The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

DOOM Eternal: The Ancient Gods Part I and Weathering The Coming Storm

“Improvise, adapt and overcome” –Clint Eastwood, Heartbreak Ridge

After defeating the Khan Maykr, the Doom Slayer inadvertently given the dæmons a chance to continue their incursions into all dimensions. To combat this threat, the Doom Slayer and Samuel Hayden enlists help from the UAC to liberate a being known as the Seraphim. After locating the Seraphim’s containment unit at the Atlantica facility, the Doom Slayer learns that Samuel Hayden is the Seraphim, and moreover, is suffering from a transfiguration curse which can only be countered with a Life Sphere located in the Blood Swamps. Although the Doom Slayer is able to passes the Trial of Maligog and secures the sphere, he chooses to destroy it instead and retrieves a Life Sphere holding the Dark Lord’s essence: if the Dark Lord is resurrected and defeated while possessing a corporeal form, then the dæmons outside of Hell will also be obliterated. Returning to Urdak, the Doom Slayer fights his way to the Luminarium with the aim of reviving the Dark Lord. However, the Seraphim confronts him, and succumbs to transfiguration, rendering him a monster that the Doom Slayer subsequently defeats. The Father appears and teleports the Seraphim away before the Doom Slayer can kill him, and warns that once the Dark Lord is allowed to take a physical form, he cannot be banished again. Undeterred, the Doom Slayer continues anyways with the ritual, and is surprised to find that the Dark Lord greatly resembles him. This is the first expansion to DOOM Eternal‘s The Ancient Gods storyline, an extension of the story that provides players with additional content. As I jokingly stated, buying DOOM Eternal‘s Deluxe edition gave me the Reiko version of DOOM Eternal, which provides a more complete experience compared to the Koguma version (i.e. the standard edition) – now that I’ve finished the first part to The Ancient Gods, playing the additional missions has given me something that was quite unlike what DOOM Eternal‘s main campaign had provided and extended my enjoyment of the game in a way that justifies the costs of admission.

It goes without saying that The Ancient Gods‘ first part is brutally challenging – players are now denied access to the Crucible and its ability to one-hit kill anything, and super-heavy dæmons are much more common than they had been in DOOM Eternal‘s main game. Seeing a Doom Hunter spawn in together with a pair of Flameborne Barons or a possessed Tyrant fighting alongside a standard Tyrant is not uncommon, creating situations where players can be rapidly overwhelmed by foes before they even have a chance to react. New enemies further extend the challenge: Spirits can possess common enemies, turning them into unstoppable monsters, and even after these dæmons are killed, the spirits will linger and find a new host unless they are hit with the plasma rifle’s microwave beam. Spectre Whiplashes can sneak up on players and cannot be locked onto. Blood Maykrs are invulnerable to all attack thanks to their powerful energy shields, and have access to a range of attacks that hurt and impede the Doom Slayer. In the Blood Swamps, one segment of the game entails the Doom Slayer being surrounded by a damaging, impenetrable fog. However, while these mechanics can be intimidating to fight at first, much as how DOOM Eternal had sought to remind players that success was only found by making full use of one’s arsenal, The Ancient Gods‘ restrictions on players brings about new creativity. Since arenas now feature pillars that can absorb BFG orbs, and since the Crucible is gone, the Unmaykr and ice bomb become the Doom Slayer’s greatest asset in buying breathing room during the toughest fights and in the overwhelming encounters with super-heavy dæmons: six to seven shots from the Unmaykr, followed by a Blood Punch, and a few Super Shotgun blasts will fell a Flameborne Baron or Tyrant on short order. The Spirits mean the plasma rifle, an otherwise unremarkable weapon, suddenly becomes an asset to look after, since its microwave beam is the only tool to utilise against Spirits. The new aspects in The Ancient Gods forces players to re-evaluate their strategy, and consider how to make use of different combinations of weapons to find victory.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Of all the missions in The Ancient Gods‘ first part, the UAC Atlantica Base was the most familiar in design: it’s a facility set on an ocean platform, and the overall aesthetic of this mission was absolutely on point. Although it’s barely visible here, players will have noticed that I’m now rocking the Dæmonic Slayer skin. The cosmetics do not affect gameplay in any way, but admittedly, they are cool to have. The slickest looking skin in the whole of DOOM Eternal is probably the Gold Slayer skin, which is only unlocked of one beats the game on ultra-nightmare without any deaths at all.

  • This is a feat that is well above my skill level, so I’ve opted to take a more relaxed approach to things and focus on beating the game for the story experience: it is not lost on me that at my age, my reflexes are no longer what they were say, back when I was still a university student. Back then, I was speedier, but these days, I count on knowledge to help me react to and plan for situations instead. In this way, while DOOM Eternal is overwhelming, I never felt that I was at too much of a disadvantage, since I was able to think out solutions to problems.

