Impressions and critique of Doom's PC multiplayer balance, design, and more

After playing the Doom multiplayer beta for what feels like an eternity now, but is actually only a couple of hours, I've come to realize that its not the worst game in existence as the Steam reviews might lead you to believe, but rather a deeply troubled one that is so desperately trying to please everyone, it ends up pleasing no one.

Its obviously catering to the old school FPS crowd with the small arenas and constant focus on action, but its too slow and far too shallow to appeal to those players; its also trying to win over COD fans with the loadout system and constant trickle of mostly pointless "upgrades", but the weapons are imbalanced and the mostly pointless upgrades are just that, mostly pointless; and finally, it tries to appeal to Halo players, but the weapons and abilities are just not exciting or unique enough to keep anyone's interest for very long.

So where exactly does Doom make its cardinal mistakes, and how could Bethesda and Id go about fixing them?

 

Video version of this article (9:30 min)

First of all, allow me to commend whoever decided to add 40 seconds of unskippable logos and warnings before the game actually starts. It might sound terrible on first glance, but those 40 seconds allow one to reflect upon the true nature of the world, our role in the grand scheme of things, and what each of us can do to make this singular planet of ours a better place for all. My first suggestion: Let people play the damned game!

Silliness aside, I think pretty much everyone will agree that the Doom 1 and 2 had a kick-ass soundtrack that got you instantly pumped and ready to take on the legions of hell. Thankfully, the music in Doom 2016 is of the same caliber, with even the main menu theme being worthy of charging in to battle with. The only problem is that when you're in an actual multiplayer match the music either doesn't play at all, or is so subtle that it might as well be nonexistent. Instead of heavy metal blaring in the background as dozens of marines double jump and throw grenades all over the place, all you get to hear is the occasional muffled rocket shot and the soft footsteps of your fellow players.

The issue extends beyond the soundtrack itself as its almost impossible to tell when you're being shot at given that rockets fired from a distance make about as much noise as a blowdart, and the expected *boom* of a shotgun being unloaded straight in to your back is instead a light tap, as if you threw a pebble at someone. You should never be able to fire four rockets at a player and still have them be oblivious to the potential threat behind them, even though the shooter obviously can't aim. Add to that an announcer that seems to be reading off his lines at gunpoint, and you've got yourself a shooter that's supposed to be up-beat and chaotic, yet is completely sterile.

Doom multiplayer has a big issue with sound design

High powered laser scorching everything behind you, or perhaps just a gust of wind?

While I can deal with poor audio feedback by simply putting on music and role-playing as a deaf marine, I can't get over the fact that most of the weapons feel pitiful, and this includes the rocket launcher! Since Doom 2016 implemented a loadout system most similar to the one found in the Call of Duty series, every single iconic weapon from the franchise has been nerfed to the point where it can be used as a starter gun and compete on equal grounds with all others. This might sounds completely fair on paper, but in reality this means that a rocket launcher to the face is about as deadly as a couple of rifle shots, or a swift melee hit or two, and that just isn't a weapon that feels good to use.

Combine this with some heavy balance problems and you've got yourself a scenario where shooting ROCKETS at people feels like throwing foam darts, shocking someone with a high-voltage stick of doom is akin to tickling, using a massive futuristic rifle to fill someone with lead is about as effective as punching them twice, and where the sniper rifle is the literal hand of god able to smite heathens with a mere thought. Balance is obviously the reason why the beta is even here, but its still worrying to see that out of all the weapons available to players there are about 4 of them that actually do any damage, and only two of them that feel somewhat satisfying to use: the sniper rifle with its high powered BZZZAAAP sound, and the plasma rifle with its continues stream of PEW PEW PEW noises, though the actual impact and damage leave a lot to be desired.

Doom's sniper rifle is heavily overpowered

Rocket launcher takes two DIRECT hits to kill, but the sniper can one-shot... sounds fair!

Its probably too late at this point, but I do believe the loadout system needs to go. It forces weapons to be generic and boring in order to stay balanced, and it just restricts the amount of unique pickups you can find around the arena, thus even further reducing the skill ceiling of the entire game. Besides demon runes which don't really count for this, there is only one weapon you want to fight over, and that is the Gauss Rifle. It is a monstrosity that's capable of vaporizing entire sections of the map, with its balancing factor being a clip that consists of measly four shots, but that's fine given how much of an impact you can make with it. The problem is that its only one weapon, and since it has a fairly long respawn time you're only going to be mostly using the two guns you selected in your loadout, every, single, time!

