When Doom 2016 released, it was with a fire and energy unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Oh, sure, games have been violent, and that’s nothing new, but Doom 2016 brought personality to the fray. While the characters droned on about lore nobody cared about, Doomguy understood what we were here to do: rip and tear. Together, we did just that. With the release of Doom Eternal, things have changed, and not necessarily for the better, and nowhere is this illustrated better than with an enemy known as the Marauder.
Doom Eternal is a departure from Doom 2016; if you go into it expecting a sequel to the game you’ve waited four years for, you’ll be disappointed, because while it is a sequel narratively, it makes so many changes from its predecessor that it ends up becoming an entirely different kind of game. Where Doom 2016 let you embody Doomguy, Eternal has you putting on a Doomguy costume and exploring a Doomguy theme park. Here’s a fleshy level! Here’s a weird alien level! Why are there rotating flaming chains here? Uh… because Eternal owes more to Super Mario Bros 3. than Doom 2016.
It’s weird, sure, but it’s still fun, just in a very different way. Once you get past the extremely high expectations set by 2016, you’ll find a delightfully potent mix of mechanics, movement abilities, weapons, and enemies that creates one of shooting’s best sandboxes. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as dashing past a Tyrant’s fire, leaping into the air in slow-mo, firing a grenade at an arachnotron’s turret to force him into close range combat, then landing on top of an unfortunate imp and chainsawing him in half for more ammo. It’s great! It really is… until the Marauder shows up.
In theory, the Marauder is supposed to be the Anti-Doomguy; fighting him should feel like a duel. He has a shield you can’t break, summons adds constantly to fight you, reacts incredibly fast to your actions, and has a hitscan weapon with a minimal tell. He isn’t hard to beat—I’ve killed him in a matter of seconds—but he breaks every single one of Eternal’s rules. He sucks all the fun out of the room. He goes against the flow of Doom’s combat, and he’s the reason I have zero interest in playing more Doom Eternal.
Let’s take a step back and talk about what makes Doom, as a series, so interesting.
In the Beginning..
In 1993, id released Doom, and a whole lot of game developers started making first person shooters so similar that people took to calling the genre “ Doom clones.” But, as with anything that’s remotely successful, most of the clones didn’t quite nail what made the original as good as it was, either due to a lack of understanding or for a desire to experiment with something new.
Doom was a game all about movement, first and foremost. If an imp throws a fireball at you, you step to the side to avoid damage; because the imp’s fireball has a visible travel time, it’s easy to understand and try to avoid. The rocket launcher’s splash damage does self-damage, so it’s important to keep as much distance between you and your enemies as possible when using it.
On the surface, this sounds pretty simple; we’ve taken a lot of these elements for granted, and in some cases, they’ve changed over the years, sometimes for the worst. Take shotguns; in Doom, spread determined power, so distance directly correlated with damage. In more recent shooters, some designers use tools like damage falloff, meaning that even if every one of your pellets hit, your shotgun might as well be shooting confetti outside of its effective range.
Doom’s elegance is the way that each component of its design, in terms of both weapon utility and enemy ability has a distinct, understandable purpose, and all of those components work together in a way that encourages players to move, but it wasn’t just the monsters or the weapons, it was the level design as well.
In a level like E1M3, as you progress, one pickup causes all the lights to go off and imps burst out of a previously secret door behind you! It’s a great practical joke of the level design, and super memorable, not because it’s a surprise, but because it exists in direct contrast to the rest of the game’s encounters without breaking the level design.
You see, there are two kinds of first person shooters, proactive and reactive. A proactive shooter is one where you can see the enemy, often before an encounter begins, and you start to plan how to deal with them. It often involves scouting out the level space, considering routes and cover, which enemies to use which weapons against, and so on. Halo 3’s a great example of a proactive shooter; you’ll often find yourself wading into fights from the high ground, like rescuing Johnson from imprisonment in the level Sierra 117. In shorter term play, planning is about area control; moment to moment, you’re thinking about the space you’re in and how your movement and shooting lets you control that space.