  • The Ancient Gods gives players full access to the Doom Slayer’s upgraded arsenal and Prætor suit upgrades, plus all of the base runes and perks. A big part of DOOM Eternal had been slowly working towards a fully-upgraded set of gear over the missions: by completing challenges and using the weapons, one would gain a very solid understanding of what every weapon and mod’s purpose in combat is. To have everything handed to the player out of the gates would usually represent a disadvantage: this is analogous to life where people who grow into a good circumstance tend to do better than those who are handed that circumstance for free.

  • However, The Ancient Gods does this because it was meant for players who’ve already likely mastered the basics and have completed the base campaign. By giving players everything maxed out from the start, The Ancient Gods hints at the fact that they will be shown no mercy: right out of the gates, The Ancient Gods throws Flameborne Barons at the players like there’s no tomorrow, and while it was possible to trivially destroy them in DOOM Eternal with the Crucible, the Crucible is no longer available here, forcing players into what can be a protracted firefight against some of the game’s toughest foes, which can take a direct hit from even the BFG 9000.

  • This sounds intimidating, but players still have two important tools in their arsenal: the Unmaykr and a bit of creativity. The Unmaykr, being an automatic energy weapon that fires orbs of Argent Energy, is oft-overlooked in DOOM Eternal because the Crucible is better for killing a single powerful target, and the BFG 9000 is purpose-built for room-clearing. Arenas in The Ancient Gods are filled with pillars that block the BFG 9000, blocking the orb from travelling far and really doing damage. With other tools taken away, the Unmaykr takes on new importance now: freezing a super-heavy dæmon with the ice bomb, hitting it with six to seven rounds from the Unmaykr, and then following up with a super-shotgun blast or Blood punch is super effective. A Flameborne Baron will die to this combo, while the Tyrant and Arch-vile can then be killed with explosives or any combination of one’s choosing.

  • The intensely stormy weather of the UAC Atlantica mission brings to mind a memory from five years ago this day: back in 2016, Brave Witches had just started, and the remnants of Typhoon Songda slammed into the Pacific Northwest, coinciding with when an anime blog renowned for its emphasis on military-moé and fanservice, and whose author was from the Pacific Northwest region, suddenly stopped being active. This left me to write about Brave Witches at my own pace: that particular blogger didn’t like being corrected and supposedly deleted any comments linking to my blog, which had happened when one of their readers pointed out Saunders is fielding a C-5M Super Galaxy rather than a generic C-5 Galaxy. This is the mark of someone who always wanted to be right, and on this anniversary to Typhoon Songda, five years after that particular blog fell silent, there is much to be thankful for.

  • Today, the weather’s been pleasant, and over a delicious Baja grilled chicken melt whose flavours remind me of a hot summer’s day, I reflected on how I’ve been lucky enough to continue to be able write about and sharing the things I enjoy most. Back in The Ancient Gods, after the UAC Atlantica facility suffers from heavy damage, the storm effects become even more pronounced as fires are whipped about by the rains, and lightning splits the skies in two. It is amidst these ruins that the Doom Slayer pushes forwards to the next segments of the level, which is set on the sea floor: the Doom Slayer heads underwater with a set of aqua-lungs and enters the underwater facility: even the Doom Slayer doesn’t have the power to breathe underwater, but fortunately, oxygen pickups are common. Sharks can be seen in these segments, but as far as I can tell, they won’t bother players.

  • It turns out this was the segment of the game that the real-time ray-tracing was demoed with: in computer graphics, real-time ray-tracing means that rather than pre-rendering scenes, effects are computed on the fly by casting rays and continuously updating the visuals based on the results. Because rays operate on the same principals as those of photons, the resulting calculations are accurate to real life and create highly compelling visuals. My aging machine is unable to properly do ray-tracing (the GTX 1060 line can carry out the calculations for ray-tracing, but the card itself lacks to hardware to do them efficiently), so I am considering an upgrade once GPU prices start dropping.

  • The biggest surprise in the Atlantica facility was when a Tyrant spawned into one of the narrow hallways, and the doors behind me slammed shut. Normally, one could slice a Tyrant in half with the Crucible, and some Tyrants spawn in the arena encounters, where there’s space to dodge them. The corridors offer no space to manoeuver, and the lack of a Crucible means that one has no easy way out. However, this isn’t a problem for anyone with a bit of creativity about them: the Tyrant can be destroyed by freezing it, following up with six to seven rounds from the Unmaykr and then finishing off with a Blood Punch, before backing up and hammering the remains with rockets and super-shotgun rounds.

