E3 2019 hands-on: DOOM Eternal builds on an already great formula in intelligent ways

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It’s fair to say that DOOM was a surprise hit when it rebooted in 2016. Bethesda had been showing off their return to roots shooter for months prior, but there always seemed to be something slightly off with it. The pace, the action; it never seemed fitting to the speed of the original DOOM, inheriting modern sensibilities in the wrong places. As it turns out that wasn’t the case, with id’s return to form heralded in a remarkably innovative and gratuitously violent shooter with incredibly clever enhancements to its classic formula. DOOM Eternal then has big shoes to fill, but so far it seems smart enough to build upon what has been established before it, rather than trying to reinvent it.

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DOOM Eternal feels much larger in scope than its predecessor. In the half an hour demo I played, I did everything from jettisoning to Mars through a massive railgun to ejecting into its hellish core via an escape pod. DOOM often felt like an incredibly versatile but restricted shooter, often only allowing some movement in medium sized arenas that worked with the limited verticality your character’s mobility offered. They worked then, but Eternal expands upon them in clever ways. You can launch yourself far distances with combinations of double jumps and mid-air boosts, as well as platforming sections that force you to time mantling across walls with your jumps. This allows DOOM Eternal to pepper its action with tricky and engaging platforming sections that feel as organic as its shooting.

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That’s not to say DOOM is suddenly not about slaying unending hordes of demons from hell though, and Eternal’s demo served up many new and familiar foes to tango with. To make combat more strategic, Eternal lets you target specific parts of bigger enemies to help whittle them down in more logical manners. The massive Mancubus, for example, has massive cannons strapped to its hands, which you can target specifically and destroy to severely reduce the amount of damage he’s able to deal. Small enemies won’t feature clear weaknesses like this, but larger and more formidable foes will be afforded you these strategic advantages should you choose to exploit them.

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Adding to your more expansive strategic options are additional ways to kill enemies and reap specific rewards. Previously you’d regain health when dispatching a foe with a close-quarters cinematic kill, while your rare chainsaw attacks would shower you with ammunition. These two options return, but are combined with two other avenues for you to consider. A shoulder-mounted flamethrower will damage enemies and reward you with armour shards as one option, while a string of melee finisher will augment your regular melee attack with enough oomph to devastate even the most powerful enemies you encounter. Blending these into your existing decisions on when to focus on regaining health or replenishing your ammunition reserves is initially difficult to grasp (not helped but an overly complicated HUD), but it feels intrinsically in tune with the mechanics already present and compliment them nicely.

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Both your movement augmentations and these new facets of combat to worry about bring a new depth to Eternal’s fast-paced shooting, making it feel like a more strategic action game than its predecessor. Having spaces that afford the ability to experiment with both feels satisfying too, as well as the new alterations to weapons that feed into this increased mobility. The Super Shotgun, for example, features a homing grappling hook that can latch onto enemies from afar and pull you into them, allowing you to pump them with lead from close range but also escape a dangerous situation. This contrasts the Microwave ability of the pulse rifle, which rewards restricted movement with instant kills on some of the biggest enemies on show during the demo. Eternal has a tangible balance to it that engrossing already to experiment with, and its depth will likely be revealed even more after hours of play.

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If there’s anything succinct to say about DOOM Eternal now, it’s that this sequel hasn’t lost touch with what made the reboot great. It retains the same attitude of the Doomguy and his inherent mythos, while also putting the unrelenting action at the forefront with smart changes to make it feel like a step forward instead of to the side. There are more facets of DOOM to engage with now that it feels like learning it all over again, but without having to forget about lessons learnt in the past. If you didn’t know better you’d say that Eternal was just an immediate continuation of the game before it, with Doomguy not missing a step and simply continuing to grow his arsenal even more.

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Last Updated: June 12, 2019

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