Early on in Doom Eternal, the latest installment in the legendary shooter series, and the direct sequel to developer id Software’s fantastic 2016 reboot, your character—Doom Slayer is the official name, but Doomguy is the better name—silently marches up to a demonic Hell Priest who’s in the middle of giving a big speech, and effortlessly slices off his head. Doomguy is just a wrecking ball with a gun (and a chainsaw and some swords), which the 2016 Doom used to great effect, with a phenomenal combat system that took the speed and constant movement of the old ’90s games and updated it with flashy new graphics and a system called “Glory Kills” that incentivized charging right into a crowd of demons and violently ripping them apart in order to restore your health. It made every fight into a celebration of over-the-top video game action, turning the gameplay into a reflection of Doomguy’s contempt for his enemies and the foolish humans who summoned them from the pits of hell. It was, to put it in terms that seem appropriate for the subject matter, fucking rad.
Doom Eternal is that but more. A lot more. Too much more, even. It has so many systems in play in the average combat sequence that it sometimes detracts from the pure joy of slaughtering monsters, which is pretty much the cardinal sin a Doom game can commit (aside from maybe the flashlight nonsense in Doom 3). The last game had guns to kill monsters, Glory Kills to restore health, and the chainsaw to restore ammo. Eternal adds a flamethrower that restores armor, grenades that recharge on their own, something called Blood Punch that has to be charged by doing Glory Kills, and a handful of special weapons that have their own ammo that can only be found in specific places. It is, again, a lot.
To compensate for these new options, the basic Doom loop—charge into an area, shoot everybody, get health and ammo as necessary—has been made a little more difficult. Glory Kills are a little more stingy with health, making it necessary to do them more often. The amount of ammo you can hold is also severely limited early on, making chainsaw kills more important. Also, with ammo in short supply, it’s important to constantly switch up which weapons you’re using rather than settling in on a couple or so favorites. When you run out of everything but rocket launcher ammo, you better be aware of where the demons are around you if you don’t want to blow your own feet off.
Regularly switching weapons also plays into another system that, on its face, seems like an olive branch to the player. Some enemies, primarily familiar monsters you’d recognize from the old games like the Cacodemon and Revenant, now have weak points that can be destroyed to set them up for easier Glory Kills. “Weak point” is kind of a misnomer, though, as they’re more like “the only vulnerable point” for some enemies, and a lot of them are designed to be targeted by specific weapons. Waste too much time aiming for a weak point and you open yourself up to being attacked, or you risk missing shots and running out of ammo. It wouldn’t be a satisfying system if it were too easy, but it’s another layer to keep track of in what are generally hectic fights.
So here’s the basic loop in Doom Eternal: Charge into an area, shoot everybody, aim for weak points, use grenades, use the chainsaw to get ammo, find chainsaw fuel, use Glory Kills to get health, use the flamethrower to get armor, use Glory Kills to get more health, use the chainsaw to get more ammo, then keep shooting everybody and aiming for weak points. When it all works, and you’ve got enough late-game weapons and upgrades (of which there are multiple layers for each gun and multiple layers for your suit) to make it a bit easier, it’s a fantastic expansion of the first game’s clever evolution of classic first-person shooter combat. When it doesn’t work, the breakdown can be so dramatic that it grinds all of that precious forward momentum to a halt.
If you charge into an area when you’re not fully stocked, it throws off the whole loop. If you don’t have ammo and there’s a dozen big demons rushing you, you’ll have to desperately hunt for enemies you can chainsaw, which will open you up to being hit, which will force you to use a Glory Kill, which requires careful weapon use (since you can accidentally kill a weaker enemy before opening them up). And the whole time you also have to keep an eye out for tougher enemies and their respective weak points. It’s also possible to get into a situation where there’s one tough enemy left who cannot be chainsawed and has already chipped away all of your health and armor, so you can’t get more health and the only thing you can do is run away and hope you can land a grenade. It’s just too many interlocking systems that all have to work together, but which don’t all work together as perfectly as they need to.
Which brings us back to that Hell Priest. The game occasionally lets Doomguy interact with other characters, and they’re all either in total awe of his awesomeness, or quickly punished for failing to recognize his awesomeness the way that guy was. The game acts like you’re a one-person, nigh-omnipotent wrecking ball. But far too often, it fails to actually make you feel like one.