Lockdown Gaming p1: Doom Eternal – The Ancient Gods

Howdy folks! As you know I’ve written a few posts covering the books I’ve been reading during lockdown, and I thought it might be fun to do a series on the games I’ve been playing too. First up we have The Ancient Gods Part 1 & 2, the first two story DLCs for Doom Eternal. The idea here is to give a succinct overview of the game focusing on my personal experience with it. There are also mild spoilers ahead!

  • I remember when the first trailers for Doom Eternal came out and they made the previous title in the series look comparatively tame. Everything seemed to have been dialed up to eleven. The gameplay was more intense with its greater mobility and variety, and the aesthetics were exponentially more absurd too. The restraint the first game had shown in regards to its story and design choices had been blown open in an orgy of decadent cutscenes, glorious vistas, and swashbuckling stunts. Some people didn’t like these changes and some did. I was mostly in the latter camp, in that I missed the sense of mystery the first game had but loved the fast-paced gameplay and greater level variety. With its two DLC packages, The Ancient Gods Part 1 and Part 2, the series continues to ramp up the extravagance, the complexity, and the craziness. It’s like the developers are trying to push the Doom formulae to its absolute limits, not content to churn out more of the same, unafraid to experiment with what’s been so successful as they try to provide a greater adrenaline rush than before. That’s my chief takeaway from The Ancient Gods; the developers are doubling down on everything, moving even further away from Doom (2016). The enemies are more complex, the story is more zany, the platforming more elaborate, and so on and so forth.
  • I had a rough time getting back into the “Doom Dance”. When I booted up The Ancient Gods Part 1 on my birthday last year, it had been quite a while since I’d played Doom Eternal. The DLC follows on directly from the end of the base game’s story, and in any case should only be touched after you complete it, because The Ancient Gods Part 1 is noticeably harder. You’re up against the toughest demons straight away and there are a few new variations designed specifically to stress you out, such as the Spirit and the Turret. Both require finesse and precision while in high-pressure situations, which is pretty much the natural way to scale the difficulty of this game. The Spirit was particularly annoying, given how fast it made its hosts. However, I liked that it forced me to use the Microwave Beam mod, because I’d played through the entirety of Doom Eternal without using it. Worse than the demons themselves was the tighter level design of this DLC. As I said in my review of the base game, your maneuverability is everything.
  • Then there are the boss encounters. Like everything else in this DLC, they are designed to shake the player out of any comfort zone they may have reached after perfecting the base game. The best example of this is the encounter with the two Marauders you get in the first level of the DLC. When I first played Doom Eternal, I believed like many others that the Marauder was unjustly difficult. There had never been an enemy like this in a Doom game before. It goes against the whole rhythm of the “Doom Dance” by demanding your focus and locking you into a strict, Sekiro-esque dueling pattern that you have to maintain whilst evading all the other demons trying to maul you. By the end of my playthrough I felt like I had figured him out however, and no longer thought his inclusion in the game was unfair. The Marauder was still challenging, but I had settled into a satisfying rhythm. The idea of facing two of them at once was something else though. When the trailer for the DLC dropped I felt a shudder of anxiety at the thought of facing two of these guys at once. And it was tough- but not as tough as I had imagined. I basically just sprinted around the arena, pausing now and then to get a shot in when I had enough space to goad them into exposing themselves. I was patient, and gradually disposed of them. Much worse however, were the other two boss encounters. I really struggled against The Trial of Maligog and Samur Maykr, the bosses for the second and third levels of The Ancient Gods Part 1 respectively. Not only did I struggle, but I simply wasn’t having fun. I found the fights to be a little convoluted and overcomplex for my tastes, and I just couldn’t settle into any kind of rhythm- which is the key to enjoying the “Doom Dance”. They were also aesthetically underwhelming compared to the battle with the bosses of the base game. The Gladiator was a demonic, bipedal boar with a sentient scutum shield, and you were battling him in this pseudo-medieval colosseum. The Khan Maykr was a giant insectoid archangel that threw Olympian lightning bolts at you in outer space. The Icon of Sin was an immortal titan that dwarfed the skyscrapers from whose rooftops you engaged it in battle. Pretty neat, huh? In contrast, The Ancient Gods Part 1 gives a discount Khan Maykr in a featureless square room and a bunch of electrified Rubik’s Cubes. Personally I didn’t find these very exciting, and the amount of screen-obscuring, movement-hampering status effects got on my nerves. They’re a helluva challenge though, and I would say that Samur Maykr in particular is probably the toughest boss of the modern Doom era.
