DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods – Part One Review – Relentless But Rewarding

Doom Eternal was a great experience for me. It took everything I loved about Doom and just expanded it to the point where I didn’t think it could get any better. With the announcement of The Ancient Gods – Part One, I was a bit sceptical as to whether the team at iD could pull it off one more and build upon the strong foundation Doom Eternal had already established. Now, after having spent some time with The Ancient Gods, I’m of two minds.

The Ancient Gods begins shortly after the events of Doom Eternal. The demons that were left in the holy realm of Urdak have stayed behind and corrupted the essence of the sacred place, threatening to use this newfound position to continue their conquests. Of course, Doom Guy has been summoned by a figure from his past to locate the Seraphim to seal the realm of Urdak off from the demons.

The thing about The Ancient Gods is that it doubles down on everything you either loved or hated about Doom Eternal. There is still a plot here, and a basic one at that, that is still fleshed out by a lengthy and detailed codex. There are still some absolutely baller action set pieces that incorporate a wide variety of Doom Eternal’s already meaty bestiary into the fray. But what is different about The Ancient Gods is that it feels like it’s designed for somebody who absolutely knows Doom Eternal inside and out. It takes no prisoners.

While the experience is available separately, you’d be mad for jumping into The Ancient Gods without any former experience. When I first booted up the imaginatively titled “Part One”, I was met with surprise that Doom Guy was already fully upgraded. I was worried that my experience with the game and my fully upgraded Doom Guy would dull the edge of The Ancient Gods for me.

I was very wrong.

The Ancient Gods is best likened to that crazy, post-game content you’d normally unlock in any other game. Content that’s so difficult that it’d seem impossible to conquer without some serious practice, goals that are almost unreachable. The Ancient Gods is exactly like this. It’s some of the longest, most grueling battles of attrition that you’ll fight ever in a Doom game. Most of the battles take upwards of ten minutes, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say they were tiring.

This is where I’m a little bit in two minds about The Ancient Ones. On one hand, it’s incredibly rewarding to come out of these battles on top. A sobering yet triumphant reminder of how far I’ve come as a Doom player. On the other, it’s hard to pretend that it wouldn’t be a fucking nightmare for some players. Remember Marauders? Get ready to fight two of them at once, as an example. The Ancient Gods doesn’t care about what’s fair, it cares about how many enemies, and how many different types of enemies it can fit on the screen at once.

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The result is absolute madness – for sure – but one that Doom Eternal has the flair and confidence to pull off. Perhaps a testament to how strong the moment-to-moment gameplay is, I have enough tools at my disposal to come out on top with enough effort. Albeit it’s almost always coming out on top in a tired and exacerbated state, but it’s still a win, nonetheless.

Part of me thinks that The Ancient Gods is a little bit lacking in the variety that Doom Eternal established – after all, it is hard to build on the already strong foundation that the base game established. But what’s being introduced in Part One isn’t the strongest that Doom has ever had to offer.

The good first. The three new levels are beautiful – each as different as the last. They have that “expansion pack” feel to them, twisting familiar locales from the base game into new and wonderful backdrops. Each of them manages to combine that stellar combination of fast gunplay and satisfying platforming that I’d absolutely adored in the original game. I’d have loved some brand-new locations of course, but perhaps they’ll be coming in Part Two, though what’s on offer here feels varied enough.

Perhaps the less clear-cut winner of the expansion is the new enemies. The new Turret enemy is a solitary eyeball that pops in and out of a demonic sheathe to take potshots at you, retreating if you look at it for too long. Not only is this design uninspired, but it can also dramatically bring down the pacing of battles while you wait for it to expose itself to attack back. The Spirit possesses other demons to buff them, and can only be vanquished with a specific weapon and upgrade, which is also jarring if you don’t use that upgrade already and have to switch mid-battle. If you’re too slow, it’ll just possess someone else and start again. Blood Maykr is the more interesting of the three, but feels like more of a nerfed Marauder-style enemy.

With a new expansion comes a new composer too. Mick Gordon’s music was ostensibly integral to the identity of the new Doom games, and it’s a shame to see he’s no longer involved with the project. However, while this new music does a great job of channeling his vibe with an acerbic mix of heavy metal and electronica, the new tracks simply don’t pop as much. They’re still great tracks, but just don’t have as much oomph as what’s in the base game.

Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods – Part One does a great job of setting up some genuinely intriguing plot points while also committing to the aspects that I loved so much about the base game. In the process, it’s bound to frustrate some players – it’s bloody difficult, has more platforming elements and the Marauders just keep on coming – but it’s still more of Doom Eternal and that’s hardly a bad thing.