Doom Eternal: The Ancient Gods, Part One is out today, both as an integrated expansion and as a standalone game. I had pretty high expectations going in, seeing that I loved Doom Eternal when it came out approximately 100 years ago in March, but I'm loving the first hours of The Ancient Gods just as much as Eternal. It plays like an old-timey boxed PC expansion: a direct continuation of the challenge, scale, and story that feels like a full studio effort.
I've only played the first of three levels, which took me an hour and a half to get through alone. I died a few times, sure, but I didn't explore too much either. Like Eternal's straightforward level design—complex arenas connected by corridors and light platforming segments—The Ancient Gods opener isn't difficult to navigate, but keeps going and going, and in a neat, literally subversive way.
The gorgeous establishing shot at the start shows off the massive UAC Atlantica facility, the deep ocean rig that looks big enough to contain the whole level, but there's plenty more beneath the surface.
Things break, as things tend to do around Doomguy, and you get dumped into the water for a bit. These swimming sequences are mostly for show, short traversal sequences limited by a tiny oxygen supply. You can do a little exploring and drown if you're not careful, but a candy trail of armor and pickups ensure you'll never get lost. In the very first underwater sequence there's a shark swimming around in the distance.
So, role-playing Doomguy, I immediately thought: I'm gonna get to punch a shark. But you can't.
It's my biggest criticism so far. Let's hope there's a dopefish out there somewhere, at least. Shark bummer aside, the level has some of the longest, most exhausting arena fights in Eternal yet. Starting with two Marauders and ending with a couple Barons and a mound of imps, one particular arena fight took me 15 minutes to get through, not counting deaths. The Ancient Gods doesn't even pretend like it's going to take it easy on you.
Training wheels off
It may be a standalone game, but I wouldn't recommend The Ancient Gods as an intro to Doom Eternal. It assumes you're well versed in Eternal's resource game: an expert in knowing when to flame belch for armor, toss a grenade out for crowd control, chainsaw for ammo, or tease out a glory kill for health. It also assumes you're cool with facing down a Baron of Hell in a cramped hallway, or an Archvile or two while a literal swarm of Arachnotrons skitter around the arena.
A new player might bump into that hallway Baron and immediately pass out. An experienced Eternal player will know to flame belch for a fountain of armor, then toss an ice bomb to freeze the sucker before rotating through their arsenal. These jarring encounters are a huge reason I like Eternal—each one is a call to improvise and experiment in ways I haven't yet.
There's even a new enemy thrown in right away (with more new enemies in the later levels, I hear). These turrets look like tiny Eyes of Sauron, only vulnerable when they're peeping out to take shots at you. They don't move, but they're super accurate and can ping you from a long distance. They're often elevated and flank combat arenas, too, locking down most angles. I dig the added pressure from the fringes that doesn't crowd the dancefloor. Turrets basically add an ambient game of whack-a-mole to play while skirting around the arena.
We'll have our final thoughts up in the next few days, but if the final two levels are as big, intricate, beautiful, and challenging as the first, I'm thinking $20 for something like six more hours of Doom Eternal is a good deal. And if Part Two keeps the pace (it's $30 for both parts), we're basically getting another whole Doom game out of The Ancient Gods.