As a kid, I would sometimes play a little game with myself. I grew up in the suburbs, where nothing was ever particularly exciting or dangerous, and so to give myself a thrill while walking home, I’d pretend as if I were being chased by a murderer. Despite being a figment of my imagination, the thought of the pursuer nipping at my heels would send me into a frenzied dash for home. My chest would feel tight, my palms would sweat. I wouldn’t dare turn around, because to do so would be to confront certain death.
This is precisely what it’s like to play Doom Eternal on higher difficulties, only this frightening experience eventually leads to a different type of relief. It’s not that of escape as you safely make it inside your front door, but the type of relief you get by eviscerating a ton of demons in the most brutal way possible.
I loved 2016’s Doom, but I would always make a plea to anyone I recommended it to: Give it a real chance on a harder difficulty, specifically Ultra-Violence. I’m not the sort of person who thinks you never really played Halo if you didn’t beat it on Legendary, but harder difficulties in Doom emphasized the frantic combat and constant movement that distinguished it from most other shooters. You were never safe and had to keep moving to survive, carefully picking your spots to engage or pull off a Glory Kill to restore your health.
Doom Eternal very much doubles down on that style of action, and once again, choosing to play on at least Ultra-Violence will ensure you aren’t able to play this like your typical shooter. While you were always on the move in Doom, you didn’t have a ton of tools for doing so. Eternal changes that, peppering its combat arenas with monkey bars and jump pads and giving you a hookshot to pull yourself toward enemies and a dodge that can be used both defensively and aggressively. In effect, it provides you with options, both fun and useful, to encourage you to move through the environment at all times.
And you will need to move. Eternal’s enemies are relentless and deadly; on Ultra-Violence, full armor and health can be erased in the blink of an eye if you aren’t playing intelligently. If you’re foolish enough to stand toe to toe with any but the weakest of enemies, you’re likely to find yourself dead in a matter of moments. (Fortunately, at least on Xbox One X, load times are mercifully short.) Trying to hold a position or dancing back and forth in a small area is a strategy bound to result in you being flanked and killed. Invariably, when I die and reflect on what I did wrong, I realize it’s because I fell back into old FPS habits, trying to use cover while fighting off too large or tough of a group instead of moving through the entire area.
Particularly when it’s accompanied by another pulse-raising soundtrack from Mick Gordon, it’s undeniably exhilarating to rush around the arena with a nigh-unkillable demon chasing you. But if the thought of running in circles, firing at whatever’s in front of you sounds like it would become monotonous, that’s not the case. That’s thanks in large part to the thoughtful aspect of the game that Phil talks about in our Doom Eternal review in progress. Resources are scant, but some demons have weaknesses to a particular weapon type, and you have several abilities–Glory Kills, a flamethrower, and a chainsaw–to refill your health, armor, and ammo, respectively. Because of this, your sprints around the arena aren’t mindless journeys of firing at anything in your sight with whatever weapon you feel like, but challenging mental exercises in determining how to survive for just a few more seconds.
So do yourself a favor, and give Eternal a shot on Ultra-Violence. You might find it to be too intense and that a lower difficulty setting better provides the experience you’re looking for. But it’s a game that deserves to be played on whatever difficulty pushes you to the extreme, never letting you feel comfortable or safe while demons are on the prowl. In Eternal, if you’re not always on the verge of dying, then you’re not really living.
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