  • In this way, I finished the first mission, which contained a part where I had to fight Tyrants and two Marauders concurrently. The Ancient Gods‘ idea of a challenge was to take DOOM Eternal‘s most powerful foes and send them all after the player at once, so when I finished these arenas and earned my checkpoint, I was exhilarated. Throughout The Ancient Gods, I strove to find all of the collectibles: secret encounters provide cosmetics, and completing Slayer Gates provides access to Support Runes, which further provides a boost to the player’s abilities.

  • Speaking candidly, the Blood Swamps was probably my least favourite of The Ancient Gods‘ levels: it’s set in a dank, festering swamp where new foes are introduced. While some, like the giant Tentacles, can easily be destroyed, the most irksome of the new arrivals are called Spirits: they possess dæmon and increase their health, damage and attack speed by a considerable amount. Once possessed dæmons enter the battlefield, they can deal massive damage until they are killed, and then, players only have a short window of time to break out the plasma rifle’s microwave beam in an effort to finally destroy them, but this effort also leaves players vulnerable to attack.

  • The effect is surprisingly similar to that of Ghostbusters, and since the spirits are incorporeal, it makes sense to use an electromagnetic radiation-based weapon on them: the EMR the plasma rifle fires presumably disrupts whatever energy the spirit is composed of, overcoming the forces keeping it intact and forcibly dissipate it. However, just because there’s an explanation for how things work doesn’t make it any easier, and I found that in general, I would attempt to whittle down the other dæmons around first before taking on the possessed dæmon.

  • The overall aesthetic in the Blood Swamps is typical of what has been seen in the Dark Realm, being a hellish landscape of vast ancient constructs. The map is largely circular, and the Doom Slayer’s goal is to complete the Trials of Maligog, something that sounds like it was sourced straight from the World of Warcraft or Warhammer 40k legendariums. These trials proved immensely challenging and tested my skills in ways that even the trickiest fights in DOOM Eternal did not.

  • These exploding pustules are a new environment hazard introduced in the Blood Swamps: they expand when players get too close and shower the immediate regions in a flammable, noxious compound. Reading around, I’ve heard people speak of how The Ancient Gods was near-impossible to play, and how earlier this year, the gameplay was adjusted so encounters would be more balanced. Assuming this to be the case, it would explain why I was able to come out of some firefights alive where people a year ago could not – the number of dæmons have been dialled back some, for one.

  • Even with these adjustments, The Ancient Gods‘ first part is no walk in the park – it takes everything one’s got to keep up with the fights: the encounters themselves are doable in the Blood Swamps, but the trials themselves are borderline insane, even post-patch. Of note during these trials are the Carcasses. In DOOM Eternal, they could project a shield that deflects some attacks, and while these shields can be dropped by hitting it with plasma fire, the problem in the trials was the fact that these shields can impede movement. This can be circumvented with a Blood Punch, although large numbers of Carcasses can project enough shields to block off vital escape routes.

  • As such, the Blood Punch becomes an even more valuable asset than it had been in DOOM Eternal: capable of outright killing lesser dæmons, damage weak points and when upgraded, emits a powerful shockwave that damages nearby foes. For the first while, I also ran with the Desperate Punch support rune, which doubles the damage a Blood Punch deals when one’s health is below 75. I ultimately ended up unlocking all of the Support Runes through playing The Ancient Gods, and I found that Break Blast is probably the most useful, since it causes a shockwave to be emitted whenever a weak point on a dæmon is destroyed.

  • The Rune system in DOOM Eternal is not as sophisticated as that of DOOM‘s, but the addition of things like Secret Encounters and Slayer Gates more than makes up for this: in The Ancient Gods‘ first act, the Secret Encounters must be fully completed in order to unlock a special cosmetic, while the Support Runes are earned by completing Slayer Gates. Pushing through the Blood Swamps, one mechanic that threw me off was the fact that at some points, a thick fog will envelope players and deal damage. A spirit wolf will also appear, and the trick here is to follow said wolf until the fog dissipates.

  • Having grown accustomed to seeing the Maurader’s spirit wolf act as a deterrent for unnecessarily firing on its shield, I was a little confused and initial shot the wolf, which appears green rather than orange. DOOM Eternal does a reasonable job of walking players through new mechanics, but there are times when players must figure things out for themselves in order to advance, and one mechanic I found interesting was the fact that if one were to fall off a ledge or platform into an endless pit below, the game will allow players to start nearby with a small health or armour penalty, rather than second them all the way back to their last checkpoint.

