Doom Eternal is a beautiful exercise. Its one that revels in a kind of harmony that only excess can bring. It is as if one stands before a venerable loaded baked potato bar. First butter, then add vegetarian chili. Then add bacon, you aren’t a vegetarian, but you want the meat to come from a pig. Then cheese. Cheddar, shredded. Chives, now add the chives, wait, sour cream first. Yes, sour cream.
Whoa, hold the phone, this place has avocado pieces. You’ve never seen that before. Wait. They have that spicy chicken ranch stuff too. Your hand trembles, barely able to grasp the weighty spoonful of sour cream. Is that pulled pork? You already have meat though, from a pig. You become lightheaded for a moment, the blood leaving and pooling within you somewhere. You drop the spoon. You stagger back, your potato swollen and buried deep within.
You can’t see it anymore, covered as it is. You know as soon as you dig in you’ll find that perfect, soft, fluffy potato meant to be a vessel for your fix-ins. You’re certain. But for now, it is lost.
This is the experience of playing Doom Eternal, a beautiful experiment in taking something and adding more and more to it until it’s fun, adrenaline inducing central loop is now completely buried. A symphony written with every instrument. A painting of every color, massive, bloated, overbearing.
It’s easy to see that none of this is an accident. I can see how you’re supposed to be chaining the flamethrower, the glory kills, the chainsaw, and several of the weapons all together. I can see how the dash can get you in and out of sticky, gory situations. How all of these things help you enter a flow state to rip and tear until its done.
But it’s been hard to find any enjoyment in all of this. Where Doom 2016 felt like a svelte, lithe antelope bounding across the hellish terrain of Mars, Doom Eternal feels like subtraction by addition. It’s heavy, dense, a layer cake of systems on top of systems on top of systems. Instead of cohesion it produces cacophony.
Its odd to think in this time of isolation, hoarding and rationing, that more would be less but it is. I valued how Doom 2016 had a barren quality to it. It felt like a game forged out of its troubled production. It seemed as though a lot of thought was put into what “Doom” might be and how to hit that nail on the head as many times as possible. Eternal feels like a lot of thought was put into how to do Doom 2016 over again but with more at every turn.
Sophomore efforts are tough. It is difficult to think on your strengths and dedicate yourself to them without looking at the deficits and seek to shore them up. Doom Eternal feels like a game that was made by focusing on the chaos of 2016’s development. A game too caught up in what was missing and preoccupied with adding more and more without considering the effects of those systems.
Certainly, Doom Eternal is bigger, louder, badder and more filled with gore than its predecessor. But I have yet to see that any of this makes Doom Eternal better than 2016. To go back to the metaphor of the baked potato, there is a point at which so many toppings and features and fix-ins have been added to only somewhat resemble the essential potato within.
But that monstrosity at the baked potato bar isn’t bad. I actually love bars and buffets specifically for this reason. I love the mess of it because it is a mess. But it’s certainly not composed. It’s an exercise in excess and somehow one that doesn’t feel fulfilling. Maybe, once finished, looking back, the mania will all make sense. Maybe this is a journey that requires full reflection to appreciate. But for now, it is a delicious baked potato, well hidden, waiting to be ripped and torn.
Photo used from jeffreyw on Flickr using Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.