In this article we'll take a look at the modern Doom games, talk about their importance within the FPS genre, compare two titles', their key elements and preview of what we know is coming with Doom Eternal's upcoming expansion, The Ancient Gods.
To better understand why modern Doom games are so important we'll have to go back to 2016 when id Software finally released the game after a couple of development restarts and many delays.
Doom 2016 released at a time when the mainstream FPS market was wholly dominated by multiplayer focused, military themed titles from Call of Duty to Battlefield. On other fronts we also saw the rise of Looter Shooters like Destiny. The single player part of the market was instagnation for a long period of time. There were still some great single player First person games out there, but classic linear shooters were all but extinct other than some indie efforts.
When Doom dropped with very little hype behind it back in 2016, it finally showed that focus on realism which dominated the genre for a better part of the decade shouldn't be the norm. Finally there was an AAA FPS that let you carry more than a measly two guns. An FPS with a big roster of varied enemies that forced us to prioritize our targets, and one that threw away the idea of cover and regenerating health for something much more exciting and fun to play.
Since we're talking about fun gameplay let's dive in to our first comparison between Doom 2016, and Eternal, the id Software patented push forward combat.
The whole philosophy of push forward combat is to keep the players in action during encounters at all times. Hiding behind cover and taking potshots at enemies will get you killed very fast in Doom. Instead, to survive players have to keep moving, prioritize their targets, switch weapons on the fly, and jump right in the mayhem to keep the momentum going.
This is all supported by a couple of small but crucial changes from previous Doom titles. The first and more important one is that the enemies now drop health. A small amount when you kill them with guns, and a considerable amount when you finish them of with melee glory kills once you have them stunned. The other one is chainsawing demons for ammo. This means that when you're low on health or ammo in Doom, you don't hide behind cover waiting for your health to magically regenerate, you just kill more demons.
As good as the combat is in Doom 2016, it's kind of hard getting back into it after playing Doom Eternal, since id Software pretty much dialed everything up to 11 in the sequel. Some would argue that it lost its simplicity, while that might be true, the improvements from Eternal elevate it to a whole different level. Back in Doom 2016 you could breeze through the game without much weapon switching since ammo caps were quite generous.
Doom Eternal on the other hand is much more difficult even on normal settings. For start the ammo caps are much lower, forcing you to use your now regenerating chainsaw, and to switch weapons regularly. Demons are much more agressive, they come in bigger numbers and have weak points that need to be exploited. Ammo and health pickups are less frequent along the levels forcing you to get them by again, killing demons.
To balance the newfound difficulty, id gave the Slayer some new tools to even the odds. Firstly there's the new double dash ability that's one of the true gamechangers when compared to Doom 2016. It drastically improves the Slayers speed and mobility. When you couple it with the new meathook attachment on the Super Shotgun, monkey bars you can swing from, and add double jump from Doom 2016 you get plenty of options to dodge, evade enemies or quickly close the distance for glory kills.
Another important addition is the Flame Belch, a mini shoulder mounted flamethrower and grenade launcher in one. Burning demons with flame belch causes them to drop armor shards over time, while killing burning demons nets you a bigger armor boost that can save you in dire situations just like glory killing for health does. Then there's the addition of Blood Punch, a melee attack that deals massive aoe damage, and ice bomb that can freeze a group of demons when you need a couple of seconds to reposition or escape.
When you add it all up Eternal's combat is more complicated than Doom 2016's more straight forward approach. But when learned, it's much more engaging and fun, It's also a lot more intense, it matches Doom 2016's intensity on level 3 or 4, and then gradualy ramps it up to insane levels until the end of the game.
One moment I'll probably never forget is trying to complete Eternal's first Slayer Gate on nightmare difficulty. The fight was so intense that I started sweating while my hearth rate jumped like I was in the middle of a grueling workout. When I finally managed to complete it, I lovered the difficulty a level below and had to take a break to compose myself. Doom Eternal is full of moments similar to that, on nightmare difficulty it will push you harder than any game before, but overcoming that challenge will in return provide you with satisfaction that only few titles can match.
