DOOM and Weapon Balance

I’m now on my fourth playthrough of 2016’s DOOM, the reboot and successor to the ’90s title that helped kickstart the FPS genre. It’s a daunting task to make a worthy followup to such a seminal classic, but Bethesda and iD managed to pull it off. Not only does it sport great gameplay mechanics and enemy designs that feel like they came straight out of the 1993 iD Software, it runs fantastically on a great engine.

Probably the most impactful change, though, between the various progression systems that were added to Doom 4 (2016), is the weapon upgrades system. Doom 4 arms the player with a similar arsenal to that of the original doom, a pistol, chainsaw, combat shotgun, plasma rifle, chaingun, rocket launcher, BFG, and even the super shotgun from Doom 2. It also has some new weapons in the form of the assault rifle and the gauss cannon. Almost all of these weapons have been changed substantially: the combat shotgun is less effective at range than it previously was, the plasma rifle does less damage, and the chainsaw and BFG are now powerups instead of regular weapons. In addition to this, all of the weapons (with the exclusion of the super shotgun, BFG, and chainsaw) have two upgrades that the player unlocks as the game progresses and can switch between at will.

Let’s look at each of these changes and see how it affects the overall weapon balance:

Combat Shotgun
In Doom 1, the combat shotgun was crazy powerful, even at long range, due to its tight spread and low damage falloff. Because of this, I use it way more often than I should, often choosing it over other options like the chaingun or even rocket launcher. Doom 4 simply makes it more effective at close range, consuming 1 ammo per shot, with the projectile upgrade being my most used. This upgrade consumes the same amount of ammo and does more damage, at the cost of a cool down.
Super Shotgun
The big brother to the regular shotgun, this weapon headlined in Doom 2 and instantly became iconic. The double-barreled behemoth consumes 2 ammo per shot by default, dealing massive damage, and does have a wider spread than the regular shotgun in the classic Doom games. Because of this, the Super Shotgun is better against tough enemies at close range, like Pinkies and other tankier demons if they get too close. Doom 4’s take on the Super Shotgun keeps the high ammo-per-shot cost, but doesn’t widen its spread too noticeably.
The upgrade to the Super Shotgun, though, is where the balance starts to tarnish. The highest-level upgrade available allows the Super Shotgun to be fired twice before reloading and removes the 2-ammo cost. This means that it effectively acts as a 2-round combat shotgun with a rapid reload, still dealing massive damage. As soon as I got this upgrade, the combat shotgun was rendered useless outside of its projectile upgrade.
Assault Rifle
I thought I would hate this weapon when I first got it in Doom 4. It’s one of the earliest weapons that you get, and it felt somewhat cliché in a game that had, up till then, stood out against other modern shooters. I ended up not using it very much on my first playthrough, instead opting for the shotgun, until I became aware of how much damage it was capable of with headshots. My use of it grew, and it compounded when I got the micro missile upgrade. This upgrade may not do much damage against the later-game armored enemies, but it sure is fun to use, especially when fully-leveled to remove the limit on how many can be fired and lower the ammo cost.
Chaingun
When you first get the chaingun in Doom 4, you’ll promptly put it away. Its slow rev-up time was added presumably to nerf it and make it more of a side-grade to the Assault Rifle than a direct upgrade. However, this tradeoff promptly becomes meaningless with the leveled Mobile Turret upgrade, which greatly increases damage and reduces the spin-up time at the cost of ammo economy. After I got this upgrade, I stopped using the Assault Rifle almost entirely. In the late-game, the micro missiles stopped being fun, as I was going up against more and more tough enemies that seemed resistant to the tiny explosions.
Plasma Rifle
The Plasma Rifle in Doom 1 is fantastic. It spits out damage faster than the Chaingun, and with actual projectiles that help to adjust aim at longer distances. It comes at a cost, as Cells can be hard to come by and are consumed quickly. Despite this, it’s effective at taking down small and large enemies alike, and at all ranges. Doom 4’s Plasma Rifle, on the other hand, is…hard to evaluate. It feels weaker, certainly less effective than the likes of the Chaingun and Super Shotgun, and it’s placed at an awkward spot in the game where you already have a substantial arsenal of early-game viable weapons. Its upgrades also aren’t very good, with the stun upgrade being mediocre at best and the heat burst upgrade being downright useless. On top of that, Cells are a shared ammunition and are better used in the Gauss Cannon.
Gauss Cannon
I was going to call this the Plasma Rifle’s “big brother,” but that would be an understatement. The Gauss Cannon, at first, is a single-shot, fairly-high-damage beam weapon that I mainly used to kill Cacodemons and anything that was too far to reach normally. The Siege Mode upgrade, however, completely transformed my experience with this weapon. It went from a simple sniper weapon to a nearly-unstoppable killing machine that could punch through enemies; useful in almost any scenario. Its ammunition consumption was heavy, but the damage more than made up for it, eviscerating all but the heaviest-armored enemies in one blow.
BFG-9000 and Chainsaw
The Chainsaw is one of the earliest weapons acquired in Doom 2, and it’s a substantial melee upgrade over the fists. However, without the Berserk powerup, there isn’t much incentive to use melee over a shotgun, and it deals middling damage against more threatening enemies. Doom 4 recognized the need for change, and turned the Chainsaw itself into more of a powerup. Now, instead of being a melee upgrade, it’s a one-shot-kill button with an extremely scarce ammo pool, needing gasoline to recharge. I guess the energy crisis really is as bad as Dr. Hayden makes it out to be. Using the chainsaw also makes the slain enemy drop tons of ammunition for your other weapons, a neat touch that encourages its use whenever you’re running low.
The BFG is similar, which is why I’m grouping these two weapons together. The BFG in Doom 1 was simply a high-damage, slow-moving projectile weapon that shared an ammunition pool with the Plasma Rifle, much like Doom 4’s Gauss Cannon does. In Doom 4, though, it instantly kills all demons in a large radius around the projectile as it travels, eventually exploding a distance away. The weapon is far more effective and more useful, but it comes at the cost of a rarer, unique ammunition pool.

So what does this all mean? In the original Dooms, each weapon serves a purpose, and are unlocked fairly quickly. That means that you spend a large portion of the game with access to all the weapons, and a use for each of them. I never feel pressured to pick one weapon for a specific scenario in Doom; the chaingun is equally apt for demon slaying as the shotgun, except in very specific circumstances. Doom 4, however, fails to balance the freedom provided by its weapon upgrades with the need to keep weapons acquired in the early-game viable. In every one of my three complete playthroughs of Doom 4, I stop using the Combat Shotgun almost entirely once I pick up the Super Shotgun in the secret area early-ish in the game. The same can be said for the Chaingun Turret upgrade and the Assault Rifle. Likewise, the Gauss Cannon’s epic capabilities make me loath to touch the Plasma Rifle and expend those precious Cells.

It doesn’t ruin the game—it’s still an excellent shooter—but I feel as if there’s wasted potential. There’s a clash between the more RPG-like systems introduced in Doom 4, with weapon and ability upgrading, and the huge arsenal carried over from the original Doom. If more had been done to individualize these weapons, or perhaps simply trim a few from the game, this wouldn’t be nearly as much of a problem.

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