Planning is a huge part of what makes a game engaging; if you can get players thinking about what to do next, you can keep them excited. Thomas Grip, best known for his work on games like Amnesia and Soma, has written about it at length here.
Reactive shooters are very different, games that often turn into literal shooting galleries, where you stand still and shoot targets. Games like Gears of War and Call of Duty 4 are proactive shooters, but many of their imitators looked at mechanics like regenerating health systems and cover and decided to make games about staying in cover and moving as little as possible. Gears especially used cover as a way of encouraging a different kind of movement and planning, something its imitators rarely understood.
Doom was a proactive shooter; so many of its encounters were about showing you what you were going to encounter, entering the fray, and managing enemies by controlling the space until you’ve completed the encounter.
Reactivity isn’t bad; character action games like Devil May Cry 3 or Ninja Gaiden Black are all about reactive play and would be very different as proactive games. These games spawn waves of enemies, and you dodge, counter, and parry your way through combat. You’re making decisions, sure, but you’re reacting to the enemies the game throws at you. It’s not so much about area control as it is about managing the enemies you receive in the order they’re given to you. Reactive play is great for melee-driven action games, but shooters are best for proactive play because ranged combat puts the focus on area control.
Over the years, as shooters became more cinematic games moved away from the pure game design abstractions of Doom and Doom 2 and closer to things that felt real. From 2006 or so until 2014, shooters became overly-restrictive, ‘cinematic’ affairs, more interested in showing impressive, expensive sequences that had more panache than dynamism. Good shooter gameplay seemed to matter a whole lot less than overly-restrictive set pieces. Gameplay took a backseat until a new wave of shooters like Titanfall and Destiny showed up to remind us what we were missing.
Then along came Doom 2016.
Rip And Tear
Doom 2016 felt so vibrant because it wasted no time trying to be a movie. As a shooter, it knew you wanted to shoot, and it was only too happy to oblige. While the levels felt like real, believable spaces—Foundry is exactly what a Doom level should be in 3D and Argent Energy Tower beautifully channels Half-Life’s puzzle-like verticality—the game understood that you are Doomguy, and your goal is to show up and kill as many demons as humanly possible.
But… there was one problem.
Most of Doom’s levels center around gore nests, big gobs of flesh that require you to interact with to start the encounter. Go into a room, the doors lock, and you fight everyone in the room until they’re dead. Even levels without gore nests have the same flow. Rather than encouraging proactive play, these levels were better at just encouraging you to run around, reacting to enemies as they spawned, triggering glory kills to get back health and armor, and shooting enemies until they were dead.
While the game was absolutely excellent, and a masterpiece of level design and exploration, fights could get repetitive, which is why the back half of the game can feel so tiring compared to the first. At some point, Doom 2016 just stops adding new surprises and only seems to change the set dressing.
It’s one of my favorite games, but I’d be happy to acknowledge that there was room for improvement.
Instead, we got Doom Eternal.
Back in 2014 or so, I started working with some friends on a prototype shooter. That shooter featured double jumping, mantling, wall climbing, ice grenades, damaging enemy weak points to change their attack patterns, and a lot of other things featured in Doom Eternal. We were even working on a shotgun with a grappling hook, enemies who needed to be damaged to drop armor, and an ice grenade that could freeze enemies. We had to stop because we couldn’t afford to make it, but it was, in so many ways, my dream shooter, and it was absolutely thrilling to see one of my favorite game developers channeling so much of the same energy I’d had in Doom Eternal.
For the first several hours, I found myself enthralled. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the Mario-influenced obstacles or the ultra-linear “encounter, hallway, encounter” level design; Eternal relies heavily on arcadey influences that seem at odds with its predecessor. I definitely wasn’t thrilled by the game’s insistence on story and fanservice, where Doom 2016 felt so much more focused and razor sharp.
