DOOM Eternal felt to me like a stiff shot of sheer genius. Rather than just throwing in better visuals, new demons and a few added bells and whistles to incite a bigger, badder sequel, it went for making the enemies weaker in a way that managed to evolve the DOOM formula into something far more tense and effective.
On paper, the murderous abilities available to the player and how quickly enemies can be broken in DOOM Eternal should, by right, make the combat a far easier ride than its highly-acclaimed predecessor. Yet, somehow, the design choices didn’t just freshen up the formula, it contrived to take everything that made the first game such an adrenaline-fueled panic attack and twisted it with a knife for irreversible damage.
It comes to no surprise then, that The Ancient Gods – Part One aims to push those boundaries just that little bit further. DoomGuy begins the DLC already fully loaded to the teeth like some sort of overpowered God. Besides the one-bop-kill Crucible sword – which is now absent for plot reasons – all the Praetor Suit upgrades, support runes, weapons and their maxed-out attachments that were progressively unlocked in the main campaign are given freely to the player on a platter. There is a caveat, of course. All the demons, regardless of strength and status, are now pretty much thrown towards you right out of the gate at an incredibly unforgiving pace.
With a general motive to wake the Dark Lord and punch him in the face, we once again find the angry DoomGuy packing his bags as he takes a quantum trip between Earth, the Blood Swamps of Hell, and finally, taking a shortcut towards the Luminarium via the ancient, dense forests of Urdak. While the DLC touches upon worlds already visited, the four new locations set across three chapters provide more than enough battleground depth and architectural variety within them to truly feel like an extension to the universe.
We start with our ever tantrum-prone protagonist on board a UAC oil rig in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The crashing waves of the sea matched with heavy downpours set the mood up perfectly as a precursor to the chaos that’s to come. Inevitably, the first fight quickly erupts, and as someone who hasn’t played DOOM Eternal since beating it several months ago, the experience felt like someone dragged me out of bed by my feet, and then flurry-slapped me in the face with a wet fish.
In classic DOOM fashion, The Ancient Gods – Part One has no room for subtleties. Hell Knights now arrive in pairs like they’re boarding some kind of nightmarish Noah’s ark. Droves of Dreadnoughts, Mancubus and Arachnotron come swarming at you like you owe them money. There’s virtually little-to-no time to shake off the rust and gather your bearings because The Ancient Gods – Part One is bloody difficult.
It’s axe-wielding Marauder teamed up with a 16-foot tall Cyberdemon at the end of a long gruelling gunfight difficult. We’re talking three separate pairs of Baron of Hell chasing you in succession amidst all the madness and mayhem mentioned above and more. The Ancient Gods – Part One has no qualms or quarrels in letting loose its most deadly demons within tight corridors or shoving you in a tiny room with nothing but a securely caged buff totem, a few cattle zombies, and yet another bloody Marauder only now wired to the gills on glowing rage.
While the first part of the DLC lacks any new toys to play with, there are a few new hellish faces that will put your rapid quick-scoping skills to the test. Turrets with a Sauron-style all-seeing eye need to be quickly sniped down before becoming a massive nuisance. a new variant of the Maykr Droid called Blood Maykr only has a tiny window of opportunity to pop with a quick, clean headshot overwise you’re probably going to die.
Finally, the most formidable of all is the Spirit – an entity that has the power to possess the strongest of demons into a hyper-charged and unstaggerable state. This deadly duppy is only vulnerable to the Ghostbusters-style plasma beam attachment once it’s exposed after its host is destroyed. If catching the Spirit is unsuccessful, it quickly dives straight into another host to continue its savage onslaught.
The only real disappointments are the boss fights. There are two of them to face during The Ancient Gods – Part One and while one of them is significant to the story, both are not nearly as fun nor as exciting as the rest of the DLC. They both have that similar gruelling pattern of fighting hordes of enemies with an annoyingly awkward main target amongst equally frustrating environmental hazards. Also, love them or hate them, the parkour puzzle-platforming elements are back with a vengeance. Again, serving somewhat as an intermission between the combat. However, I have to admit, as fiddly as the platforming moments can tend to be, it felt good to have a little quiet moment to finally stretch my legs and breathe after a long string of exhausting battles.
Considering that The Ancient Gods – Part One often tends to feel far more chaotic than the main DOOM Eternal campaign, the Nintendo Switch version miraculously still doesn’t seem to miss a beat. The game looks and plays phenomenally to the point where I’m convinced that the wizards at Panic Button sacrificed a dozen puppies to get it running on the system as smoothly as it does.
Whether you’re planning on grabbing the Year One Season Pass, DOOM Eternal Deluxe Edition or purchasing both halves of the downloadable content individually, The Ancient Gods – Part One is a worthwhile half a dozen or so hours investment. It may at first set the initial impression to expect more of the same. However, the ever-interesting level design wrapping around some very clever and incredibly testing gunplay scenarios consistently deters it from rarely ever feeling that way.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Bethesda Softworks