In addition to combat, the core gameplay loop of Eternal features platforming sections supported by the new dash ability, some simple puzzles, and The Fortress of Doom; the Slayer's base of operation where you can unwind and relax between levels. They are all welcome additions since they give you a much needed break in between Eternals intense combat encounters.
Next up we'll talk about visual design. This is the one area in which Doom 2016 can't really compete with Eternal, at least on a technical level. The developers from id Software added some big upgrades to the id Tech engine for Eternal. As a result Eternal levels are much bigger, while geometric and texture detail also made a big leap between the two games.
The one aspect we can compare is the art style. Probably the best way to describe Doom 2016's art style is that it's something in the vein of a dark industrial sci fi. The game felt more in line with Doom 3 visually than Doom 1 or 2. It's also more visually consistent than Eternal as it features only Mars UAC industrial levels, and Hell.
On the other hand, Eternal is much closer to the original games with its enemy designs and the use of color. The variety of levels is also greatly increased. You have urban levels like hell on earth, a Cultist base in Earth's arctic region, the Sentinel homeworld, Mars, Hell levels, and Doom's version of Heaven in Urdak. With so much variety, some things are bound to look less impressive depending on preference, but still, Eternal will consistently impress you with its incredible vistas such as the ones below.
Hell in Eternal is a huge improvement visually when compared to Hell levels in Doom 2016
Sentinel home world
One part of visuals where Eternal regressed from the previous game is in the assortment of pickups and secrets strewn across the levels. In Doom 2016 weapons didn't float in the air, instead you picked them up from fallen soldiers. Secrets didn't have a large glowing question mark floating above them pointing them out. While they are a minor thing in the whole scheme of things, it's still a shame as they distract from otherwise brilliant visual design of the levels. Overall both games are fantastic visually, but I'm leaning more to Doom Eternal's comic book, heavy metal fantasy style as it's more in line with over the top nature of the game's narrative.
The original Doom games never focused on the narrative aspect, it wasn't until Doom 3 that id Software made some genuine effort in that department. Doom 2016 and Eternal continue in Doom 3's footsteps by providing a story, and expanding the Doom universe with rich lore. Most of that lore is optional, and hidden away in numerous codex entries you can find throughout the levels, in both games. They are not necessary to understand the whole story, but players who seek them out will have a better grasp at the entire picture.
Both games deliver the main story in a similar manner. Doom 2016 made great use of its first person cutscenes enabling id give personality to the Doom Slayer without him uttering a single word. There was this elegant simplicity with which they crafted the story in Doom 2016. There's pretty much no fat to trim, nothing is out of place, and the mystery of the Doom Slayer origin kept things interesting until the very end. Not to mention the brilliant intro that set the tone and intent perfectly.
Doom Eternal on other hand, stumbles at the very start by dropping you in a floating castle in space a couple of years after the events of Doom 2016, with no explanation of how you got there. It feels cheap, and leaves you with a lot of questions that it never answers. To be fair, later on the game finally resolves many story points they alluded in Doom 2016. The big one being the origin of The Doom Slayer. Furthermore Eternal introduces a ton more lore than the 2016 reboot did. When id Software stated that they wanted to create a Doom universe they weren't kidding.
They used a new tool to aid them in that. This was in the form of third person cutscenes. There's a lot of them in Eternal, especially for a Doom game, and for the most part they are a great addition, even though a lot of them are there just as an excuse to show a cool scene. The problem in general with the storytelling in Eternal is that it tries to do way to much. As a result, it stumbles in some places, either by not explaining things properly, or by ignoring some plot points outright, like the two year story gap between the games. Don't get me wrong Doom Eternal's story is still a win for the franchise and opens up a lot of opportunities for future titles.
So, what comes next?
Doom 2016's post launch content focused solely on the multiplayer portion of the game, which while fun, wasn't what the majority of players loved about the reboot. Fans wanted more campaign and demanded single player expansions, but alas the game's post launch road map was already in place and none came.
Lucky for us, this time id Software will give players exactly what they want, a big single-player expansion split into two parts. Titled "The Ancient Gods", the expansion is a standalone release, so it won't require the main game to run. Part One released two days ago, and continues the story from the end of Eternal's campaign.
