In the recent years of my life, I’ve grown to appreciate the run’n’gun style of games. I suppose you could say that it began with Halo back in the day, but I don’t think I really appreciate the genre/style until I started playing DOOM (2016). DOOM’s simple mechanics, fast-paced combat, and loose approach to storytelling made it a very fun game to sit back and play when I was too stressed or tired to invest in a game. Most of the story was told through codex updates and the occasional speech you couldn’t walk away from, which means it was mostly there for you to find if you wanted to look for it while it stayed out of the way the rest of the time. Doom Guy even leans into it, punching screens and breaking things rather than listening to exposition or operating instructions.
So far, in DOOM Eternal, they’ve leaned into the story a lot more. Now, there are cutscenes every time you finish a combat encounter that was preventing you from moving forward and there’s so much story going on now (at least, you know, compared to the 2016 game). A lot of the background information and lore is kept in the codex still, but there are a lot more plot-oriented cutscenes and 10000000% more angry glares from Doom Guy that let you see the generic Space Marine face behind his visor. It’s a big change from the first game.
That being said, it’s not necessarily a bad one. The story is still kept to small bite-sized chunks and I appreciate the “Techno-Fantasy” vibe of it all. I am relatively new to the DOOM franchise, so I have no idea if this has been a part of the series all along, but I’m enjoying it despite a few jarring moments here and there. Much like the added cutscenes, I enjoy some but not all of it.
I dislike, quite severely, the cutscenes that show some barrier dropping or some wall being blown up at the end of combat encounters. I mean, this is a DOOM game after all. It’s not like the level design is terribly complicated or confusing. It’s generally quite clear which direction I’m supposed to be heading in, especially compared to some of the more open levels of DOOM (2016). It slows the pacing of the game and I find it very frustrating to be running around to find the last demon hiding from me and collect some ammo only to have control wrested away from me for ten seconds just to show me that some obstruction I didn’t even know about was being removed. It happens multiple times a level and I complain about it constantly (to be entirely fair to the game, it gives me something to say when I’m hanging out in a group chat during the ongoing pandemic so it isn’t ALL bad).
By the same token, some of the fantasy elements rub me the wrong way. Out of all the possible elements to occasional turn into fantasy, the one we get is health kits. Some of the lower-tier health kits appear as blue potions in large vials. They’ll be sitting in an high-tech space-future arena next to a tank of gasoline, some rockets, and a pack of shotgun shells. I’m willing to overlook that this future world still has gas-powered chainsaws, but I’m having a hard time getting past the health potions.
With those two things out of the way, I’m officially out of things to actually complain about. Which is much more of a ringing endorsement than it sounds like unless you know me and my love for bitterly complaining about everything that’s different from what I expect.
For instance, I can’t actually complain about the changes to mobility, movement, and combat pacing. I miss being able to use only my shotgun and the smoothness of DOOM (2016), but they’ve been replaced by better weapons across the board (which means I’m not using only my shotgun and its rocket-launcher attachment) and options. Instead of circling the battlefield as I jump over cannon fodder and dodge the more serious enemies so I can create better combat scenarios, it is now much easier to dash in and then out of engagements. Thanks to the aptly named “Dash” ability, I can now instantly move a few meters in whatever direction I’m already going, making it easy to dash up to an enemy, shoot them a couple times, and then dash away to engage something else so I don’t get punished for closing with something strong. The new melee attack means I can take out waves of mooks or quickly down one stronger mook without needing to aim particularly well.
It’s different, but not worse. I appreciate how well they’ve balanced the fluid-yet-unvarying combat of DOOM (2016) with the approach and mobility options of Rage 2 while avoiding the “too many abilities so I use only 2” problem of Rage 2. Don’t get me wrong, Rage 2 was a great Run’N’Gun, but I definitely wish they’d kept the number of abilities a little bit lower so I wouldn’t need to use a mouse with at least six extra buttons in order to actually be able to map all those abilities in a place I could physically reach them on my mouse/keyboard. I still only used 2 after mapping them because I could never remember which button did which.
Thankfully, DOOM Eternal seems to be embracing it’s own identity as it carves out space in whatever you want to call this genre. The franchise has been around for longer than I’ve been alive and yet they’re able to keep coming up with something new and fun, even if I personally think they should get back to their simple yet violent roots of having a Doom Guy motivated by a desire to seek revenge for his needlessly slaughtered pet rabbit. I mean, the most memorable moments of DOOM (2016) were when Doom Guy got tired of listening to the narrator/possible bad guy chattering at him and did stuff like punch the communicator in the elevator, break off the monitor used in the communication, or just break the shit out of a complex device because it was faster than trying to figure out how to power it down and dismantle it.
I hope that, wherever this franchise goes in the future (and I will 100% be along for the ride since it’s empowering and relaxing as hell to run around slaughtering demons), they manage to recapture that sort of chaos-embracing, fun attitude with future installments. Even if they never do, I’m sure it’ll still be fun to run around as a nigh-invincible unicorn-suited Doom Guy who only cares about single-handedly reducing the demon population.