Doom Eternal is a near-perfect sequel. A follow-up to the 2016 reboot one of gaming’s longest running series, Eternal was released in March and doubled down on every decision that elevated its predecessor, Doom, above the standard first-person shooter. Once again placing players in the role of the Doom Slayer, a superhuman warrior tasked with singlehandedly crushing the demonic invasion of Earth, Eternal’s gameplay increased mobility, revamped the Slayer’s extensive arsenal and added new challenging enemy types, making it the ultimate Doom experience.
Now, developer id Software and publisher Bethesda Softworks have released the first installment of Eternal’s post-campaign expansion pack, The Ancient Gods. The new downloadable content, or DLC, picks up where the base game ends, sending players on a mission to find the Seraphim, an angelic figure that previously granted the Slayer his demon-slaughtering powers.
As with the base game, Ancient Gods’ story has fun dramatic moments, but remains appropriately nonessential. Thankfully, cut scenes rarely exceed a 30-second runtime and typically foreground spectacle over useless exposition. Within the DLC’s first moments, it’s clear that id Software knows the real reasons anyone plays Doom: face-melting combat, gory, gratifying kill animations and epic audiovisual production values.
Ancient Gods’ narrative serves as an excuse for players to bulldoze their way across three massive, densely packed levels. Each map is visually stunning and distinct from the environments in the base game: The opening level, an oppressive futuristic oil rig, feels like a throwback to Doom 2016’s map design, but with Eternal’s ramped-up gameplay complexity, the final level, a corrupted version of a paradisiac realm first visited in Eternal’s campaign, may be id Software’s most visually stunning environment to date.
It’s not just the storyline that picks up right after the main game. The combat is free of any hand-holding, and though Ancient Gods Part One can be purchased as a stand-alone game, players lacking skills honed over the course of Eternal’s exceptionally structured campaign will certainly face a major learning curve. Instead of jamming in dull tutorials, Ancient Gods assumes players have mastered the core gameplay and almost immediately starts adding new elements that further flesh out the combat puzzle. In this way, Ancient Gods feels like a natural extension and essential progression of the main game.
As a result, however, Ancient Gods is also significantly more difficult than anything featured in Doom 2016 or Eternal. Right upfront, endgame bosses from Eternal and new enemies alike are thrust at players in groups as the environments get increasingly claustrophobic, forcing players to constantly stay in motion to avoid instant death.
The new enemy type most fun to fight is a spirit that possesses other powerful demons, granting them massive speed and health buffs. Once players whittle the possessed demon’s flesh away, the spirit is left exposed and vulnerable — but if players cannot kill it in time and with the correct weapon, the spirit possesses another demon, restarting the nightmarish cycle.
On the other hand, there are a handful of segments in which the Ancient Gods’ difficulty borders on cheap and unfair. In one particular boss fight, the Slayer faces an enemy whose attacks slow movement to a crawl, undoing the central element that makes Doom’s gameplay so gratifying. Thankfully, such hiccups are few and far between.
While Ancient Gods doesn’t give the Slayer any new weapons, it further complements an already versatile arsenal with enemies that are weak to specific attacks, ranging from ballista precision shots to continued bursts from the plasma rifle. Since these enemies are mixed into familiarly structured combat encounters, players must frequently swap to the appropriate weapons for each foe and always remain cognizant of the cooldown timers for devastating special attacks, which are capable of turning the tide of a battle.
Decidedly not for the faint of heart, The Ancient Gods Part One not only revives the intense Doom Eternal experience, but also amplifies the sick sadistic pleasure of waging an all-consuming, death metal-scored bloody war on the legions of hell.
This review is based on the PC version of Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods – Part One.
Neil Haeems covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].