How Doom Eternal Works: The Tale of Two Versions of Hell

Hello, I’m Kinglink and well, I think it’s time we look at a more recent game. How Doom Eternal Works?

I think Doom Eternal needs no introduction, but let’s give it one anyway. This is the newest game from id Software, and once again id Software has released a new first-person shooter that has made people stand up again and take notice. With their recent release of Doom in 2016, they have made a resurgence as one of the major names in the FPS market.

id’s history is a lot longer, and I’m going to leave that full discussion for perhaps another time or by a gaming historian, but to me, id is THE company for shooters, I mean, Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1, 2, and of course Quake 3: Arena. These guys dominated the scene, not to mention the fantastic platformer, Commander Keen and of course, Wolfenstein 3D. id Software is a personal favorite of mine though I do want to call out, the 20 or so guys who originally created the entire company and the FPS genre have mostly left the studio, but the new team who released Doom 2016, seemed like they were just as good as the originals.

I will be focusing this video on Doom 2016, and Doom Eternal, so to make this simple, I will call Doom 2016, by the official name Doom at times.

Just to be clear, this series is meant to talk about game design and gameplay decisions that studios have made. While I try not to put morality of good or bad decisions on these choices intending to focus on different choices. I will be criticizing Doom Eternal, and I want to be clear. I really enjoyed Doom Eternal, however, I think Doom is a better game in almost every way. If you like Doom Eternal more, that’s perfectly fine. Feel free to let me know why, and let me know what difficulty you played on because I have a theory about that. Still, anyone should agree there are significant design changes between these two games. We’re going to discuss those and take a deep dive to see what we can learn. Just please don’t take this video as my full opinion on Doom Eternal. This is not intended as a review. I will review it next time.

Let’s get started with the biggest change and that’s going to be the story. I will try to minimize how much I talk about the actual story, for spoilers’ sake but there are significant changes here. To start with, the story isn’t told the same way. In Doom 2016, you are the Doom Slayer, and from the first moment until the end of the game, you stay in the first person as the Slayer.

We will directly compare this to Doom Eternal, and there is a major change here. While you stay in the first-person mode for the entire gameplay of Doom Eternal, many cutscenes are done in the third-person and that is significant. You can even feel it in the scenes I’m already showing.

The choice of the first-person camera versus a third-person camera is an important choice in both gameplay and narrative design. In the first-person view, everything is happening to the player, and the main character is reacting as an avatar for you.

First-person storytelling is extremely challenging in cutscenes, but Doom actually did a great job at giving the main player a feeling that he was the slayer. It all starts with this early scene of bladdity bladdity blah exposition. When replaying this game for this video I was already getting a little bored and, sure enough, the Doom Slayer grabs that screen, shoves it aside and gets the player back to the action. That was an interesting but effective moment

That one moment starts to cement the idea that this unstoppable force of nature you are viewing the world through is the player. Players don’t want exposition and you’re playing Doom for the visceral thrills, not the story. id Software understood that and multiple times, the character responds as players might. Such as when he has to carefully take out the energy system for the argent tower… or smash it. This is again simple but also effective and once again players will understand the Slayer’s mentality. There’s even an anti-corporation message here that works a lot better than almost anything in Outer Worlds did.

In addition, Doom displays much of its story by showing these holograms who recite pieces of the story. While this is hardly a perfect system, it continues to keep the player in the first person, and can even be used at times to show a scene that will lead to a puzzle. It also allows the player to retain control during these scenes.

That’s how a first-person story can work, and Doom did an amazing job to tell some story while keeping a silent protagonist as the main character. Let’s look again at Doom Eternal, and see what happened. This … is … different. The third-person cutscenes mean we’re no longer the Doom Slayer and have been made into an outside observer to these scenes. Even when it’s third-person over the shoulder for most of the cutscene, there’s a detachment from the character you are playing as, and in this case, it hurts the experience.

What’s strange is this cutscene could have been done in the first person. Why does this have to be the third person? That’s an important question especially because the scenes are not particularly enhanced by the third-person view.

I think id understood the problem behind this. On-screen now is the cutscene that greeted people at E3. This scene is in first-person and this is a great cutscene. In fact, most of this level’s scenes are done from the first-person, and the scenes that aren’t in the first-person weren’t part of the E3 demo. I don’t think this was done to intentionally try to hide the fact, but it does show an understanding of the change from id point of view.

