ID SOFTWARE IS UNLEASHING HELL ON EARTH WITH THE FASTEST, DEADLIEST AND BLOODIEST DOOM GAME IT HAS EVER CREATED. WE SIT DOWN WITH THE STUDIO TO DISCOVER WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE DOOM ETERNAL
By id Software’s own admission, there are three simple rules that must be adhered to for any Doom game to function in all of its gory glory. First, you need to face off against an army of really bad-ass demons. Second, it needs to let you wield big fucking guns. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to be moving really, really quickly. It has always been this way, and it always will be.
Doom Eternal follows these rules to the letter. To the unassuming observer, it might even look like Eternal is little more than business as usual, although that assessment would do id a huge disservice. The studio has put together one hell of an impressive package here; Doom has always been an uncompromised celebration of videogames, of the medium’s inherent fun and capacity to act as a shining beacon of pure entertainment. While the wider world may see Doom as a series defined by its violence, we instead see it for what it is: a creative endeavour that understands the rhythm and flow of the FPS genre perhaps better than any other. That’s something we have found great comfort in over the last 25 years.
The series’ ritualistic approach to demon slaying is one of the few constants to be found in this industry. We always know where we stand with Doom: up to our knees in demonic viscera, waiting for the adrenaline surge to subside, having the time of our goddamned lives. It has been that way ever since Doom first plastered the foundations of the first-person shooter across a pixelated approximation of Hell, and it was also true of the studio’s wild reinvention of the formula in 2016.
The question of how id would possibly take the series to the next level – how it would begin to iterate upon one of the purest action experiences to arrive in the last decade – has been ever present on our minds. As it should happen, it was a fairly simple question for the studio to answer. With Eternal, id wants you to rip and tear through just about everything that you come into contact with. “That’s literally where it all starts for us,” laughs game director Marty Stratton, who asserts that the next chapter of id’s flagship shooter is once again centred wholeheartedly on “killing bad-ass demons with big guns in unbelievable places.”
The results of this thinking should be clear for all to see. Eternal has upped the ante in just about every respect, although that’s largely because of the fantastic foundation it has had to build on. id has prioritised an overhaul of the core movement and traversal mechanics, a refinement of the control systems and stepped up the brutality to further emphasise the importance of the Glory Kills to combat flow – all of this in an effort to further fuel and distil what it is that makes Doom so irresistible.
Eternal is faster than any Doom that has come before it. The guns are larger and more powerful, and the Doom Slayer has also found himself in command of a suite of new abilities to help establish him as the strongest hero id has ever created. To compensate for your newfound strength, id is pumping twice as many enemies into its expanded combat arenas for you to attempt to eviscerate. That teetering line between power and fragility was an important balance for the studio to strike. “A hero is only as strong as the enemy that they defeat and
if you want to feel like a badass you’ve got to wreck some amazing bad guys along the way,” says creative director Hugo Martin. “And Doom Eternal has some incredible enemies. We want you to feel unleashed, like nothing is holding you back. This is a pure, unfiltered, action
He isn’t kidding, either. id has been able to put together something that feels so uncompromising by accomplishing something that is, frankly, a little ridiculous: it has made Doom (2016) feel slow and ponderous by comparison. Yes, you read that right. And no, we can hardly believe it either. Our stomachs have only just about settled from the sense of inertia that the game so happily generated. Eternal, much like its predecessor, is an
FPS with a flippant disregard for modern genre convention; the resulting experience is immediately intimidating, not to mention a little dizzying.
Martin insists that one of the biggest questions the team wrestled with when considering a sequel to Doom (2016) was “How do we make the player more aggressive? All of our answers have to speak back to that philosophy.” When id cites increasing player aggression as a production value, it isn’t merely to mitigate the increase in enemy volume or the improved authority that AI has over its spaces. Instead, it’s born out of a desire to keep players moving. The faster that you can close the gap between your position and that of an enemy, the faster tension and drama will naturally arise in play.
