I'm still not finished playing Doom Eternal's first campaign expansion, The Ancient Gods, Part One because it's really, really difficult. More than anything in the original game, The Ancient Gods feels like one cheeky elbow in the ribs after another, with encounters designed to truly push you.
Fight a Cyberdemon in a tiny hallway. How about wrangling a legion of invisible Pinkies in a fog-occluded swamp while a demon-buffing ghost bounces between 'em? It's the kind of playful, subversive design I'm used to seeing in Dark Souls, but here it's even easier to laugh along before getting to work. Checkpointing is kind in Doom.
But no matter how playful and kind Doom is, some folks will never forgive id Software for the Marauder. Eternal's melee demon forces you to invert your decades-old Doom habits and play conservatively. To invoke Dark Souls yet again (I do this a lot), you need to effectively lock on, circle strafe at a middle distance, and wait for the green flash signaling an incoming attack to shoot the guy. Run off and they'll send that ghost dog after you. Get too close and it's a shotgun to the face.
I can understand why a lot of folks hate Marauders. Fighting a QTE-ish demon isn't exactly part of Doom's heritage, but I'm super into the change of pace and rapid mental gear-shifting Marauders require of me. It's why I feel a responsibility to alert the Anti-Marauder Brigade that The Ancient Gods doesn't care for nuance. It takes a very firm pro-Marauder political stance, and in some pretty bold ways. Id has voted yes on Proposition "More Marauders."
And then there were two
Right off the bat, there's a one-on-one Marauder warm-up in the first level. "Remember me?" It's just you and them on the UAC Atlantica duking it out fairly, squarely. But it is a terrible portent of things to come. Once the facility collapses and I take a trip into its submerged guts, I enter a room that looks decked out for a classic arena fight with the usual demon charcuterie board.
Two Marauders portal in.
It's a bewildering moment. I nearly die from standing there just watching them, and even after I get Doomguy moving again I panic trying to find the super shotgun key, like a teen fumbling for car keys in a slasher movie.
But take a few deep breaths, study the arena, and it's really not as bad as it looks, tipping the fight from fuck-you territory and safely into the chuckle zone. My friend, the developer, just pranked my ass so hard.
Two tiers makes dashing away from the Marauders and blending up a fodder demon for resources pretty easy. Mobility is buttressed by some helpful portals, set up at opposite sides of the arena to transport you behind the Marauders for easy kiting. Bouncing back and forth and baiting the big leap attack simplifies things a lot. There's even some BFG ammo up top if you wanna soften those jerks up.
I get through the encounter in one try, proof that the designers don't actually hate me, they just wanted to give me emotional whiplash. Worth it, though I don't think two Marauders and a helpful arena will change the hearts and minds of the Anti-Marauder Brigade.
The next bout is just as funny, but not nearly as kind.
In the second level of The Ancient Gods, totems make cruel, cruel return. If you're unfamiliar, totems buff all the demons in the arena, increasing their speed and attack damage. When you get a buff totem notification, you've gotta drop everything to seek it out and destroy it.
So when a totem pops up my old instincts kick in. I run to the far end of the arena, a long trail of juiced-up demons on my ass. Around a bend and at the center of a circle-shaped pit: the totem. So I drop down, expecting to press a button to release it, then smash the thing and move on.
But there's no button and no way out of the pit. A Marauder portals in. A totem-buffed Marauder that moves at the goddamned speed of light.
Once again, I can't quite move. The message here: kill the buffed marauder to lower the totem cage. I appreciate the small arena here since I can't really get far enough away to trigger the Marauder's dog to spawn, but poisonous plants flank the space, farting out toxic gas if you get too close.
There's basically no running from the truth here. I have to get up in this guy's face and stay there. I burn a 1up or two, but take the jerk down, my reflexes in overdrive from adjusting to the Marauder's much quicker attacks. I'm not quite grinning from ear to ear this time, a little too exhausted, but I can appreciate id pulling more FPS skill out of me than I thought I had.
I still have more of the swamp and the final level to get through, too. Who knows what other tricks these devs are gonna play on me? Three Marauders? Two Marauders and a demon-buffing ghost? A Marauder that wants to debate me about what metal bands belong to what esoteric metal subgenres? I wouldn't put anything past id Software at this point, but as long as the intent is in good fun and setting up deliberate, thoughtfully considered challenges with more bark than bite, I'm all for a couple more voluntary wedgies.