I was born to rip and tear. On a strange alien world that’s home to a medieval gladiatorial arena designed by an advanced alien race of super hero vikings, I’m about to fight demons. Before I get to the arena, however, I’m treated to a short story about Doomguy—the hero of the Doom franchise. After soaring across galaxies and rending demons for several hours, I’m slowing down to read pages of lore ahead of the next boss fight. Most of it sounds like this.
“The Khan Maykr demanded a tithe of the Essence and, driven by her desire, the Priests submitted themselves to her will. The Order of the Deag took council with the King, speaking only of the spoiled lands sure to be found through the cleft in creation, and the opportunity to purge the new invaders form Argent D’Nur. We took the war to their cursed land, pressing through the gates of wizardry.”
OK. Sure, Doom Eternal. Sure.
Doom Eternal is the platonic ideal of a Doom game. The combat, level design, and enemy encounters have never felt better. And it sure does have a story. Not just plot contrivances to get the player from point A to B, but elaborate lore with multiple cultures, planets, characters and sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Page after page of fucking lore that I puzzled over as I moved through the legion’s of hell, ripping the eyes out of cacodemons and decapitating the damned.
Doom Eternal’s story begins in the middle of things. The end of 2016’s Doom saw Doomguy destroy the Argent Reactor on Mars and Hell’s armies marching towards Earth. Doom Eternal picks up some time after Doomguy has started to fight back against the interdimensional demon hordes. We pick up the plot along the way, piecing together what’s happened in between and the wider story of the Doomguy and the demons.
But Doom Eternal doesn’t stop there. If you really want to know what’s going on and really understand the greater complexity of the story, you have to read pages and pages of weirdly dense lore. Every level is full of secret pages that will unveil Doomguy’s story and play into the fan theory that all the Doom games are connected.
It's not sophisticated or good when compared with any genre books I've read in recent years, but there is a lot of it and it’s full of proper names that sound like they were placeholders in a paperback fantasy novel. You’ll learn about King Novik, the Sentinel Race, Khan Makyr, and Argent D’Nur. Reading these pages is optional. A player can simply move through Doom Eternal as a demigod of death and never question how or why Doomguy came to hate demons and acquire the power to fight them.
I love to read but, with rare exceptions— Control comes to mind—I hate reading in video games. Even if Doom Eternal’s lore was the best English language poem since Paradise Lost, it would still feel deeply out of place. There is no game less hospitable to the act of pausing the action and reading than a Doom game. Doom Eternal is about momentum. When you stop, you die, and every ability and weapon in the game is designed to keep the player moving. Lore sheets stop you dead in your tracks. Skip them if you can and read them later, after the blood dries, if you must.
The lore sheets prop up a seemingly ambitious plot. They answer questions about the motivations of Doomguy, a character I’ve never pondered the motivations of. It’s never clear why developer ID felt the need to include this stuff, but it’s there if you want it. I’m not sure many players will.
The back half of Doom Eternal is especially lore heavy and full of reams and reams of unending story. The eighth level, which is essentially just a tunnel leading to a boss fight, has nine individual lore sheet collectibles. Those sheets aren’t short either. They’re detailed. They come with goofy illustrations and tell a story that feels like Army of Darkness starring Doomguy and if you want to know why the importance of spilling Argent blood on the grounds of the arena (which will come up), buddy, you better read those pages.
The lore is goofy as hell, matching the slapstick 1980s direct-to-VHS tone of Doom Eternal and you can also safely ignore it. There’s bliss in ignorance. And this is Doom Eternal. You don’t play Doom to read a fantasy novel. You play it to kill demons.
And I don’t need a reason to fell the damned.