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Doom Eternal hands-on preview: A fast-paced, bloody ballet

Doom Eternal preview
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Hell was razed in New York City as Bethesda and id Software invited members of the press to try their hand at the upcoming sequel, Doom Eternal. I played about three hours of the action-packed romp through hell and made it out with a few new details and a heap of optimism for the upcoming adventure.

The conflict between the Doom Slayer and hordes of demons has only escalated since the last entry to the series. You won’t only be working to dismantle demonic facilities on Mars, but diving into a Doom universe that includes the forces of heaven. You’ll learn more about the Slayer’s origins while discovering all-new haunting locales. At moments, I felt like I was playing Diablo, but in first person.

Aside from dimly lit hallways, you’ll fight through menacing dungeons, towers, and keeps littered with unsettling clutter. You’ll run across cages filled with tortured souls, sigils, and artifacts from demonic rituals. The gothic style incorporates touches of futuristic tech that turns Doom’s striking gothic-techno mix up to eleven, and never looks back.

A term thrown around by Marty Stratton, the game’s Director, was “aggressive resource management.”

If you’re returning for fast and furious combat, you’ll be pleased to find the game’s open level design lends itself to verticality, offering more ways to move about the battlefield. Combat feels more refined than ever. With additions like Dash, the ability to warp around the battlefield, and power-ups that allowed me to close the distance faster when activating glory kills, I found myself thinking three steps ahead. Movement speed is always fast in a Doom game, but combat in Doom Eternal has become a fast-paced, bloody ballet. Before dispatching the enemy in front of me, I already knew which demon was going to be ripped apart next, and how.

DOOM Eternal - Official Trailer 2

A term thrown around by Marty Stratton, the game’s Director, was “aggressive resource management.” You’ll have to rack up kills in specific ways to refill their ever-dwindling resources. This was already part of 2016’s Doom, but Doom Eternal doubles down on it, and then some.

Damaging enemies with your new Flame Belch flamethrower will cause them to drop armor shards, refilling your shields. Glory kills can refill your health (as before). Other moves, like chainsaw kills, will help refill ammo for all weapon types. The simple act of barreling through demons becomes a meditative loop that grows more satisfying as you level up and take advantage of the open level design. Simple tactics, like running backward and funneling enemies, aren’t enough to keep the hordes of hell at bay.

Raising the level of challenge and inspiring replayability has proven a key priority for the developers. During my time, I managed to complete a new encounter known as a Slayer Gate. These events will take place on one of four arena-like stages, each with a different configuration of enemies.

Nothing is spoon-fed to the player.

Stratton called combat a “rewarding puzzle to solve. You’ll tear through demons, fighting for ammo, health, and other powerups. And with new abilities such as the Blood Punch, an area of effect melee attack, and Ice bombs, you’ll have plenty of tools to take what you need from your enemies.

I found this to be true throughout the entire game. Nothing is spoon-fed to the player. A collectible may appear in the distance, but the player will have to uncover a path towards it. An interesting new locale or character may be introduced, but it’s up to the player to track down the codex entry that gives it context. Fans who enjoy filling up a codex will be sure to love the inclusion of more lore in Doom Eternal’s vast world.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“It’s up to you if you want to answer the questions,” said Hugo Martin, the game’s Creative Director. “It’s meant to pose a lot of questions, be intriguing. It’s the Doom universe, expand the lore, expand the world, take you to cool places, you wanna know more? Read the codex. And even when you read the codex, it’s still going to require a lot for you to figure out on your own, we like to leave it a mystery.”

Despite the addition of larger than life levels, intriguing characters and conflicts, and a more fleshed out codex, this is still Doom. The game manages to keep its irreverent “wink and a smile” tone while upping the stakes and keeping true to what fans love about the franchise.

The game manages to keep its irreverent “wink and a smile” tone while upping the stakes.

As you progress through the base game, you’ll encounter more punishing Slayer Gates that reward you with even more resources to upgrade your suit of armor. Even though I’d already unlocked a few upgrades and felt confident in my abilities, these encounters had me scrambling for health.

In my interview, Marty Stratton spoke to this, stating “It’s been a real focus, replayability. I think the way the combat plays out, the tightness of the loop this time around. It’s so much more replayable than Doom 2016 was.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ripping and tearing across the world of Doom Eternal doesn’t just feel good. It looks good, too. Though Doom Eternal is built using the same tech as Doom 2016, the devs have done an incredible job of pushing the tools to the limit. The larger levels are stunning, and more intimate corners of the map are incredibly detailed. The demons have more personality and now react in various (and sometimes comical) ways to glory kills and other game mechanics. The game remains true to it’s Saturday morning cartoon vibe while bringing more life to the world and the characters within it.

The disappearance of Snap Map, the in-game level editor, has been some cause for alarm, but there is a ton of new content to look forward to. Bethesda is planning to support the game with post-launch campaign content. This will include new campaign DLCs and monthly content drops. Fans will be treated to free Master Levels, which are combat remixes that include new and challenging ways to play different levels with different enemies. Battle Mode, a mode that pits players against player-controlled demons, will drop post-launch and be supported with new free maps and demons.

All in all, it’s a hell of a time to be a Doom fan.

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