Eternal encourages the generation of this drama in a number of subtle ways. For starters, the Doom Slayer now comes equipped with a slew of new movement and traversal abilities designed to complement the standard eightweapon loadout. Some of these additions are small and situational, such as the capacity to perform a monkey bar swing off of objects in the environment and the ability to contextually climb walls to help gain a new perspective on the arenas. Other additions are designed to be cycled into the natural flow of play, such as the returning double jump and the addition of an omnidirectional dash manoeuvre that grants you a small burst of speed at a button press.
The dash is an interesting addition for a number of reasons. While Doom’s action might feel totally unrestrained, if you were to peer behind the polygons you’ll find that its design is actually full of it. The studio has been careful to ensure that every addition or change only serves to complement either the basic utility of weapons or to enhance your speed on the ground, all of this in an effort to get you utilising the space each of the multi-tiered combat arenas now grant you.
If there was ever any concern that the arrival of these new mechanics or systems might dilute the core appeal of Doom’s unique rhythm, id is way ahead of you on that front. “[Eternal] will still feel like Doom, even after we have added in these new abilities,” Martin assures us. “Being able to close the distance between enemies faster will make you feel more aggressive… and we are always encouraging the player to play more aggressively. When that’s the underlying theme of a new mechanic or ability we know that it’s going to work.”
Were you to take an element such as the Dash, you’ll find that there’s more nuance to its use than the gameplay footage might initially suggest. While it does indeed provide excellent offensive and defensive opportunities – letting you swiftly dodge out of incoming attacks or rush within chainsaw range – it can’t be used infinitely. Therein lies the minutiae; sure, you can dash twice in quick succession, but it will then need to regenerate – something that it will not do while you’re in the air. Do you risk waiting on the ground for the dash to regen as enemies close in from all angles, or do you take to the air using traversal combos to reposition yourself and claim a moment of respite from the shower of bullets heading in your direction?
Eternal is full of these little decisions, and they are based purely on reaction – in the split-second between ripping the eye out of a Cacodemon and pumping plasma rounds into Mancubus. Dash – much like the refined weapons, modifications and the new Predatorstyle shoulder mounted launcher – is merely another part of your arsenal, another mechanic designed to help you maintain an unruly amount of momentum in an effort to unlock the true power and potential of Doom’s combat loop.
“It all comes down to us trying to define the things that we felt were missing or are the next evolution of. That’s where something like the dash comes in,” Stratton tells us. “In this particular case, it’s like… well, where has this been all my life? It’s such a natural component of Doom’s movement now.”
Why is this all so important? While you may believe that weapon handling and bullet ballistics are among the most important elements of any given Doom game, that isn’t necessarily the case. We know that id Software designs without question the best-feeling shotguns in the videogame industry, but that isn’t why its games are so excellent. Its games are so excellent because of the way that you move. It’s because of the momentum that you are able to generate in an instant, and of the control that you are granted over your weapons, even as you are moving at what feels like 200 miles per hour.
Eternal builds off of Doom (2016) in this respect, further expanding on the excellent level design and rhythm to combat cultivated within those spaces. Doom (2016) presented its combat arenas as tightly constructed threedimensional puzzles, each of them offering
just one viable solution: locate the most violent pathway through unrelenting waves of enemies and push through them as aggressively as you can possibly manage. The quicker you move, the faster the game will reward you with health, ammunition and perhaps even a rare moment of respite. Stay static for a second too long, and death will quickly descend upon you. It’s enthralling; the absolute modernisation of the original Doom model, and it’s a design that Eternal is only improving upon.
Every system and mechanic at play in Eternal works to emphasise your locomotion, leveraging it for scenes of monstrously chaotic action across combat spaces that dwarf those found in its predecessor. Progression through these twisting maze-like arenas is a patchwork of unflinching violence. The hyper-violent Glory Kills aren’t just there to let you revel in blood and guts rendered out in the studio’s hugely impressive id Tech 7 engine; it’s once again a clever mechanic that the game’s levels were designed to exploit.
You are propelled to rip across these levels at speed, tasked with shooting and smashing any enemies in your path before taking the time to tear staggered foes in two to regain a small boost to your reserves. Repeat this until the correct coloured key card emerges from a bullet-ridden carcass. It’s incredibly cathartic, even more so thanks to the improved visual fidelity and array of new weapons placed at your disposal.
