Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods (Part One) – The Verdict
The first DLC pack for April’s DOOM: Eternal has finally arrived. The Ancient Gods: Part One brings new missions and new enemies to the world of DOOM, looks as gorgeous as ever and plays just as smoothly—providing you’re willing to work with the difficulty curve, anyway…
DOOM 2016 blew me away. Confident, stunning, and raw, DOOM created a visceral combat experience like no other I had played. It reconfigured the mythology of the series, leaning into its absurdity and turning the ‘Marine’ into the ‘Slayer’—a fetishised figure who exists as the perfect distillation of the first-person player and their ability to conquer entire armies single-handedly.
In doing so id flipped the middle finger at the wisdom that had led to Doom 3—the misguided belief that its future lay in ham-fisted horror—and aggressively yanked the past into the present, gleefully littering their glorified arenas with colourful power-ups, secrets, and challenges. It defied how we’ve come to think about the modern shooter by unapologetically embracing its identity as a game.
It was Doom, but it felt new and contemporary, working hard to craft players’ movements and actions into something that reflected the titan whose suit they occupied. The enfant terrible of this work was the ‘glory kill’, a manoeuvre where you snap to an enemy in its death throes and deliver a fatal blow. The animation varies depending on the angle and position of the kill, and a successful performance will merit an outpouring of bullets from the eviscerated demon.
No crates, no ammo boxes—to keep yourself alive you had to kill, which added new dimensions to the combat. id had unlocked something raw and powerful with their vigorous, demanding combat system, and I couldn’t wait for more.
Enter DOOM: Eternal. In many ways Eternal was an even better product than DOOM, amplifying everything about the first instalment and kindly removing us from Mars for the first time since…Hell on Earth? The variety of settings showed just how much potential the franchise really has for expanding its scope.
It did come, though, with a bloated and stuffy expansion of the mythology, and the first DLC pack—The Ancient Gods: Part One—takes it even farther. I didn’t care about it in DOOM, I cared even less about it in Eternal, and my interest pretty much flat-lined here. I’ll get into why a bit later.
The Ancient Gods picks up where Eternal left off: although the Doom Slayer stopped Hell’s invasion of Earth, his destruction of the Khan Maykr lead to the desolation of Urdak and allowed Hell to regain its supremacy once again.
Now they’re back on Earth and determined to finish what they started. Too bad for them the Slayer is very much of the same mind. Only he means to finish them permanently, and his solution to that is…a creative one.
It’s not just the story that picks up where Eternal ended, though. The difficulty is exactly where you left it as well, meaning the game hits you hard and fast the moment you’re out of the gate. Having not played Eternal since April this proved a significant challenge for me. It was like the game was actively beating me back, so I struggled to get into the rhythm of things again. You do start with all your weapons, runes and upgrades to compensate for the immediate assault on your person, but what was once an intuitive grasp of my combat style had completely waned.
The extent to which this is a problem is debatable. For the most part I don’t think it’s an issue and is arguably what fans expect, but I feel compelled to flag it…
…because I had to dial the difficulty down to ‘I’m Too Young to Die’ (easy!) to actually beat the game. Which is kind of funny given when I first started Eternal I rolled ‘Ultra Violence’ (hard!) and two levels in switched to ‘Hurt Me Plenty’ (apparently medium). I guess DOOM is doing its job—it broke me.
The physicality of the Doom Slayer is something Eternal explored by introducing more platform elements, which meant jumping from climbable surface to climbable surface and occasionally swinging from bars. There was a bit too much of it for my liking—the Slayer is a big, clunky instrument of war, not an acrobat, and I fell more times than I think is reasonable for a Doom game.
The platforming makes a return here, but it’s been smoothed out so as to be less frustrating. You’ll also be doing a bit of swimming, both in the ocean and through copious toxic swamps. Immersed in liquid with that metal shell over your body, there’s a real sense of inhabiting the character that I think this incarnation of Doom just does really, really well.
It also continues to be the most diverse in terms of settings. You start on an enormous oil rig before venturing off into other worlds, most notably the Blood Swamps, which is a miasma of gnarled trees, noxious fumes, and the aforementioned toxic vats. There’s some interesting gameplay ideas here too, like when you need follow and remain within the sphere of a spirit dog otherwise you’ll be subjected to the deleterious effects of the swamp. It’s a clever way of restricting your space to fight, providing a welcome twist on the relentless combat.
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t particularly compelled by the story. I’ll start by saying that I think there’s a lot that the developers are getting “right” with their approach to the absurdity of Doom. They go nuts with the basic premise, which is what Doom was always best suited for. It’s just a shame I just can’t bring myself to care about what’s happening outside of the combat.
I suspect it has something to do with the over-written and jargon heavy nature of the lore, which feels less like a story with a purpose and more being lost within a Warhammer Codex. Or maybe it’s the fact that there’s only lore, and no story with no real characters. Maybe that works for some folks, but for me it’s a bore.
The Ancient Gods: Part One does at least end on a cliff-hanger that opens things up in an intriguing way, but it might be too late for me to really care.
I really enjoyed the DLC once I got into it, but it did take some time. You might need to be patient, not to mention persistent, with the difficulty, but it will reward you for it. It’s more Eternal with a few twists, unique gameplay additions, and, for those who care, a story that seems to be moving towards a definitive endpoint.
I’m sure Part Two will be a bloodbath, but at this point I’m more curious to see how much more mileage id are able to wring out of their premise than what happens in the war between humanity and Hell.
The Verdict – Head Shot
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S & Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on Steam media account copy. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.
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id Software, like the Slayer, is at the height of its powers. 2016’s Doom saw the studio reinvent the wheel quite literally, building the game around spinning arenas that set you in constant motion. Ever since, it’s been coming up with inventive ways to thrust a stick in the spokes, tripping up players by disrupting the formula. Doom Eternal’s most notorious example was the Marauder, a relentless runner who pursued the Slayer like a shadow, if your shadow owned an axe and a bright-orange attack dog. He returns in The Ancient Gods, and exemplifies id’s trend towards enemies who can only be defeated in highly specific fashion. Take the Turrets, new fixed placement shooters that appear like miniature Eyes of Sauron. A couple of shots through the scope of your assault rifle will burst the orb but take too long during targeting and the ball will retreat inside its pillar, surviving until you can loop around for another try.