Doom Eternal doesn’t change everything in how it tells the story. The player still doesn’t talk and it’s clear that Doom Eternal wants to use the silent badass protagonist as an avatar for the player. It does so for the most part, the Doom Slayer is pretty freaking awesome.

But, Eternal is trying as hard as it can to push a story into the series, and this is where Doom Eternal really struggles, it’s also was a major problem with Doom 3 but that’s another video. The story in Doom was going on, but the player really only had to rip and tear, he didn’t have to worry about a galactic plot, and while there were heroes and villains, they were just people to chase after as you slaughtered demons. Doom told an effective story but also tried to stay out of the way of the gameplay. So what went wrong here?

There are two significant problems with Doom Eternal’s story delivery. The opening is the biggest problem in my opinion. A player coming off of Doom 2016 might know who the Sentinels are, but they might not even if they just played the game, but that’s not important from a design standpoint.

As a designer working on a sequel, you need to assume that you’re meeting a gamer for the first time with your story. Doom Eternal doesn’t do this. Instead, it starts with giving the player a Fortress of Doom and then tossing out terms like sentinels, hell priests and more. This doesn’t work, and it’s important to understand why. The player has no connection to this story at this point and the game makes an assumption they will care without making them care.

In Doom, the player is forced into a story, but for a while, they will go along with the story because they just want to get to the next violent scene. That’s also why the character of the slayer is doing the same, again it’s well done to combine the main character’s motivations with the expected player’s reactions.

Doom Eternal instead gives the slayer motivations and barely tries to explain these to the player beyond “go get the hell priest”. What a hell priest is and who these characters are is unimportant to the Doom Eternal story telling. The game wants the player to understand the sentinels which really wasn’t mentioned in the original game outside of codexes that players likely didn’t read.

Pro-tip time for game designers. Players aren’t going to read your flavor text. Hard Stop. Some might, like less than 10 percent, but even in an RPG unless you make it a loading screen or a piece of a puzzle, don’t expect players to read it. Flavor text is good to have but it’s not the main story.

By promoting the codexes into the main story means players likely will never have read this, and that’s even assuming they would remember it from a game from four years prior. Introducing a player to your story, especially in a sequel, should have been done better. A perfect example is how Guacamelee 2 replayed the final area of the original Guacamelee as it’s the first level and continued the story from there. This gives a player a point of context and allows them to understand what has just happened in the story. This also allows the player to enter the new story with a grounding in the series as a whole. Guacamelee 2’s story worked because the player didn’t have to remember the end of the previous game, it was right there at the beginning.

The other big issue I have with Doom Eternal’s story is that near the end of the game, they try to demystify the Doom Slayer. In the third act, which I won’t show here because.. .spoilers, the game really tries to tie everything back to the opening of Doom 2016 and there’s more that ties you back to the original Doom guy. Then they try to explain why you’re so good at killing. id didn’t have to do this.

Everyone accepted the Doom Slayer, meaning the player, as an inhuman beast, but trying to demystify him into why he’s so good takes a LOT of stories, and it really kills the momentum when the game should be accelerating, not stopping for cutscenes. In fact, much of the third act is story-heavy, and if there’s one thing that Doom did well and even Act 1 and Act 2 of Doom Eternal does is avoid telling long stories where it takes the control away from the character.

The important takeaway from the third act is that by backloading so much of the story and making it cutscenes, instead of interactive story moments, it changes the pacing at a critical moment and frustrates players.

So what should we do to avoid these problems? Assume your player has never played your series before, assume you have to explain the story you want them to care about especially when you care about it. Don’t bog your action games down with massive stories. There are games that are story-based, but if you’re a sequel to a game without much story, stay on course. You also don’t need to explain everything in one game.

Let’s move on to the gameplay which is where most of Doom Eternal exists, and let’s show Doom once more. In Doom, you really had a lot of weapons and ammo, and a focus on murdering demons. You had melee attacks, a grenade which recharged, a pistol with infinite ammo and chainsaw that would get you a ton of ammo for all your guns. Though you didn’t need to use the chainsaw, it just helped a lot.