Still, the combat and arenas were intense and fast paced, though they leaned more towards the reactive side, with enemies constantly warping into battle until I’d killed them all. There are some rough spots—Eternal wants you to use all of its mechanics in every encounter, but sometimes doesn’t provide enough ammo to complete the encounters (you’re supposed to chainsaw fodder enemies to get more ammo, but that falls apart when the game refuses to produce any).
Eternal wants to keep you on your toes with a great mix of enemies who push you through agility, area denial, or just plain aggression, like my favorite enemy in the series, the Hell Knight. While the game keeps you on your toes, and the way it handles enemy spawns pushes it closer to reactive play, Eternal tries to balance this with a system of counters. Cacodemons are weak to the Ballista, while the plasma rifle makes short work of the game’s shields.
Even though Eternal pushes you to stay on your toes and forces you to fight reactively, there are still ways to make plans, juggling weapons and managing enemies for some semblance of area control. Everything in the game has a counter that works against it. In its most aggressive moments, like the spectacular Slayer Gate encounters, Eternal hits a state of zen few reactive shooters can match, because you’re making plans, but it’s more like “oh no! That’s a Tyrant! Where did he come from? Okay, I’ll use my crucible on him right after I use this ice grenade to get rid of that Whiplash.”
Even though you’re reacting, you’re still making decisions.
When the Marauder shows up, decisions go out the window.
Early on, Doom Eternal establishes rules like “energy shields can be overcharged with plasma fire, causing them to explode, doing damage to nearby enemies.” The Marauder is the only enemy with a shield that takes no damage. Where every other enemy features projectiles and lengthy tells to allow you to dash out of their range, the Marauder’s weapon appears to be a hitscan weapon, meaning it has instant travel time and can only be dodged. He punishes you for getting too close or too far. He can teleport at random. Every rule Eternal sets up, the Marauder breaks… and it kills the flow completely.
He isn’t hard to kill, once you get the hang of him, but he sucks because he doesn’t fit.
Eternal is a very game designer game, like someone sat down with a bunch of spreadsheets and cross-referenced all the guns to make sure every enemy and action has some sort of clear counter and flow. While the combat encounters themselves are beautifully frenetic, they also have a tendency to get monotonous; great shooters allow for creative play, which is why proactive shooters have an edge over reactive ones. Games that look beautiful on spreadsheets, where every component has a distinct place, minimize that creativity even further, because they prescribe the ways you must play in order to succeed.
The Marauder doesn’t even allow that. To beat him, you have to wait until he opens his shield, then stun him, or fire a bunch of explosives behind him to whittle his health down. Neither is really all that fun. There’s no way to bait him into rushing you by, say, blowing up his shield, or taking area control away from me by using weapons to push him into a position you’d find advantageous. He’s immune to the super weapons like the BFG, Crucible, and Unmakyr, for no apparent reason.
Eternal is at its best when you’re playing actively and making plans, which are facilitated by its counter system, and while that restricts creative play, it’s still a valid way to get players in the zone. The Marauder has hard counters for everything you can do. He’s not hard, but he’s annoying. He doesn’t fit. He’s like an underwater level or one of those really fast flying enemies that are irritating to hit. He doesn’t pose a challenge, he just sucks all the fun out of the room because he requires you to play passively.
The Marauder feels like an indulgence that doesn’t really fit, but that’s true of Doom Eternal as a whole. No one loved Doom 2016 because of the story or the boss fights or the memes that didn’t exist yet, they loved it because Doomguy conveyed so much with so little. Doom Eternal isn’t content to do a lot with a little; it wants to indulge in everything. It adds so much without ever really knowing why. What does purple goop add? What do the weird Mario platformers or 1ups bring to the situation? What purpose does the Marauder serve?
Doom 2016 was a vibrant reinvention for the series that was fast enough to maintain the spirit of the game while still allowing for creative and interesting play. Doom Eternal wants to be something different, and that’s okay, because its emphasis on counters can still lead to fun play. But the Marauder just doesn’t fit; he’s antithetical to everything that makes Eternal worth playing. When a game indulges in its least-compelling moments, it loses the things that make it great. The Marauder is Doom Eternal’s biggest indulgence and its greatest failing.