Bethesda likes to give attendees of its yearly QuakeCon fan convention something special, something the folks who stay at home just won't be able to experience. Last year, convention-goers got to watch an exclusive reveal of the new Doom (also known as Doom 4) that never got released anywhere else. Nor did it leak, amazingly.
This year, we knew in advance that QuakeCon would have panels for Fallout 4, Elder Scrolls Online, and Doom. We didn't expect anything on the level of the 2014 Doom reveal. But during the QuakeCon 2015 opening ceremony, Bethesda dropped a surprise announcement: the new Doom's multiplayer mode was playable at the convention!
Naturally, yours truly had to give Doom multiplayer a shot. Keep reading to learn what running-and-gunning against other players will be like in next year's Doom!
The QuakeCon Doom setup
Upon entering the QuakeCon exhibit hall this year, you'd first see an Alienware truck with playable game stations attached to its rear. To the left, the Bethesda Store sold shirts, hoodies, dolls, and a convention exclusive Fallout bottle opener that I just had to have. In the middle of the hall, AT&T had a lounge area with mobile charging stations. PC gaming-oriented booths dotted the rest of the hall – plus a booth dedicated to 3D Realms' upcoming multiplatform title Bombshell that we'll tell you about soon.
All the way at the back (just past the life-size talking Mr. Handy robot) sat the most exciting part of the entire convention: the Doom multiplayer area. The entire area was roped off to control visitor access. On the left, you could marvel at a life-size BFG weapon from the new Doom. That thing looks hard to carry! Heck, the chainsaw replica I posed with on opening day was hard enough to pick up. You have to be a BF dude or dudette to wield a BFG, it seems.
The actual multiplayer area consisted of two sets of 12 networked Dell/Alienware computers, for a total of 24 game stations. Players would join a team deathmatch game on the left-most set for their first play session. If your team won, you'd move over to the right-most set of computers for a Championship round against the previous set of winners. The Championship computers sat on an elevated platform.
In front of both computer sets, two huge monitors showed four split-screen views from some of the players. That way, even if you didn't get a chance to play you could see what Doom multiplayer looked like. Hanging from the ceiling above the multiplayer area, a large screen flanked by two Doom logo screens displayed live footage of the two SHOUTcast commentators who narrated the Championship games.
Locking and loading for multiplayer
The line for Doom multiplayer never subsided during the show, as nearly every attendee thirsted for a chance to try the game out. Lucky for us journalist types, Bethesda had arranged an hour before the convention started during which we could play the game against each other. We still had to wait around in line while other journos played, but not for very long.
The actual desktop gaming stations allowed players to choose between two control methods: Razer mechanical keyboards and gaming mice or Xbox One controllers. Great to see id Software thinking of PC and console-style gamers even during this alpha stage of development. Seeing as how we dote on Xbox One in these parts, I rocked the Xbox One controller during my two play sessions.
After sitting down with my teammates SoCalledGamer/Mase123987, WestX, and three more writer-types, we all prepared for our sessions by selecting weapon loadouts.
Doom multiplayer's weapon system works differently than the single player component. Rather than carrying around a large pile of weapons and switching between them at any time, you only get two weapons at a time in multiplayer, plus a grenade and a weapon mod.
Id Software and their multiplayer partner Certain Affinity have a good reason for this stripped-down weapon setup. In past games like Quake 3 Arena, players started with a weak rifle and didn't stand much of a chance until they scoured the map for stronger weapons. In Doom multiplayer, you start with good weapons right off the bat. As soon as you spawn, you have a fair chance at taking down anybody you come across.
Our multiplayer build offered two default loadouts and two custom loadouts. The latter obviously let players select which two guns they'd carry into battle. Each slot had 6-7 choices, and (I believe) the choices varied by slot. I didn't look at the grenade selection, but one of the mod choices allowed players to warp to another point on the map.
I chose a default loadout that consisted of a plasma gun and a rocket launcher. Yes, everyone can spawn with a rocket launcher now. To compensate, the developers have nerfed the rocket launcher slightly. It won't kill a full health player in one or two hits, but you still get the delicious splash damage that we all crave from our rockets. Rocket damage is apparently a subject of debate within the development team, but I enjoyed the current balance during my all-too-brief playtime.
The multiplayer map seemed to take place in the same Foundry area featured in the E3 single-player gameplay footage. Players could run, jump, double jump, and even ledge-grab across an area filled with futuristic machinery and glowing metal. Below the floor and walkways, vast pits of molten metal threatened instant burning death to anyone who carelessly ran or jumped off the ledges.
We spawned into the game on two teams: red and blue. Man, red and blue just don't get along. Both teams had six minutes to score as many kills as possible. Not a lot of time, but it certainly kept the lines moving throughout the duration of the convention. I'd probably prefer a fixed 10-minute game length if given the choice. Then again, six-minute sessions could be great when for those times when you only have a few minutes to play.
Team Deathmatch is a great type on its own, but the new Doom does it one better by introducing demons. At various points throughout the game, one single player would become a demon – specifically a Revenant with shoulder-mounted missile launchers. The demon has the power to kill hapless humans in one hit, making him a force to be reckoned with. He can still be killed, though, provided the opposing team gangs up on him.
The demon mechanic is not unlike the summoning of Titan mechs in Titanfall. When one appears, it instantly changes the flow of the game. I scored a couple of kills as the demon myself, though the shock of becoming a demon (is it random?) and the learning curve of his abilities lead me to my demise before long.
We cleaned up on our first game, and I walked away with a positive kill-death ratio. The second game didn't fare so well because the other side kept getting the demon, leaving me with a 7:9 K-D-R. Even though we lost, my team still had a blast. I never felt disadvantaged against keyboard players either, probably because my weapon of choice: Rockets don't require as much accuracy as other weapon types.
Already blown away by Doom
Even though I'm not much of a first-person shooter guy nowadays, Doom multiplayer still blew me away. I never got into previous Doom multiplayer modes, but I loved playing Quake 3 on PC and Dreamcast. The new Doom multiplayer feels just like that. Players move at a blistering pace, the guns feel fantastic and hit with tangible impact, and the level design makes even a potentially boring environment like a foundry into an exciting arena.
Players who pre-ordered last year's Wolfenstein: The New Order can look forward to the multiplayer beta either late this year or very early in 2016. And a random selection of those beta registrants will even be chosen for the multiplayer alpha that starts within the next month or so. Be assured that id and Bethesda will use the alpha and beta tests to refine and enhance the game, not just promote it.
The new Doom (how I wish they'd called it Doom 4) won't be out until spring 2016, but its multiplayer component already feels incredibly polished. Doom and Quake fans have every reason to be excited. Doom is coming to Xbox One, Windows PC, and PlayStation 4.
Stay tuned for our full Doom panel impressions and more QuakeCon 2015 news stories in the next few days!