zophar53's Blog

Posted on Aug 6th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Doom Eternal, Doom, id Software, Bethesda

A million years ago (March 2020, to be exact), I was chomping at the bit to play the sequel to Doom 2016, my favorite game of that year. I loved Doom Eternal's predecessor so much that I pre-ordered it on both PS4 and Xbox One and knew I was probably going to eventually buy it on Steam as well. Then, after finally getting my grubby hands on it, my initial thoughts were....well, less than glowing. A year and a half later, I'm close to beating it on all three platforms and have (mostly) enjoyed the journey. How did this happen??

First, thank you to GrayGhost81 and singlebanana for the inspiration. This article was inspired by their question of the month for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 2 episode of the RFGen Playcast, "What's a game you love that wasn't what you expected it to be?" Spoiler alert: I'm not ready to say I love Doom Eternal. However, it certainly wasn't the game I was expecting coming off of Doom 2016, and having found the fun I've had with it, I think makes it a prime candidate for this question.

Not only was this a fantastic game, but the art on the reverse side of the game cover was super metal

For those not familiar with the most recent chapters of the adventures of the Doomguy, 2016's game cherry-picked all the fast-paced action, satisfying weapon loadout, demon-tastic enemies, and intricate level design of classic Doom and ratcheted everything up to 11. Adding carefully-chosen modern updates, a slick graphical overhaul, a suitably-demonic metal soundtrack, and expertly balanced difficulty, it was, in my opinion, a masterpiece. Doom Eternal ended up doing what a lot of sequels tend to do; it kept most of what was great about the previous game but added more mechanics, more systems to manage, more story, and more enemies. So much so that I saw it as quite an abrupt change, and it turned me off pretty hard.

Having so many systems to manage while beating back swaths of demons in the very specific way the game wanted me to resulted in a big difficulty spike for me. After a couple months of trying, I gave up. I put the game down and was more disappointed than I'd been with a sequel in a long time. I wouldn't pick it up again for almost a year.

There's so much to keep track of and it's so fast-paced, id pushed a patch that added indicators surrounding the crosshair to keep track of your resources without having to look down at the proper hud

Thing is though, during that time I wasn't playing it, I would still sometimes think about it. I remembered how much I loved the prior game. I remembered how Eternal's visuals were still stunning. And I thought long and hard about what the game mechanics were doing. I remember watching an early interview with the game's director, Hugo Martin. He mentioned that while he and the team at id were thrilled at how well Doom 2016 was doing, he would watch people play through the game using only a couple of the weapons, or use the same tactics over and over, or get so good at a small portion of the gameplay that they were eventually good enough to breeze through the game using a very limited set of skills.

Hugo said in the interview that he considered that a failure on his part as the developer, for not forcing people to use more of the gameplay mechanics to their greatest potential. The team took this sentiment to heart when developing the sequel and had intentionally balanced the gameplay in such a way that literally the only way to succeed was by using every single tool and gameplay skill available.

Personally, I have issues with his statements. First, as everyone who joined in the RFGen playthrough of Doom 2016 can attest, the game was anything but a cakewalk. I don't remember a single person who played with us that didn't struggle at least somewhat. Second, what he sees as a failure, I see as people simply playing the game the way they want, which is more of a priority than forcing them into a very specific method of playing. But that's just my opinion, and I'm not the developer.

Hugo Martin on the NoClip podcast discussing the design of Doom Eternal's gameplay

Bottom line, I didn't share id's creative vision. And that's ok! I'm perfectly willing to admit when a game just isn't for me. But I couldn't help thinking about it long after I'd set it down. I knew there were things in the new game I wanted to see and experience. I wanted to see where the story went. And as frustrated as I was in parts, on the rare occasion I managed to do well, it felt incredible in the same way that doing well in the last game made me feel. So earlier this year I made the decision to give Doom Eternal another chance.

I knew going in that I wasn't going to be able to do what I did when I first played it last March. I realized that a big reason why I was failing last March was because I was trying to play Eternal the same way I played 2016, and that just simply isn't an option if one wants to succeed. So if I couldn't play it the way I had been, that meant I was going to have to force myself to play the way the game wanted - nay, demanded - me to. First thing I did was fire up the Steam copy I'd bought, figuring the mouse and keyboard controls would give me an edge over a controller. Second thing was busting myself down to the easiest difficulty level. Side note: this game has been a big reckoning for me in realizing that I'm old and don't have the reflexes or read and recognition skills I used to, and thus don't always need to play on the default difficulty level if I'm not having fun. Personal growth, yay me!

