Doom Eternal Preview: ‘This is our Evil Dead II.’

It's hard not to go overboard with a grappling hook, a flamethrower, and a chainsaw all at once.

id Software’s 2016 reboot of its flagship demon-slaying franchise, Doom, was anything but a chill time. When players weren’t dismembering, disemboweling, or chainsawing demons down the middle, they were sprinting and dodging to keep from suffering the same fate. The game’s core loop revolved around moving and killing quickly to keep health, ammo, and blood flowing. Successful slaughter was rewarded with the gradual escalation of combat and the diverse arsenal with which it’s fought. If there’s a more adrenaline-inducing game, I don’t know it. It would be difficult to imagine one.

“Once you’ve played [Doom Eternal] for any extended amount of time, I would challenge you to go back and play Doom 2016 and tell me if that’s even possible,” said creative director Hugo Martin. “[Doom 2016] seems like it’s moving like two miles an hour.”

Well, shit.

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“You see more and do more in the first three levels than you do in the entirety of Doom 2016,” Martin added. From minute one of my three-hour session with Eternal’s opening stages, I believed him. While Doom 2016 hands you a pistol, a shotgun, and a few small demons to squish, its followup immediately throws you that shotgun — plus a double jump, environmental puzzles, and bigger demons.

Before long, the sequel sees a speedier Doom Slayer double-dashing across chasms and scaling newly climbable walls, often back-to-back. Where the previous game’s thrilling fights were punctuated by jarringly unremarkable platforming and exploration, the sequel kicks things off with compelling movement both in and out of combat.

Doom Eternal Preview

No Repeating Past Mistakes

Among more scope-broadening features are the Flame Belch (a shoulder-mounted flamethrower that coats enemies with fire and makes them drop armor) and the demon freezing (and shattering) Ice Bomb. Other mechanics have simply been replaced or streamlined. The former crouch button can now perform two lengthy, consecutive dashes. Whereas using the ammo barfing chainsaw now requires only one button press before your last weapon automatically returns. Doom Eternal’s biggest changes seem confined to its fundamentals: adapting Doom 2016’s loop to a larger, faster-moving battlefield instead of reinventing or over-stuffing what already works.

According to Martin, id forces players to engage with every aspect of this more complex design, something he admits they failed to do with Eternal’s simpler predecessor.

“For some people who weren’t really exploring all aspects of the game in Doom 2016, it was a fair assessment to say that Doom was one-dimensional and repetitive,” Martin said.

The director added that too many were able to finish the last game using too few weapons and strategies. He explained how emulating the straightforward design of popular sports might be a solution.

“Everybody who plays basketball successfully generally plays the same way,” he clarified. “Within that, there’s plenty of creativity, [but] there’s no version of people playing the wrong way and succeeding.” Martin seems to accept both the blame for letting Doom 2016 be cheese-able and the responsibility for removing that option in Eternal. He doesn’t articulate every change that helps enforce this variety, but my demo felt full of constant pressure to mix up my tactics.

Doom Eternal Preview

Follow Your Own Rules

The sequel does a better job of mixing up what combat means in the first place. It pushes you to adapt accordingly when new types of scenarios present themselves. Consistent with the enhanced platforming being woven in and out of fight-heavy sequences, Martin referenced “incidental combat spaces,” which aim to keep the killing compelling by avoiding repetitive arenas and traversal.

There’s a corridor sequence early on, for example. In it, cannons alternate to the left and right of cover in the center. As demons flow in and out of rooms flanking the hall, the space becomes a start-and-stop combat puzzle. Pausing in the wrong place means death. Another type of new area forces players to trudge through innervating purple sludge, meaning they need to aim fast if they want to survive while unable to dodge. These tougher scenarios are meant to encourage players to make the most of their weapons’ upgradeable mods, too.

To be clear, stricter variation does make for a greater challenge. Though Martin insists each difficulty setting retains every hyper-violent thrill.

“The experience you have on ‘easy’ is the exact same experience you’ll have if you eventually get to Nightmare,” the creative director said. “It’s just the speed at which I have to do everything and the number of mistakes I’m allowed to make gets way tighter the higher up I go.”

I can’t confirm that’s true, since I only played on the Ultra-Violence difficulty. But given how many times that point was stressed, it seems like an encouraging, bold claim next to the game’s firm refusal to let players deviate from its intended design. Martin opined that “a good game has a very clear ruleset” that it doesn’t deviate from. As a result “frustration, honestly, is part of the experience.”

Doom Eternal Preview

The Evil Dead II of Doom Games

And much of the game’s broader experience is still a mystery after the demo. I only once or twice got to see the new hub ship where the Doom Slayer rests between missions and unlocks upgrades. I also didn’t get my hands on the new grappling hook (which actually comes attached to the returning Super Shotgun), yet another new feature meant for increased mobility. It was also hard to parse much of the story in such a quick look at the game. That wasn’t for a lack of, say, discover-able notes that break down Doom’s lore.

Though Martin says it’s “in its proper place” being “short and out of the way,” the narrative takes larger swings across the board with more named characters, shot-reverse-shot cutscenes, and even a potentially deeper look at the series’ traditionally silent protagonist.

“I can’t say anything,” Martin said. “But we may go into that in the story if you keep playing.”

Martin and executive producer Marty Stratton have said in previous interviews that a 1991 Tony Scott film, The Last Boy Scout, inspired much Doom 2016’s self-aware tone. When asked what cinematic parallels they’re drawing to its sequel, Martin immediately answered “This is our Evil Dead II.” That implies Doom Eternal will come to define the rebooted franchise as the streamlined-yet-escalated second draft of its predecessor.

The three hours I played also suggest Doom Eternal is absolutely an improvement over, frankly, one of the best shooters ever made. My gut says most will agree, so long as they’re willing to accept the game on its more demanding, somehow heightened terms. Stratton and Martin clearly have faith in the sequel, too.

“It’s the best game that id’s ever made,” says Martin. “For sure. We’re very proud of it.”