After getting our hands on Doom Eternal in London earlier this year, we recently had another chance to sit down with the game, except this time we got to spend some quality time with developers Marty Stratton and Hugo Martin. What's more, for this last look at the incoming first-person shooter, we met them on their home turf inside the id Software office in Dallas. During our time in Texas, we also got a tour around the studio, where we got to marvel at id's chainsaw-cut wooden statue of a demon and check out the impressive awards collection that the developer has built up over the past few decades.
As we toured the building we observed a room full of QA testers at work and noted the large amounts of game collectibles scattered across people's desks. Coming straight out of an important meeting, executive producer Stratton and creative director Hugo told us about the challenges of cooking up the final release trailer with many different parties and ideas from across the world involved in its creation. Last and definitely not least, we were also able to sit down and play a new level from the campaign and try out the new multiplayer Battlemode.
As we'd already gained a good impression of the game during our last hands-on, we took the time to ask about some more specific details this time. According to Stratton and Martin, they've used the extra time from the delayed-release date for "a lot of polish, a lot of bug fixing." We noticed before that Doom Eternal looks great, and Matty explained that "as a player looks around, we tend to push as much information as we can in their view, and then we call out a lot of what is not in their view, either in the distance or behind them. As they move through the world, that information gets streamed in." Accordingly, "to the extent we can throw polys on the screen or in memory, we're really throwing a lot into the player's face," leading to a "high fidelity, high poly-count experience." A performance boost also comes from their take on AI: "as [a player] gets close to [enemies] and they become more part of what you may react with, then they turn on and start thinking."
One of the other elements we've enjoyed in Doom games previously is the music. During our gameplay session, we immediately found the background music reminiscent of the original. As Hugo and Martin explained, "we were really proud of [Doom 2016's award-winning score], and we have Mick [Gordon] back this time." Working together with id's audio team, "we really took some new ideas, some fresh things in there. [...] People think of the Doom soundtrack as all metal, all the time, but it's really not, not even the original." There's "even a lot of light jazz in there."
Taking a specific example, the pair explained that while "writing the story and developing the world and the universe, knowing we were going back to the Sentinel world, [we] really wanted like this chant; that was underlying a lot of what was happening in that space. So [we] put together a heavy metal choir [and] worked together this really cool sound. [...] It's got a lot of what people love about mixed music and a Doom soundtrack, but also a lot of stuff that will really surprise [players], which will pique their interest for sure."
With the music adding to the immersion in Doom Eternal, we enjoyed playing a new level that wasn't showcased before. It brought us to the homeworld of Doom's Sentinel race, having us fight demons surrounded by medieval fantasy-inspired architecture. As a player who usually prefers to play somewhat behind the action in a support or sniper role, the Doom Eternal gameplay felt quite overwhelming in these later stages of the game. As we detailed in our previous preview, there's a constant pressure to keep moving and to juggle your health, ammo, opportunities for killing blows and deciding in which way to kill enemies based on your survival needs.
When we were thrown into an arena-like environment filled with different demon types, we were forced to bring the difficulty down to easiest setting: demons come at you with different attack types and keep the pressure on the player at all times. The developers likened people playing the campaign to a martial arts student progressing from white to black belt. Upon receiving your black belt somewhere in the first third of the game, you'll have mastered the skills you need to actually start playing Doom Eternal the way it's meant to be played.
You'll need your black belt to play Doom Eternal's multiplayer as well. The 2v1 multiplayer game called Battlemode pits a lone but fully equipped Slayer against two others playing as one of several demon-types in a relatively small, arena-like map. The Slayer has access to all of the campaign weapons, while the two demons can summon 'minion' demons, or create healing or damaging areas.
The playable demons have very different strengths and weaknesses, ranging from the tank-like Mancubus with his large health pool and hard-hitting rocket attacks, to the more vulnerable, but flying Pain Elemental that can stay out of harm's way more easily. Different demons have different minions they can summon, with further customisation depending on the demon profile you select before a match. This allows for a lot of combinations regarding defensive or offensive play for the demon-players to coordinate and for the slayer to devise counter-strategies against.
According to Stratton and Martin, the demons are reliant upon your strategy involving special powers, loot blocks against the slayer, and the demons you can summon, while the slayer relies mostly on FPS shooting skills. However, we quickly learned that you're equally vulnerable without a strategy when playing as the Slayer. There's (hopefully) no shame in admitting we didn't manage to win a single round when playing against the demons. The good thing is it didn't turn us off, rather it made us eager to try different strategies, figuring out which demons to prioritise and deciding when to push for a kill. Playing together as the demon duo was equally fun, watching the Slayer struggle against our minions and alternating between attack and evasion. It also seemed a bit easier for players starting out.
Hugo Martin explained to us what sets Battlemode apart from the multiplayer in the last game: "Doom 2016's multiplayer didn't feel enough like the single-player campaign. [We learned that] you need to have varied pacing, you want the pace to change throughout the experience. In Battlemode, it changes throughout. When your teammate dies you have to start hiding from the Slayer; when the Slayer's weak [then] you have to be aggressive. The tension builds and ebbs and flows throughout the match and that's really important to have an engaging experience."
The Battlemode maps are all designed to be gladiator-style arenas, featuring a variety of environments and "with different characters being at an advantage" in different maps. We can definitely agree that id managed to put these ideas into practice and we feel the Battlemode has a lot of potential. It might not be the next battle royale or MOBA, but it's certainly a well worked-out, challenging and enjoyable take on multiplayer.
We're looking forward to the game's release later this month (it's still TBC on Switch), which will open with around 20 hours of campaign gameplay and feature six different Battlemode maps. Beyond that, there's going to be free DLCs adding new Battlemode maps and playable demons after release. With all that in mind, as we were leaving the Dallas-based office and preparing to fly home, we reflected on how compared to the last Doom, it seems like Eternal will have both a top-notch single-player campaign and a correspondingly enjoyable multiplayer experience. Roll on March 20.