DOOM Eternal

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Panic Button
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2020

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Switch Review - 'Doom Eternal'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 31, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

It's Hell on Earth and only one person can repel the demonic invasion. The DOOM Slayer is back to unleash his fury upon the legions of Hell with a host of powerful new abilities, weapons and fearsome demons to put them to work on.

Buy Doom Eternal

The Nintendo Switch has been popular since it launched almost four years ago. In addition to decent early releases like Mario Kart and Zelda, Panic Button's port of Doom 2016 also played a large part in the success of the portable console. It didn't look too great, and the frame rate was half of what it was on other platforms, but it was playable. It set in motion a swath of "impossible ports" over time, like The Witcher 3. Panic Button is now back with the sequel, Doom Eternal, and it's yet another impressive effort on the Switch that makes a lot of concessions — but never the wrong ones.

If you're familiar with Doom 2016, Eternal will instantly feel familiar. It continues the same mantra of unapologetic action and gunplay, favoring an aggressive and dominating play style. There's no need to reload your guns, while pick-ups and jump platforms can make some encounters feel like proper vertical battle arenas.

We resume control of the Doom Slayer several months after the events in Doom 2016. This time, Earth is the target of demonic forces led by the Khan Maykr and his Hell Priests. It's our job to find and defeat Khan Maykr and his underlings, which requires us to visit several locations and shoot our way through demon hordes.

Eternal is different than it may initially seem. There is a more coherent and lore-reliant storyline that you can ignore if you're not interested, but there is a lot of information that elevates the series beyond the bare-bones premise of the first game. There are cut scenes and dialogue in addition to a more diverse cast of characters, demons, and opponents.

Whereas Doom 2016 felt more forgiving in the way you could approach encounters, Eternal demands much more player agency and strategy. In return, the player constantly makes decisions to get through encounters as resources dwindle. Glory kills make a return, so enemies enter a stagger state when they're damaged enough, offering a brutal finishing move that provides health pick-ups. The chainsaw returns and automatically refills, so enemies now drop ammo pick-ups. There's a third tool in Eternal: the flame belch, which can set enemies on fire and yield shield pick-ups.

Juggling resources isn't everything. Eternal features the same enemies from Doom 2016 and adds a few more. From Arachnotron to Pain Eternal, many foes from Doom II appear in Eternal to significantly increase the enemy variety. The larger baddies are quite strong, but most of them have weak points that can be exploited to make encounters easier. For example, the sting of the Arachnotron can be removed with either a scoped shot from the machine gun or grenades from your shotgun upgrade, rendering it helpless across long distances and forcing it to engage up close.

The gameplay in Eternal requires the player to juggle much-needed pick-ups from foes while prioritizing larger enemy weak points by threat level. There is usually a critical path through an encounter, but getting to that point is a challenge. Early stages are frustrating as you learn the ropes since the game is happy to let you die if you don't engage correctly.

Eternal is the best skill-based, single-player shooter that I have played in a very long time. The advantages heavily outweigh the disadvantages for me. On the one hand, encounters can feel more rigid and more punishing if you get too experimental or lose track of what's going on. Doom 2016 had a more casual feel that was great to play for different reasons. On the flip side, Eternal's reliance on clearly communicated mechanics enables the player to improve, which can create some memorable battles. If a player gets too passive, the game quickly pushes them to engage directly and score glory kills to replenish health. Encounters are intense and relentless, making every kill feel like a deserved achievement, even on lower difficulties. It's a demonic gore ballet, and when it clicks, it can be addictive and satisfying, but it always treads the fine line between frustration and the adrenaline rush of achievement.

Combat is the centerpiece of the experience, but it's far from the only ace up Eternal's sleeve. Each stage of the roughly 15-hour-long campaign is filled with secrets and challenges that offer incentives to explore. The game also introduces more verticality by adding simple platforming challenges. The Doom Slayer can now swing along monkey bars or jump between certain walls. It's a good way to give the player a breather with a few elaborate puzzles and hidden secrets in increasingly obfuscated areas.

In Eternal, even the lower difficulty levels can feel challenging, and the difficulty scales up rapidly. The game presents boss fights that later become just another enemy that roams the battlefield. Not everyone will dig the difficulty spike, but it's effective, and the adrenaline keeps you on your toes. It's rare to see such dedication to making the player feel challenged every step of the way, but if you frustrate easily, know that Eternal rarely pulls any punches. The selection of four base difficulties and two additional difficulty modifiers offers some challenge after players have completed the game. Special master levels provide an even bigger challenge outside of the campaign.

Another addition is the Doom Fortress, which is a spaceship base where our protagonist operates. It includes a training ground, unlockable gear with items found in the story, and an impressive interior. It's a welcome safe place to train should you find the stages to be too challenging.

There is also a multiplayer portion that works as well as it does on the other platforms. Battlemode is not a mere update of the modes that existed in the first Doom; it doubles down on what the first entry brought to the table and trims the fat. If you were hoping for the traditional suit of deathmatches and similar mainstays, you may be disappointed. Battlemode pits one Doom Slayer against two player-controlled demons. While this mode did not click with me, I respect the effort of not just dumping traditional modes into the game without a clear relation to the campaign. In Battlemode, the Slayer needs to be on top of their game skill-wise to survive and defeat the two opposing demons, while the demons need to cooperate effectively to take down the Doom Slayer. The mode is packed with special seasons, individual load-outs, and experience-based progression that connects across the campaign and online mode to provide additional incentives to return to the title.

The main question in this case is how well Battlemode runs on the Switch. It's not pretty, but it's effective. Panic Button has once again demonstrated that it knows how to approach a port that's as drastic as this one. Eternal puts a lot more strain on the system, especially since many stages are open and vast when compared to the smaller, interior spaces in Doom 2016. Eternal features a very aggressive resolution scale that drops wildly in different scenes to ensure the stability of the frame rate. The result is that even on the smaller handheld screen, you can tell that things get noticeably fuzzy and blurry, especially when playing docked. This is especially evident if you record a screenshot in-game, but Eternal is so fast that some smartly administered blur on objects and enemies manages to provide the illusion that the Switch version looks sharper and more detailed than it actually does. It does not skimp on details, such as visual damage to character models and limbs coming loose. There are no obvious shortcuts that would've changed the way the game looks or plays. It is noticeably low-res, but once you get used to it, it works well enough.

The game does not drop frames, or if it does, I did not notice. Eternal plays like Panic Button is holding it hostage at exactly 30fps. There is a discussion to be had about 30fps and 60fps in a title like Doom. If you have the means and platform to run Eternal at a consistent 60fps, please do. If not, the Switch version is stable and smooth enough that I didn't experience any performance issues while playing on the Switch. It's not the best platform to play it on, but if you don't own anything else (or value portability above all else), this version is as good as one could hope for, given the obvious limitations. It also incorporates motion controls feel like a worthwhile addition and are more responsive than they were in Doom 2016.

Doom Eternal on the Switch is another great port from Panic Button. Graphically, it is a massive step down from the other console versions, but it makes smart concessions to ensure the gameplay shines even when played on weak hardware. It's impressive to see how solidly the title runs, even though there were quite a few obvious visual compromises. If you can stomach the high price point given that the other versions have long dropped in price, the Switch port is a solid option to play the game. I'm a huge fan of the gameplay decisions that Eternal makes to evolve the formula, and I believe Eternal is a must-have title if you're an FPS aficionado — especially if you don't have access to another game console or value portability over visual quality.

Score: 8.2/10

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