Doom Eternal, well the thing I think Doom Eternal added too much. It feels like there wasn’t a single subsystem that Doom Eternal said no to. Let’s go through them just to give you the overwhelming amount.

Doom Eternal has a Melee that is now only really useful for Glory Kills, it does almost no damage, a dash charge that does the damage of a melee, for some reason. Then we eventually get a chargeable Blood Punch, which is a super melee. No weapon has infinite ammo, but Doom Eternal gives us a recharging chainsaw, which still drops a ton of ammo still. Glory Kills no longer give ammo, and ammo isn’t that plentiful in Doom Eternal, you’re supposed to use the chainsaw to get ammo. You also have a Flamethrower to get armor, and then eventually you get the Crucible which is the cool glowing sword. That, however, appears entirely too late, but that gives you an ability to instantly kill almost any enemy.

Think we’re done. No, Because there are 4 different upgrade currencies, mastery challenges, and more. I’ll avoid going through them all but there’s a massive amount of new systems there.

But even ignoring the massive list of Upgrades, we’re still not done. In addition, there’s a double jump that’s in the game from the beginning and used far more, a dash that can be used in mid-air, that becomes a double dash, a grappling hook as part of a weapon, wall climbing, and more. There is a full 3D Platforming experience on top of everything else. In fact, the only piece of this that isn’t used almost constantly is the grappling hook which oddly enough is never really used as a platforming element.

I haven’t, and I mostly won’t, go into new enemies, but… this is a LOT of content to go over and it doesn’t make for a better game.

Doom was intensely simplistic fun. You have multiple weapons, and you make enemies dead, or they make you dead. There was new, visceral Glory kills and the chainsaw was fun but not necessary to use, and it all works out. Glory kills in Doom were important to get your health back but overall they also were awesome to see.

Doom Eternal has changed a lot of that simple formula to the point where players are forced to be dealing with these subsystems. The ammo is lower, harder to find, or enemies are harder (read that as spongier) to the point where ammo is almost always running out and now the chainsaw will have to be used for that. Glory kills aren’t a cool bonus but required to maintain your life, and Flamethrowers are essential for armor. This sounds like normal gameplay considerations but it creates important issues with Doom Eternal.

You no longer can have interesting one on one boss fights in an arena for that specific boss, but instead, need a constant stream of fodder to appear so the player can chainsaw them and recover ammo. This is where the infinite ammo pistol might have worked, or enemies dropping ammo. But just in general, weapons in Doom Eternal feel far weaker to the point where chainsawing the enemy is now not just part of the massive arsenal but required, as is Glory Kills, and if you aren’t Flamethrowing or using your grenades effectively you’re missing a huge part of your weaponry which was optional previously.

It’s not even limited to having to use Chainsaws. Where players could use almost any weapon on any enemy in Doom, Doom Eternal has certain synergies that are foolish to ignore. The floating gas bags of the cacodemon could be blasted to shreds with most weapons, but instead, a single frag grenade or a sticky bomb will stun them for a fast glory kill now. Using anything else wastes ammo or risks massive damage.

The Mancubus has cannons on its arm that need to be taken out. This is either super easy with a single sniper bullet, or extremely hard with most other weapons, potentially impossible. The super version of the cyber mancubus gains armor which heavily increases their health, unless you use a blood punch and that turns them back to a normal mancubus with similar health. Want to shoot it to death? You’re going to have a bad time because there are too many other things going on for you to effectively focus on any single enemy for long.

The issue I have is not that these synergies exist. In fact, destructible pieces of enemies are a great addition to Doom Eternal. The issue I have is that each synergy in Doom Eternal feels required rather than just desirable. Hitting the cannons on a mancubus with almost any weapon likely won’t remove it, but using the synergy of a sniper rifle is assured destruction.

In Doom, you just have to kill enemies but in Eternal, you are often so overwhelmed by the number of enemies that if you aren’t effectively killing each target you will fail quickly, and the effective path is using these matchups, or else.