The biggest thing was retraining my brain to play much more intentionally instead of just blasting away at everything that moved with whatever gun I had equipped at the time. Forcing myself to pay attention to an enemy's weakness, not being afraid to burn a pip of gas when I need to chainsaw a low level demon for ammo, and at every single opportunity I had, using the flame belch to set enemies on fire before I killed them in order to keep my shield level up. I also had to accept that there was no shame in farming earlier levels for extra lives. At this point, I've played the first two levels of Doom Eternal so many times that I know them like the back of my hand. I know where all the extra lives are, and now that I've built up my abilities, weapons, and skills, those first two levels are pretty easy. I can take half an hour to play those first two levels and have nine or ten extra lives built up before I go back to the level I'm currently playing.

I've played this level more times than I can count. I'm glad the music is great.

It was very rough at first. Until you power the Doomslayer up a bit, even the first couple of levels are intense. And keeping track of how much gas you have, if your blood punch and flame belch are charged, how much ammo you have, what kinds of enemies are in a particular level, it's a lot to manage. But eventually I got better at keeping all the plates spinning, at disciplining myself to save certain ammo for certain enemy types, at sucking it up and chainsawing a demon when I was desperately low on ammo. And the further I got and better I became, the more fun I started to have.

To be clear, there was still a lot of frustration along the way. There are still levels that after I finished them, I said to myself "eff that level, I'm never playing it again." Buff totems and archviles are still maddening every time they show up in a level. And there are spots in the later levels that are pushing my skills (and more importantly, my patience) to the limit. Even now, I'm still rage quitting here and there, but I'm making it through. I'm now on the final level on the Steam version, and not far behind on Xbox One. I probably would've finished the game by now, but life events have gotten in the way this past week. I expect I'll finish the game soon. I'm even going back to later levels for collectibles, and have really enjoyed the more ridiculous set piece moments of the game. I'm really glad I went back to it and put in the effort. I would compare the experience to playing Bloodborne. NOT because I'm calling Doom Eternal a Souls-like; I'm not. But both games forced me to meet them on their terms and refused to let me off easy. I had to work to get good at them, and by doing so have had very rewarding experiences.

Do I like Doom Eternal even as much as Bloodborne? No, because I knew what I was in for when I started.

Do I like Doom Eternal as much as Doom 2016? Definitely not. I still don't necessarily agree with the shift in game design. But I do understand and respect it now. The game is extremely well designed and tuned, and they absolutely succeeded at creating the game they wanted to create. The last game was difficult, but it was also exceedingly fun. Eternal is fun too and has some awesome high points, but the low points are very irritating, and when all is said and done, I generally prefer games that are fun to games that feel like work. I'll likely stick with it until I've finished the game on Steam and Xbox One, maybe even PS4, and will go back for a lot of the collectibles. But I don't see myself giving it a go on a higher difficulty like I did with Doom 2016. In fact, maybe I'll go back to that game when I'm done with its sequel. I still haven't finished it on PS4 yet.

I'm looking forward to hearing other people's answers on the next Playcast! If you haven't answered the question yet, feel free to do so here. What's a game you love that wasn't what you expected? Or, because this is not always the same thing, what's a game you didn't like when you first played it, but went back to it after a long absence and found a way to get some enjoyment out of it after all? And remember, always be ripping and tearing!

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I haven't played this one yet, due to some of the negative criticism I've heard about the gameplay changes, despite loving DOOM 2016 like you. But I do want to experience it at some point, and the primary gameplay loop you described actually sounds interesting to me. I ended up sort of playing like that with the 1st game, because even on Easy difficulty, I found myself running out of ammo quickly, and having to use every weapon at my disposal to take out a swarm of enemies. So the sequel may end up feeling like a natural progression of that.
@MetalFRO: In that sense it kind of does feel like a natural progression, yeah. If you were doing that in 2016, you probably have a good foundation for success here; just know that you'll have to hone those same skills and juggle more plates this time. If you can get through the first couple levels and learn the new strategies, there is a lot of things to love about Eternal.

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