SANTA MONICA, Calif.—I don’t often get as jazzed about an in-development video game the way I have about . After playing its 20-minute E3 demo to completion for my first time, I yelled, “AGAIN! AGAIN!” like a child unwilling to get off of a rollercoaster (and was thankfully granted another go at the fun).
Upon getting home and preparing this article before Bethesda’s Sunday E3 press conference, I combed through a full playthrough video provided by the developers like a sad ex flipping through a photo album. I had to look again. I wanted to remember.
That’s not my normal way; I’m a gaming curmudgeon to put it lightly. And yet I am struck by how pristinely iterative this game feels—a perfect execution of the cheesy poster quote, “If you liked 2016, you’ll love .” By carrying familiar elements forward and then supercharging them with compelling twists, (launching November 22 on Windows 10, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Google Stadia) could very well rank alongside past elite sequels like , , and .
Familiar demons, meet new flamethrower
I mention those specific sequels because they each returned to unsurprising gameplay mechanics and art styles, only polished like crazy and met with a zillion new features that all somehow fit. sits in that category, so much so that a peek at its supercharged screenshots might elicit a mix of “ooh, crazy demons” and “uh, haven’t we seen this before?”
Indeed, id Software returns to the idTech 6 rendering engine for this high-speed, 60fps combat frenzy (er, technically, our demo PC kiosks used variable refresh monitors that roared into 90fps-and-above territory). In addition to returning monsters, the brutal “glory kill” mechanic still dominates. That asks players to use a special melee attack when an enemy is on its last legs. Do this, and you’ll deliver a dramatic “fatality” blow that also coughs up useful health pickups. As ever, this offers a tantalizing risk-reward balance by encouraging players to stupidly rush into a crowd.
You’ve seen all of that before to some extent. But not like this.
To start, the glory kill concept has been covered in hot sauce by offering a few additional melee-for-boost options. The first is a “flame belcher,” which has a recharge timer and spews a wave of fire from a shoulder-mounted turret. Any enemies that you kill while they’re set on fire will explode in armor pickups.
There’s also a new meter to manage, which fills up as you accumulate glory kills. You can spend this meter on an overcharged melee attack, dubbed the “blood punch,” which does explosive damage to whatever you’re punching and anything nearby (no “wait for stagger” required). I didn’t get enough time with this to see if it insta-kills enemy, but this option did prove useful enough to clear a crowd when a battle got too hot.
A different kind of “mod” support
Additionally, each weapon seems to be getting at least one new “right mouse button” modification. The double-barreled super shotgun’s twist had already been revealed: a grappling hook (dubbed the meathook) that extends from your gun, grabs onto an enemy, and flings you directly into that demon’s face. I came to discover the secret sauce once I actually used this attachment—you need to shoot your gun before you think you should. Your grappling-motion’s momentum will drive all of this buckshot directly into your foe, fling you away from the enemy via shotgun recoil so that you can neatly bounce towards your next threat. What already looked cool in last year’s trailer only feels awesomer in action.
The machine gun gets a “precision bolt,” which requires that you hold a sniped perspective for long enough to charge a single bullet. And, wouldn’tcha know it, enemies now have a variety of weak points (shields on extremities, body-mounted guns) that can all be torn off with one of these bullets. The eight-legged Arachnotron conveniently appeared right after I equipped this mod, and many of its bits were clearly destructible, as evidenced by shiny, metal attachment points.
I took advantage of a second playthrough of this mission to focus on this aspect, and it’s pretty solid in action. The precision bolt offers enough of a momentum freeze to focus and debilitate this foe, then whiz around and bludgeon other enemies with standard machine gun fire before returning to focused, limb-stripping sniper rounds. Should you simply wish to pick off smaller enemies with a single headshot, the precision bolt will take their heads clean off, as well.
Other new mods include the “arbalest,” whose charged rounds stick into foes and then explode shortly after insertion. It also has a wider explosion-damage radius when fired at flying enemies. Then there’s the plasma rifle’s “microwave beam,” which lets you pump an enemy full of radiation. Focus that beam on a single foe for long enough, and it too will hurt nearby foes with an explosive radius. (The bigger the radiation victim, the more sustained fire required—but, of course, a bigger boom.)
After I finished the demo, creative director Hugo Martin gave me a hint about one more default weapon mod that we didn’t yet see: a freeze gun. Shameless yank of an old favorite? Maybe. But if it turns out to be fun, I’ll forgive the transgression.