There is just too much of this required complexity in Doom Eternal’s system. It feels that the developers added and expanded every system, then they tried to rebalance the game by increasing the difficulty to the point that the player has no choice but to use each new system fully. Forcing players to use every system available would work at the highest difficulty, but giving some breathing room at lower difficulties allows the players to rise to the challenge and get used to these new systems. In Doom Eternal, even at lower difficulty levels if you aren’t spamming almost every one of these available systems, you’re going to struggle a lot.

The problem here is that these changes made the game more challenging to the best players, but inadvertently made every difficulty harder to anyone not wishing to hammer each new feature the second they come up. The gameplay in Doom was well-paced, but in Doom Eternal, the game feels like it intends the players to play as if they are in a MOBA where the core gameplay loop is waiting for each of their ability to refresh so they can hit those buttons. That becomes frustrating to play in any way other than that.

Speaking of frustrating. Yes, Doom Eternal players know what I need to bring up. The Marauder. We all know the problem, and the thing is… I don’t hate the Marauder, the first fight against him was actually a great moment. You suddenly have an enemy that is on the same power level and tier as the player and can even summon a dog, and it works. That is a great fight and probably one of the high points of the game when they give the player such a challenging and fair fight. That fight made me legitimately afraid of facing that Marauder.

And then the game turns around and screws up immediately by making the Marauder appear hundreds of times before the end of the game. Ok, maybe not a hundred, but at least around twenty times, not to mention two Marauders at the same time.

Making a boss into a normal enemy after the player has gained a significant power can work in games. The doom hunter makes this transition in Doom Eternal. The problem is the Marauder, who is a great boss, is not made into a compelling enemy in the game. Instead, the Marauder is just a challenging fight every time he shows up, which is entirely too often. If this only happened two or three times in the rest of the game we wouldn’t be talking about it.

On the other hand, throwing the Marauder into the already overwhelming lineup of enemies is where the game starts to have serious problems and yeah, that’s why it’s in almost every review out there. Hell, the Tyrant is used less often than the Marauder, and he wasn’t even a boss in this game. No other enemy forces the player to focus solely on him when he appears.

So what could have been done with the Marauder? The key to making a boss into an enemy is to allow the player to grow in power after that point. This is what happened with the Doom Hunter when the player had about half his arsenal and upgrades. Later with more weapons, the Doom Hunter is hardly a challenge. But the Marauder happens after the player has the BFG 9000, he’s almost fully armed, and upgraded so he’s not going to have a power spike. And the marauder doesn’t really care.

The Marauder with his invincible shield, shotgun, thrown ax and dog isn’t a fun enemy to kill multiple times. The fact he’s mostly invincible to both the BFG 9000 and the Crucible means there’s no easy way out. There are only a couple of weapons that work on him as well, mostly the super shotgun and the ballista to use on him is also a problem. But there was potential here.

Giving the player a scaled-down version of the boss to fight could have worked even with the theme. Making the boss the “King” and the rest of the characters into Knights would have thematically worked. The Knights could have had weaker shields, no invulnerability to special weapons, weaker or no shield, slower attacks, or less health.

But what made the Marauder a good fight as a boss, makes him a bad enemy to throw in for the rest of the game and that’s why everyone is talking about him in a negative way.

I know I’ve been talking about the new features, but… we need to talk about the map design and… well, that platforming.

Doom is not Mario 64 and the addition of platforming features into Doom seemed like a good idea on paper, but the more I played with them, the more I kept coming back to a single thought. “This is not a good addition” If I was playing Doom 2016, and all that was added was platforming, I probably would still question its role but that’s an important sign.

For Doom Eternal it’s not just platforming but the addition of air dashes, the double jump, and monkey bars that fling the player into the air. I know the double jump was in Doom, but it’s more egregious here. What started as a way to entertain the player between combat arena rooms according to id, becomes an exercise in distracting the player.

These platforming sections become puzzles where players have to figure out what the developer was thinking and where they expect you to go next and this almost always backfires from a design standpoint. If you are finding a player has to think “what was the designer thinking” at any point in your game, whether it be an action game, a puzzle game, or a platformer, you’ve made a bad mistake and should fix that. The hand of the designer should be hidden, not the source of the puzzle itself.

And unsurprisingly, yes it’s a baffling addition here as well.