In Eternal, id is eager to ramp up the energy of this core loop. The presence of traversal combos is only there to reduce the closing speed between your position and the location of your next target. While many of the core weapons are receiving an overhaul, none are as exciting as the additions to the iconic Super Shotgun. The signature weapon now has a ‘Meat Hook’ attached to the front of it, a grappling device that latches onto enemies and reels you in towards them. The amount of ground that you can now cover in an instant is gratuitous.
This is welcome, given the verticality and the spaciousness of the levels that we’ve seen thus far. Whether it’s as Hell descends upon the Earth (a wonderful call-back to
Doom II) or back in the Moon orbiting facility on Phobos (the BFG 10,000 is calling to us), it’s clear that every one of the traversal tools available to us will be needed should we hold any hope of completing laps of these spaces without stuttering. That’s where Eternal is separating itself from the Doom games of the past: by finding a way to increase the scope of its environments without ever diluting that allimportant corridor shooter feel.
“There’s a reason that the spaces are larger,” says Martin. “If you make a faster race car, you’re going to need a bigger race track. Your closing speed is outrageous. It’s actually one of the most thrilling things in Eternal.
“How many games can you see someone from across a giant sci-fi space and then, like on a skateboard, just rocket towards them and just smash them in the face? It’s the best feeling in the world,” Martin continues, adding, “Especially now, with all of the different abilities that we’ve introduced. It’s all about closing those distances, and now you can do it in seconds.”
Eternal is a carnival of violence. It’s monstrously fast and epically violent, and again that’s all because of the restraint in design behind the scenes. The Meat Hook is a killer example of this; you can’t latch onto any piece of the environment, it can only be used to bring you within shotgun evisceration distance of an enemy. It’s a tool designed for traversal, but its only application is for melting holes in any enemy you are reeling towards. “The meat hook is a good example of what Hugo said before. It’s about being more aggressive and getting you to push forward,” reaffirms Stratton. “We just want to get you closer to the combat; in the case of the Meat Hook, it doesn’t grapple any point in the world, it only hooks demons. That use of it is always pulling you face to face with a demon.”
“Doom Eternal is, as Doom (2016) was, an epic action game,” continues Martin, bouncing off of his old creative partner with ease. “It’s like this big Nineties action movie; you want to feel like you are doing fantastic things, and these tools will allow you to do even greater things this time around.”
That’s a promise that we don’t believe the studio will have any trouble keeping. We don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that Doom (2016), in hindsight, feels like a prototype to what the team was pushing to accomplish – to what it is now achieving with Eternal. The id Tech 6 engine – the first engine in the company’s history not to be finalised by John Carmack – always felt as if it was labouring a little under the demands of Doom (2016) and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Fast forward just three years, and the new id Tech 7 engine seems to be more than up for the challenge of supporting such high-speed and frantic gameplay. It’s encouraging the team to fire on all cylinders and create something that looks otherworldly by comparison.
It’s great to see a talented team handed the keys to powerful technology; to see a studio going all out in an effort to create something positively otherworldly when held up against anything it has achieved in the past. That is, in all fairness, par for the course when it comes to id. “We are all pretty big tech heads at id and the new id Tech 7 engine will allow us to display ten times the geometric detail and greater texture fidelity than we have ever put on screen,” Stratton teased. “And that’s all without sacrificing a crazy fast experience running at 60 frames per second.”
The team at id has been emboldened to challenge expectations, be that by the success of Doom (2016) or its own ambition to take the
personality of Doom (1993) and modernise it in a fresh and unexpected fashion. It’s wonderful, too, to see how id is tackling a number of gameplay challenges that have arisen out of its desire to increase the size and verticality of its areas – of the ways it is compensating for the fact that the game now demands that everything run at such a breakneck pace to function as it is intended to.
