Relentless speed and slapstick gore characterised Doom's ace 2016 reboot. Doom Eternal will channel that energy into an electrifying asymmetrical multiplayer mode that combines solid cooperative play and stylish aerial combat.
Hopping into one of the six arenas, you can choose to play either as the Doom Slayer, or one of a pair of demons. Then you duke it out in a best-of-five match. Five demons will be available at launch including the Revenant, Mancubus, Archvile, Pain Elemental, and Marauder. Each nasty has unique abilities that gnaw away at the Slayer's health, and you can tweak demon loadouts to favour an offensive or defensive style.
The Doom Slayer is so powerful demons can spawn AI companions and place environmental hazards. Demons are even able to starve the Slayer of resources by perfectly timing a loot block ability. While this ability charges slowly, it can be enough to turn the tables in a match. To top it off, player-controlled demons also respawn if the Slayer doesn't kill both in quick succession. It may sound like the demons have it easy, but the Slayer has access to every weapon and mod from the campaign, as well as their typical dash and vault abilities.
Both sides get to choose upgrades at the end of each round. As the demons you might choose to gain health points or buff your minions. As the Slayer, upgrades feel similar to those included in the campaign. You can claim a glory kill from further away, for example, or force enemies to drop more health.
See Doom Eternal's Battlemode in action above.
Doom Eternal release date: Everything we know
Doom Eternal review: Our definitive verdict
Doom Eternal tips: Weather the steep difficulty curve
Doom Eternal Slayer Keys: Unlock the optional encounters
Doom Eternal Runes: Give Doomguy the edge
Doom Eternal settings: Kill in high-res glory
Doom Eternal computer code: Uncover a special treat
Doom Eternal cheat codes: Escalate the action
Doom Eternal Battlemode: Tips for victory
After a couple of hours of play I found myself gravitating towards two demons. The fire-wielding Archvile can set a section of the floor ablaze and create a wall of fire to repel the Slayer's advances. At one point I managed to place a hazard on the floor behind the Slayer, burn them, and seal the round. Later, game director Hugo Martin detailed how this tactically aggressive approach gives the demons the potential to stack huge amounts of damage. One approach would be to "use that shield wall, burn the ground, and then the other demon will put a hazard volume on top of that. Now you're triple-stacking damage". With multiple demons on offer, you can imagine how effective these combinations might be once people figure out how to use them.
I also found something inherently satisfying about how the Pain Elemental zooms around the arena, spitting lost souls. Doom Eternal's campaign conditions you to launch yourself into the air wherever possible, so seeing the Battlemode arena from a bird's eye view feels almost natural. It's worth saving your dash ability to take cover, particularly if you're waiting for your buddy to resurrect. The Pain Elemental's Soul Shield creates protection, and you can charge up a strong projectile that hits hard. The current demon roster seems diverse enough to offer a significant variety of approaches, and I'm interested to see which demon combinations will be popular at launch.
The maps look great too. The Forsaken arena has a heavy Quake vibe and serves as a good learning gymnasium. I also tested out Tundra, a snowy amphitheatre, and Celestial, which featured hazardous beams that can shave off a chunk of unsuspecting players' health.
id Software has already confirmed that the developers "really want to build up that roster of playable demons" post-launch. Executive producer Marty Stratton said "we think of the game as kind of a fighting game so we want to build on it more". New features will be free to maintain balance across the community.
Our group struggled to secure any wins as the Slayer— something I'm still scolding myself for now. A few of us managed to clinch a few nail-biting rounds, but mastering the Slayer's tools proved to be too much of a hefty task after the few hours we spent in the campaign. It's recommended that you play through a sizable chunk of the campaign before hopping in to wreck shop as the Slayer. There are so many tools at your disposal that, in the heat of the moment, remembering everything in your arsenal and how to access it can be challenging.
As in the campaign, standing still to take care of an enemy is not really an option unless you're midway through chainsawing for resources, or glory killing. Successful Slayers will spend a lot of their time airborne. The arenas are dotted with jump pads and monkey bars made especially for the Slayer, and teleporters let you fast travel between each end of the stage. Not only does this mobility enable you to escape the jaws of the demons more easily, it affords you a second or two to select your next victim. As you're playing solo, anticipating your opponents' actions is key.
Switching between the demons and Slayer gives me a lot of hope for this mode at launch. Playing as the Slayer feels exhilarating as you're outnumbered and constantly thinking a few steps ahead. Mowing down demons for ammo and then finally taking out both player-controlled demons feels incredible. I was so engrossed in the match that at one point, my watch buzzed to notify me that my heart rate had been elevated for an extended period of time.
While darting around the arena as the Slayer was certainly a highlight for me, it's still fun to play as a demon. It's nowhere near as intense, but it was nice to experiment with my abilities and actually win some matches. It's a balancing act as you attack the Slayer, while playing off your partner's abilities and avoiding the temptation to overexert yourself. Once you get a decent grasp on your abilities, and begin working well with your teammate, the matches can be over in seconds. That said, if the Slayer and demons are well-matched, it's also possible for matches to last considerably longer. "[internal] matches are epic", says id, as they "have groups of people who have really mastered the demon experience—who are a dangerous tag-team—and want to play against people who think they're unbeatable as the Slayer".
On its surface, Battlemode is fast-paced, frantic fun, but the demon roster gives it tactical depth. I'm looking forward to seeing how the the wins fluctuate across each side as the community becomes more skilled, and see demon combos yet to be discovered.