The platforming here wouldn’t be bad if it was limited to a couple of times per level but between almost any room of importance, Doom Eternal goes back to the feature and gives the player a mini-puzzle of platforming, a puzzle that they probably will get tired of before long.

Part of the issue is that the levels in Doom Eternal are extremely linear. You have to go to each corridor and proceed through it and while there might be a secret or an item to be found, each one is only a couple of steps off the main pathway. At the end of the day, outside of the combat arenas, the map is extremely linear, and combat arenas are usually a single room.

Compare this to Doom and you have a vastly different game. In Doom, players could avoid certain encounters, and maps allowed more non-linear progression, such as the foundry, where you have to destroy four different nests in whichever order you choose

I think I can say this was changed because people got lost in the map of Doom. I know I have, and I’ve seen this reported a number of times. The objective indicator in Doom was often multiple rooms away, or usually telling players where something was but expecting them to find the path to that location. That could be done on the minimap, but I guess players didn’t use that. In Doom Eternal, the objective indicator is almost always showing which exit the player should use to leave the current room.

Nn Doom Eternal’s level progression is the opposite of its combat. Where combat shoves everything possible at the player and overwhelms them with having to use all the systems, the level progression becomes extremely linear, to the point of players expecting a platforming section after every encounter, and always being right.

So what should be done about all these changes to the gameplay? The two major takeaways for me is to sparingly add in new features into the game, or make sure players won’t have to use all the features at once. Also, consider that difficulty should tailor the experience not just change the AI. The top tier players can be overwhelmed with the gameplay systems, but players playing on lower difficulties are not as good, and the game should be making allowances so they don’t have to use every system at once to win.

Don’t be afraid to make cuts either. Not everything you try will be a success, and in the case of the upgrade system, if you have something doing almost the same thing, don’t be afraid to choose one or the other. Removing the Suit upgrades and coming up with a couple of new weapon upgrades instead of reusing the upgrades from Doom would have been a good improvement. Fewer choices are perfectly fine if each upgrade or feature is more exciting and higher quality.

This is already a long review. I want to talk about one more section and I’ll try to make this as fast as possible.

There’s a piece of this game that puzzles me. It’s the RPG elements of the level of the player and the season pass. I have a lot to say but I’ll make it this. The RPG elements barely add anything to the game, but the rewards are worse, they are just customizations that could and do come when you reach milestones. Making a level system doesn’t really feel needed here.

The Season pass is worse, and it’s because it feels like it’s leftover from the point that the game had microtransactions, or was trying to follow the trends of Fortnite. Season passes are ways to get players to play more by FOMO, fear of missing out, but a better solution to that is simply to make better games. The Season pass only creates an opportunity to grind as you’re seeing on the screen. This isn’t compelling gameplay sadly.

I could go on about Microtransactions, and not following trends but I think we’ll save that for another day. But the Season pass doesn’t make sense, and it’s a strange addition.

So what have we learned?

The three biggest points I want to make are simple. Treat players like they’re new for a sequel, especially with your story. Consider what you add and remove from your game. You don’t want to add too much, but you want to make sure everything you add to a game is a necessary system or major improvement. Finally don’t chase trends, in general, that’s just not good design.

We’ve kind of been all over the Design of Doom Eternal, and while writing this I kind of wish I named this series Design Review. The thing is like I said at the beginning, I like Doom Eternal.

The combat here is great when it all clicks. The gameplay is intense, the levels look amazing, the base ship is a fun place to hang out. The collectibles were a blast to chase. The ability to replay missions with cheats is excellent. Doom Eternal isn’t a bad game, but there are just a few things that Doom did better.

If I was to review this game, I’d probably give this an 8/10. But I would have given Doom a 9 or a 10. If you came in here to know what I thought. I would say if you enjoyed Doom, give this a go, but there’s still enough here where I shake my head as I replay the game. I will review this game further next time as I review the games I’ve played recently, so stay tuned for that.

I realize this has been a longer video for me, I tried to make it faster but clearly failed. If you enjoyed it consider subscribing and ringing that bell. And feel free to bring up anything I missed, or what your favorite part of Doom Eternal is. There’s so much I want to talk about here that I could do another video. It’s a very interesting game.

I’ll be popping up my older Videos on Microtransactions and Grinding. I hope you enjoy them.

Until then I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.