Doom Eternal doesn't let you stop to think and that's okay


Run and gun and jump and jump and dash and gun more

I’ll admit it: Doom Eternal is not the kind of game I typically play. Don’t get me wrong; I play first-person shooters a ton. But I’m more used to the flavor of shooters that have you ducking behind cover to catch a breath and recover some health or the ones that make numbers appear when you shoot things and if you’re unsuccessful then you just need to find a gun that makes bigger numbers.

Doom Eternalis… not that. It’s fast and it’s frantic, but it’s not random. There is a definite combat flow to follow, but it all goes so quickly you almost need to take your brain out of the equation. When my hands just did what they needed to do because of what my eyes saw, bypassing conscious thought, that’s when I was successful. When I stopped to think and plan, that’s when things would go awry.

I died a lot in the E3 demo for Doom Eternal. Like, more than my neighbor was dying. More than I’m probably comfortable to admit. But each time I died, the loading screen had the same helpful instructions to read. Need health? Do a Glory Kill. Need armor? Use your flamethrower. Need ammo? Use your chainsaw. It’s a simple system, and yet, I could not seem to make it work for me at first.

After every death, I’d study that loading screen and play back in my head what went wrong. Maybe I wasn’t doing enough Glory Kills. Maybe I was doing too many Glory Kills, and that’s why I ran out of ammo. And why can I never remember to light things on fire? Remember to light more things on fire. Next time I’m going to light the first thing I see on fire. (I proceed to do that and then forget to use it again afterward.)

It really comes down to muscle memory. Years of training have taught me that when I’m done shooting something, I hit the left face button to reload my weapon. That’s great, except this is Doom, and there ain’t no reloading in Doom. So I’d kill the last demon in the immediate vicinity and try to swing my chainsaw at nothing.

But despite all of my flailing, I was able to make forward progress. I killed a lot of demons and I made it to the boss. Then, when fighting this particularly resilient baddie, things started to click into place. When the low health warning popped up, I’d nail a Glory Kill. When the low ammo warning did the same, I’d instinctively reach for the chainsaw. I cut down on the time between stimulus and reaction. Instead of making decisions, I was just making stuff happen.

When everything is going well, it’s almost like a trance. On that boss fight, I finally started incorporating all of the tools at my disposal. Run from the big nasty thing. Jump. Double jump. Dash in mid-air. I got pretty good at avoiding damage from him. Now kill the little things and keep your health up. Jump some more. And whatever you do, never stop running.

I still never remembered to use my flamethrower. And I never did actually beat that boss. Chalk that up to needing more training. That’s an aspect of Doom Eternal I can appreciate: it has a high skill ceiling. Even if I never end up being any good at demon slaying myself, I can definitely imagine watching high-level play on Twitch or speedruns at GDQ. It has plenty of visual flair for that kind of consumption.

Even though I skulked away from the Bethesda booth in defeat, and now its several hours later as I write this, I’m still trying to analyze what I could have done better to claim victory. The movement in Doom Eternal is so fluid and the bone-crunching combat is so satisfying that it has not let go of my brain.

But that might be my problem. I need to let go of my brain if I want to succeed in Doom Eternal. I don’t need to analyze. I just need to get good. And even though I’m not there yet, I think I want to be.