, and their severity is what lowers the quality of the experience, hence, what starts as a “perfect game score” slowly downs its rating.
To make it clear, Doom Eternal has few noticeable bad parts, and this is pretty much confirmed by (good) critics. Except for some discount-tomb-raider sections, including some underwater puzzles, none severely impede the game progression, but rather, offers some relief and exploration on what could easily become a tedious chore of run and gun. These are done relatively well, become optional, and let the user to put the pace on the game: going back and getting the secrets or moving to the next battle quickly.
The Doom Eternal music is so good that I consider Doom Eternal like a sixty bucks metal album that comes with a game.
For example, I always criticized games that offer compelling stories, but forget about character development. In the end, a good story is a car full of consequences fueled by logical and relatable decisions made by the characters.
The bad part of Doom Eternal is not it’s story, which is kept simple and approachable: stop the demonic invasion on Earth by killing the Hell Priests. The lore slowly uncovers as you progress, telling you that not everything is simple, as each character has their own motivations to do what the do, including the Doom Slayer.
What can put off some people is its arcade-ish theme, which is necessary considering the fast-pacing action it puts over the table. Clear colors, cartoonish items, and recognizable figures feel like symptoms of the frenetic “Doom Dance” rather than problems that were creatively worked around, so is understandable that some players may feel it collides with the serious tone Doom Eternal sometimes presents, specially considering how very serious was Doom 2016.
For this title, it feels like Id Software gets away with this, along some easter eggs that break the fourth wall, because these allows the player to progress. It’s not that you have a difficult in recognizing enemies or items. The lore bits the game offers, like the few cinematics, are absent of these arcadey elements, which are kept for gameplay purposes, not world building.
The game is good. Doom Eternal proposes the Doom Dance, tells the user how to win at it, and shows a path of progress. At the end, you become a better demon punisher compared to your first hours, and a fully upgraded arsenal feels like an extension of yourself instead of just a bunch “become your favorite” weapons.
It’s about damn time a game like Doom Eternal offered something relatively new in the overcrowded FPS genre that vary between military shooters, battle royale and ability-based arenas, and becoming critically acclaimed is by itself a very big f*cking achievement.