Doom Eternal The Ancient Gods: Part One review – Hell to pay

The first major slice of DLC for Doom Eternal adds three new story levels and increases the difficulty to hellish proportions.

So here we are, the first Bethesda release since Microsoft bought the publisher and all its developers for an eye-watering $7.5 billion. Just as with all of Microsoft’s newly acquired studios it is going to be a long time before that makes any appreciable difference to ordinary gamers and so the fact that Bethesda and developer id Software are now under new management makes absolutely no difference to The Ancient Gods. The question is though, whether The Ancient Gods changes Doom Eternal.

Fittingly, given the nature of the game, Doom Eternal’s approach to DLC is very old school. Instead of endless microtransactions you get two slabs of new single-player content and that’s it. (Possibly, the season pass is named Year One and it’s not clear what might be on the table if there’s a Year Two.) The story follows on directly from the end of the main campaign but is a separate menu option, so you don’t have to have beaten the game to play it or know what’s going on.

There are three separate stages with three distinct settings: a slightly sci-fi oil rig, a demonic swamp, and a fantastical city. There are no new weapons and most of the new enemies are limited to the boss battles but there’s a good four to six hours of content here, depending on your Doom-slaying skills. And do be warned that if you thought Doom Eternal was difficult then The Ancient Gods is going to make your reconsider your understanding of that word.

Much as we enjoyed Doom Eternal, which for us has some of the best first person combat of the generation, we never got on with its attempts to add a story to the Doom universe. There are demons and you must shoot them used to be as complicated as things got but now there’s cut scenes and a codex full of background lore to wade through. The cut scenes are short and you can ignore the text but the tone of the whole thing still doesn’t sit right with us.

Bethesda are clearly leery about having too much Christian mythology in the game – they reuse some names but that’s about it – and we can kind of understand that but the game is caught awkwardly between taking its setting seriously and fully embracing the campy silliness of it all. Either extreme would have been fine but as it is the storytelling isn’t interesting enough to care about and while there are a few wry laughs to be had they’re few and far between.

To be fair, part one of The Ancient Gods does end on a great cliffhanger and you get to fight a shark, so there’s some good stuff in there. Plus, all the bits where the Doom Slayer is interacting with ordinary humans, who are absolutely terrified of him, is even more fun than the main game, to the point where it becomes almost a parody of Halo and Master Chief (which is perfectly fine given his design was a riff on the original Doom anyway).

But while the plot might not be very gripping the creature designs are spot on, as if they’ve all just emerged from the cover of an ‘80s heavy metal album. Most of the new designs in The Ancient Gods are limited to the boss battles but there are a few new variations, including a new version of the Summoner that can possess other demons and nullify their weak points. It can only be killed by the plasma rifle’s microwave beam, but don’t worry about not having that particular mod as you start the DLC with all the weapons and upgrades, whether you’ve beaten the main game or not.

There’s also a new category of support rune to collect in each level and while they’re not even close to being game-changers we did appreciate the one that gives you a short window to get an extra life back when an enemy causes you to use it. There’s also some new cosmetics, but to give it it’s due the DLC doesn’t pretend to be anything very new – just more of what you will have enjoyed before.

In general, we’re fine with that approach but we do hate it when DLC ignores opportunities to address problems with the original. We know we’re not the only ones that found the platforming sections a chore and while we appreciate that the game needs some kind of palette cleanser between battles the DLC has, if anything, even more platforming than before. And just like the rest of the DLC it’s harder than ever.

Raising the combat difficulty seems perfectly legitimate given only existing fans are going to buy this. And while it is punishingly difficult, we have to admit we like it that way, especially as that removes any last chance of you just lucking your way through a fight. Strategically picking your targets is an absolute must, since depending on how you kill them you’re able to restock ammo, health, and fuel, which adds several layers of tactics and forward-planning to what almost feels like a rhythm action game in first person shooter form.

Doom Eternal’s action is fantastic, not just the gunplay but the balletic mix of constant aggression and strategic forethought. As with most DLC this doesn’t necessarily improve anything, as even ignoring the platforming the pacing is still peculiar in terms of how long you can go without shooting anything. We’re also in two minds about the level design, which is interestingly different from the main game, particularly the verticality of the final stage, but notably more linear.

The Ancient Gods – Part One isn’t cheap but assuming Part Two is up to the same standard we’d say that the Year Pass is worth it. If you want more of Doom Eternal then this continues the formula very successfully and even adds a few new wrinkles to it. And as much as we don’t like the storytelling we still want to know what happens next.

Doom Eternal The Ancient Gods – Part One review summary

In Short: Like most DLC it doesn’t introduce much in the way of new ideas but if you enjoyed Doom Eternal you’re going to love these new levels and their uncompromising challenge.

Pros: Some of the best first person combat of the generation, with a (very) few new twists. Great sound and visuals, and even with the higher difficulty the game never feels unfair.

Cons: All the same faults as the original, with frustrating platforming sections and strange pacing. Even with a cool cliffhanger the storytelling is still weak.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, and Stadia
Price: £15.99 (standalone), £24.99 (Year One Pass)
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: id Software
Release Date: 20th October 2020
Age Rating: 18

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