To Doom's credit, however, there are some cool buffs you can fight over, things such as: quad damage, speed buffs, large armor packs, large health packs, and most importantly, demon runes that allow you to transform in to a nigh-unkillable bringer of the apocalypse. And after praising Doom for a couple of seconds, its right back in to the world of problems, this time centered around the fact that demon runes spawn at random places on the map, and only give you 5 seconds of warning before becoming active and allowing anyone who touches them to instantly become the god of death.

The end result is that every so often a match is interrupted by one lucky guy getting the Revenant demon and using its twin rocket launchers to blast a dozen or so people before finally either dying, or running out of time, after which the match continues on as normal until the next rune. Id had a nice idea with the demons dropping an enemy-exclusive rune upon death in order to entice people to group up and hunt them down, but its simply not fun fighting against something that instantly kills you while you're barely chipping away at its health, unless you have the Gauss Rifle, in which case you instakill it! The same issue applies in reverse as the best way of playing the demon is to let your allies sniff out the enemies, quickly blast them with a couple of rocket launcher shots, and then retreat to safety in order to not loose your I-WIN cannon to the enemy, which as you might imagine is not the most exciting thing in the world.

Doom's multiplayer demons

While annoying in multiplayer, the design of the demons should provide for some excellent campaign fodder

Adding to the pile of unnecessary changes are the Hack Modules, consumable items that you can use during your respawn screen in order to give your next couple of lives a small benefit. This can be the ability to see item respawn timers, a constant highlight on the guy that killed you last round, a tiny bit of extra armor, and so forth. While its definitely a cool idea, and one that I can get behind, the execution leaves a lot to be desired for. First of all, they are consumable and only obtained as post-game rewards, so its almost impossible to have the exact set of Hack Module that you feel would personally provide you with a significant benefit.

The second, and biggest issue, is the fact that you can only use them once you're dead in order to improve your next life. Since I'm unfortunately not clairvoyant, every time I use a Hack Module its a dice-roll whether I will even be able to benefit from its effects. For example, who cares about being able to see item respawn timers when you're on full health and know that the Gauss Rifle will not be coming back for the next few minutes? If I could use the Hack Modules in the middle of a match, perhaps after a short animation, I could envision them being an essential part of a team's strategy, but as it stands they are essentially pointless, and the majority of players either ignore them, or simply waste them, just 'cause.

Doom's player customization is top notch

Hats off to whoever worked on the player customization system, it was by far the best part of the beta

The one feature of Doom 2016 I have no complaints about is the customization system which manages to offer you a decent amount of options right off the bat, with plenty of new and interesting ones to unlock as you progress through the arbitrary levels. You can chose what sort of base-armor you want to use, mix and match pieces, color every single facet of your gear, use the various sliders to produce a grittier or shinier look depending on your preference, and most importantly, equip silly taunts to annoy your enemies with.

It is a simple addition, and it obviously doesn't affect gameplay, but its always nice seeing a couple of armor pieces drop for you after a match. It gives you that little bit of a push to keep playing more, and more in hopes of finally completing your medieval knight set and showing off your fancy new suit to anyone that's willing to sneak a peek before you shotgun them in the face. In short, its a great idea and one that excites me greatly, so if the actual gameplay portion of Doom 2016 ever gets fixed up, you can count me in!

Closing Thoughts

Doom was one of the first PC games I've ever played, so you bet I was excited when I heard that the open beta for Doom 2016 is finally live. I even scheduled my day in such a way that I would have 4-5 hours of uninterrupted playtime, but I ended up doing less than an hour before deciding its probably time to go clean up the house, or schedule my dentist appointment...

While I can clearly see the potential behind it (Doom, not the dentist), especially when it comes to the singleplayer campaign, the sad truth is that Doom 2016's multiplayer tries to be so many things at once it ends up being mediocre at every single aspect, and worst of all, just boring. I did not enjoy my time with it, and if I wasn't doing this article I wouldn't have even played as much as I did, so be warned if you were aiming to grab Doom purely for its multiplayer elements, it might not be everything you hoped it would.

If you're interested in some pure gameplay footage I welcome you to check out a video I've done covering the Warpath game mode, various weapons, and the Revenant demon transformation:

 

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