As the title of the add-on suggests, the expansion explores the aftermath of Khan Maykr's death which left Urdak, home of the Maykr race in ruin, and created the imbalance of power among the God figures inside the Doom universe. An imbalance that threatens all of creation, so naturally, the Slayer will have to fix it with some help from his old ally, the Seraphim who could very well be Samuel Hyden, as Doom Eternal's story gives some big hints pointing in that direction.
The Ancient gods start in the UAC research facility out in the middle of the sea, then takes us to a blood swamp in Hell, and finally lets us explore the remnants of destroyed Urdak, which was left in ruin near the end of Eternal.
The expansion doesn't introduce any new weapons, and starts with a maxed out, fully- powered Doom Slayer. All weapon mods, weapon upgrades, runes and suit perks are unlocked from the start, but that doesn't mean that The Ancient Gods is easy. While speaking to PCGamesn in an interview, id's game director Hugo Martin, and executive producer Marty Stratton, revealed that you'll probably be tempted to lower the difficulty a notch or two.
To bring a fresh challenge to the experienced Doom Eternal players, id introduced a bunch of new enemy types designed with different immunities and weaknesses. They also throw a lot of Marauders your way, sometimes even pitting you against two at once. The tried and tested quick switch combo of balista and super shotgun that carried us through Eternal, and helped us melt Marauders, won't cut it against some of the new baddies. Instead, id gives us a reason to use some of the less popular weapon mods and find new combos.
The Blood Angel is one of the new enemies that requires finesse, and tests your ability to land precision shots under pressure when dealing with it. It's heavily armoured like the Marauder, immune to Balista, while it also projects a shield that, while not completely immune to damage, will pretty much suck up a ton of your ammo. To kill it, the players will have to wait for moments when The Blood Angel drops its shields during certain attacks. In that brief window players have an opportunity to land headshots for an instant kill.
Then we have the Spirit, a resurrected form of Doom 2016's Summoner enemy. The Spirit possesses other demons on the battlefield buffing them in different ways. While possessed, demon's weak points are immune to damage, which means you won't be able to remove guns from Mancubus or Arachnotron, making them much deadlier.
Possessed demons are also immune to faltering. A falter stops enemy attacks for a few brief moments giving us an opportunity to deal damage to enemies, while avoiding any yourself. The only way to kill the Spirit is by killing the demon it possessed forcing it out. This gives you a few seconds to fry it with Plasma gun's Microwave beam Ghostbusters style before it manages to possess another demon. It's the only weapon that can destroy the Spirit, while at the same time severely limiting your movement ability. This gives the other AI an opportunity to dish out some damage.
The Ancient Gods also expands and makes more use of the various ambient AI's we would ocasionally encounter in Eternal. We'll encounter more Hellified turrets we briefly fought in Eternal's Nekravol level, while the dreaded tentacles return with some new tricks to add extra elements of challenge.
When you add it all up, The Ancient Gods is much more difficult than Eternal. If you thought the last level of Eternal was as intense as it gets, you're in for a suprise. It feels like a tutorial compared to some encounters in the expansion.
The expansion features a brand new sountrack composed by Andrew Hulshult, and id Software engineer David Levybest. Hulshult is best known for his work on Dusk and Quake Champions, and was pretty much the first choice for many fans to replace Mick Gordon. While Mick's award winning work on Doom 2016, and Eternal soundtracks will be hard to top, the Ancient Gods soundtrack is a fine addition overall. It might lack some finer details, and trully killer tracks like BFG Division, or Rip and Tear, but it successfully fills the void left by Mick's departure from id.
There is still a lot of topics worth talking about that I didn't even touch on, like the fantastic soundtrack gracing both games, the addition of Marauders, level design, progression etc. All worth talking about in depth, but we'll have to leave it for some other time as the article is way too long already. The main point is that Doom 2016, and Doom Eternal stand alone in today's AAA gaming industry. There is nothing else like them. And for that alone they should be cherished, who knows when we'll get another old school singleplayer FPS of this quality not made by id. Doom 2016, and Eternal might not be perfect, but they're the two very best singleplayer FPS games of the last ten years.
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