  • Interestingly, the second DLC package- The Ancient Gods Part 2– seemed to tone down the difficulty from the first one. It wasn’t exactly easy, but it felt a lot less deliberately punishing. The environments were less claustrophobic for starters. There was one moment where you fight against two Marauders again, only this time there’s a special kind of zombie called a Screecher that buffs them if you kill it. I struggled a little, though I think mostly because I wasn’t used to the Screecher yet and kept accidentally killing it either out of instinct or via splash damage. As for the final boss, The Dark Lord, I found it fairly challenging but nowhere near as tough as The Trials of Maligog or Samur Maykr in the previous DLC. I enjoyed it more on account of the fact I felt like I had less things to focus on, but I also found it slightly underwhelming. Most of the gameplay was recycled from Marauder encounters (goading the enemy into exposing a counterattack window signified by a green flash), the Khan Maykr (using the Blood Punch to advance to the next health bar), and The Gladiator (impenetrable shield). The Blood Punches you bestow upon him also feel like they’re lacking in feedback, which contributes to the underwhelming vibe of the fight. Overall I just didn’t have the same sense of adrenaline and excitement I had fighting the Icon of Sin, even though this is ostensibly a more climactic fight.
  • Although the difficulty of Part 2 doesn’t feel quite as sadistic as Part 1, it does continue the latter’s trend of upping the complexity of the enemies. Personally, I didn’t like the new enemies the two DLCs introduced because I couldn’t help feeling like the devs had run out of ideas. The Spirit is a ghostly (less interesting) version of the Summoner and the Giant Tentacle is just a bigger version of the base game’s least-creative enemy design. Part 2 follows this up with the Screecher Zombie, Riot Soldier, Stone Imp, Cursed Prowler, and Armored Baron, which are all reskins of existing enemies. This is just a personal pet peeve of mine, but I hate it when games reuse enemy designs and distinguish them only by making them a different color or giving them a glow-effect. I think the most overlooked aspect of the Doom franchise’s enduring appeal is its visually-interesting monsters. When you look back at the original 1993 game what strikes you isn’t just the technical innovations it made, but the creative artistic designs of its enemies. The Mancubus, Baron of Hell, Pinky, and co. are among the most iconic and timeless designs in gaming history. I wished that the DLC had added some unique demons to the pantheon. The ones we got feel a little uninspired- in both design and function. The effort to give each one a specific strategy felt a little contrived- the Cursed Prowler in particular. Fighting it kinda goes against the whole rhythm of the “Doom Dance”, which I get is kinda the point, but it serves more to ruin the fun than provide a serious challenge. In fact I didn’t have that hard a time with any of the new enemies, with the exception of the Spirit. The most forgettable is the Demonic Trooper. They looked quite cool in the cutscenes, but in gameplay they came across as incredibly rushed. You can’t Blood Punch or chainsaw them since they don’t even have death animations. They offer only token resistance and die in one hit, all of which made them feel about as substantial as cardboard cut-outs.
  • While the demons were somewhat uninspired in The Ancient Gods, the same cannot be said for the scenery. The level design was gorgeous throughout both DLC packages, the second one especially I think. The World Spear (Part 2’s first level) is pure high fantasy. I liked to think that the Doom Slayer was holidaying in the God of War’s Midgard, and that the dragon you ride in the cutscene had just been freshly released from its chains by Kratos in one of his side quests. I suspect that the dragon was included just so they could jazz up the trailer, but I didn’t mind. That dragon ain’t hurting anyone. It kinda adds to the sense that these two DLCs are something of a swansong for the modern Doom games. There’s the air of a fun, celebratory farewell about The Ancient Gods. To be clear, it hasn’t been said that there will be no more single player content, or indeed a sequel, but I personally can’t see where they can possibly go from here. The story arc feels quite conclusively wrapped up with your showdown against the ultimate evil of the Doom universe in the Dark Lord. The third level even opens up with this very over-the-top, Mass Effect-esque cutscene where an army of allies appear at the gates of hell ready to fight alongside you. It’s definitely presented as if this is the climactic finale. And the ending where you go to sleep isn’t a cliffhanger in my eyes. It’s the opposite of a cliffhanger, as though the universe is thanking the Doom Slayer for his service and has no more need of you.
  • Overall these 2 DLCs were great fun and worth every penny. I wanted more Doom Eternal and The Ancient Gods provided that and then some!

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