Moving at ridiculous speeds would be worthless if you didn’t still have pinpoint control over your weapons, and that’s something that id has only sought to further refine. We mentioned before that the Doom Slayer now has a shoulder-mounted launcher – a design element that ensures that you need never sacrifice the ability to fire your weapon while deploying equipment. In Doom (2016), to throw a grenade you’d briefly put away your weapon. That is no longer the case, as it now deploys from the cannon, allowing you to continue focusing your attention and gunfire elsewhere while still littering the battlefields in explosive ordinance.
The id Tech 7 engine is also giving the studio the necessary technical backing to introduce a number of weapon combos that are as visually stunning as they are wholly destructive. The launcher can also function as a flamethrower; setting demons alight doesn’t just increase the damage they receive, it also lets you enjoy the spectacle of seeing shards of their armour ping away from their bodies as you continue to fire upon them.
That’s actually part of a push on the part of id to increase your visual awareness when racing around the spaces. “The coolest enemies deserve the coolest deaths, so we’re spending more time and energy than ever before making sure it feels absolutely amazing every time you shoot, punch, kick, slash or otherwise rip and tear one of the demons,” says Stratton, with Martin adding, “We’ve actually created a whole system for this now, and internally we call it destructible demons.”
Destructible demons are the ultimate celebration of the ultra-violence of Doom. Enemies would, of course, explode into a shower of gore as you pumped the final bullet into them in Doom (2016), though you never had a firm indication of how close an enemy was to dying ahead of that. That was problematic for Eternal; with so many enemies to track and kill in any given combat situation, id needed the player to be able to quickly identify how close an enemy was to dying, particularly the larger foes that dominate the field of view. This system doesn’t just look freaking excellent – giving you the opportunity to see armour shards tear away, chunks of flesh launch into the air, and bits of bone fall to the floor – it also provides an easy and visual way to better account for where your attention should be focused.
This newfound sense of visual indication also applies to the items and ammunition that litter the spaces. Every one of the pickups has been redesigned, modelled on those found in Doom (1993). id has put time and resources into ensuring that every single pickup is individually lit – each has its own lighting rig atop of it – so that you can easily identify what it is from a distance, even as you are reaching terminal velocity. Do you desperately need more ammunition for the Ballista, a brand new laser launcher that pumps exploding rounds into enemies? Then you should be able to quickly identify it, and use the traversal mechanics and combos at your disposal – be it the Meat Hook, the Dash, the monkey bar swing or the wall climbs – to quickly get over to it without missing a beat.
This, all of this, is integral when you consider how Eternal is tilting multiplayer on its head. While the game will feature a traditional PVP experience, built in-house this time around id was keen to confirm, it will also include combative co-operative modes in the form of Invasions. If the legions of enemies bearing down on you weren’t enough of a challenge, id has just found another way to make your life a living hell. “We are now giving players the ability to take control of a demon and invade another player’s campaign,” teases Martin. “This is just another way to add drama and unpredictability to your campaign, and this is just one of the ways that we will allow you to play Eternal with your friends.”
Stratton is eager to note that this functionality can be switched off in the menu if you’d prefer to play it alone, but if you open it up you might even find that other players can “team up as demons and form a Slayer-hunting party,” should you want an extra layer of challenge and drama.
It’s funny, because if you strip away the pentagrams, the violence and the guns, Eternal is oddly reminiscent of a Nintendo game. Mechanics are at the heart of the entire experience; the entire game is built around how to best service them. That is, of course, classic Doom. It may often feel like the FPS genre has come far in the last 25 years, but the truth is that Eternal’s closest touchstone – the comparison that makes the most sense – is that of Doom ’93. id has taken the personality, speed and devotion to defined mechanical excellence that was so prevalent in the original game and sought to modernise it. The results of this endeavour reveal themselves in ways that you might not expect going into it. That’s part of what makes Eternal one of the most exciting prospects for 2019; on the surface, it may indeed look like business as usual, but it’s clear that there’s far more to its execution than meets the eye.
Doom Eternal is expected to launch late 2019 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. A Switch version (locked to30 frames per second) is on the way, although it is going to be handled by Panic Button Games – the team responsible for porting Doom and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.