  • Conversely, dying in a fight means restarting it: the trials were particularly challenging for this reason, since any mistake would undo one’s progress. It was fortunate that spawn patterns are fixed in these fights, and since they are deterministic, it means that over time, one could learn these patterns and formulate a strategy for beating them in the most efficient way possible. Highly dedicated players have shown what the combination of memorising certain patterns and developing a profound understanding of game mechanics can do: in some impressive videos, players can do things that come closer to replicating what the Doom Slayer can pull off in lore than anything I could do.

  • The last challenge players face in the Blood Swamps is Trial of Maligog proper; the Doom Slayer fights a floating eyeball protected by a metal cube, and once enough damage is done, the eyeball becomes stunned, allowing it to be punched into the shield containing the artefact the Doom Slayer needs to advance. The cubes must be punched from a specific point on the outside within a timeframe, otherwise, the eyeball rises back into the air and must be disabled anew. I found the Ballista was most useful for this, and numerous Pinkies and Hell Knights that spawn will be a distraction, making it imperative to manage one’s targets accordingly.

  • The Holt gave my rig no shortage of troubles: while it’s a beautifully-designed area reminiscent of Silvermoon Forest in World of Warcraft, for one reason or another, my machine kept blue-screening here. I ended up discovering that my memory pool settings were modified (probably after a driver update), and the game was attempting to access more VRAM than I had available. This in turn created problems for my machine. I ended up identifying the issue after realising that my custom settings were unchanged, and after selecting this, The Ancient Gods gave me no further problems.

  • The fact that my now eight-and-a-half-year old machine is still able to run DOOM Eternal smoothly is an encouraging sign, although the fact that the CPU utilisation is consistently 100 percent means that current-generation games are requiring more processing power than I’ve got. This machine’s had a very impressive run: when I originally built it, I intended it to be used for playing the most intensive games of the time (Battlefield 4 and Crysis 3). The fact that it has held out admirably for everything up to and including DOOM Eternal is a sign that I spec’ed out this build quite nicely back then.

  • As such, I intend to hang onto this machine for at least a little bit longer (say, until I settle into the new place a little): for older games and general computing, the rig still runs perfectly. Moreover, since I am in software development, I have two extra MacOS machines floating around, and while they’re not spec’ed for gaming, they run fine, as well. For now, I think I’m okay to continue on with The Ancient Gods‘ second part: after the aforementioned fine-tuning of video settings, the blue screens appear to have subsided, and indeed, I had no more issues continuing on through the Holt.

  • Like the Blood Swamps, the Holt challenges players to every fibre of their being by throwing everything DOOM Eternal has at the player. This third and final mission of The Ancient Gods‘ first part introduces the Blood Maykr, which are corrupted Maykrs protected by an energy shield immune to the Doom Slayer’s entire arsenal. They will, however, lower their shields to attack, and when their shields are down, a single headshot from the heavy cannon or Ballista will be enough to take it out of the fight permanently. On death, Blood Maykrs drop ammunition, so they’re a great way of topping off after a fight.

  • The challenge that Blood Maykrs add to DOOM Eternal is the fact that their attacks can slow players down, and in a firefight with fast-movers, this can be a death sentence. Thus, players must decide whether or not to avoid the Blood Maykrs and clear the arena out first, or wait for the Blood Maykrs to drop their shields and strike them, but at the expense of leaving oneself open to attack from other foes. There is no right or wrong way to approach this problem: as long as it works for the individual, this is all that counts.

  • On an unrelated note, my copy of Yama no Susume: Official Design Works arrived in the mail today. This artbook book originally released in December 2018, and was re-printed in May 2019 and May 2021. However, its popularity made it near impossible to purchase: I ended up paying an arm and a leg for this artbook, although the book is worth the price of admissions for Yama no Susume fans (it provides unparalleled insight into the design and aesthetic choices in both the characters and settings). The artbook covers everything right up until season three, and back in 2019, I heard that Yama no Susume is also getting a fourth season that is supposed to air somewhere in 2022.

  • Throwing a possessed Tyrant at players, on top of a Tyrant and a Doom Hunter, exemplifies how The Ancient Gods‘ first act can be seen as overwhelming. I beat this fight by focusing on taking out the normal Tyrant out first using the ice bomb/Unmaykr combo, then dealt as much damage as I could to the possessed Tyrant, destroyed the Doom Hunter’s sled by means of two consecutive Blood Punches, and then pounded it with remote detonation rockets, capitalising on the blast radius to also damage the Tyrant as it drew near.

  • While challenging, the fight is not insurmountable, and here, I hit the Spirit with the plasma rifle’s microwave beam: with no more foes around, it became a matter of simply firing the beam until the Spirit dissipated, bringing what was probably the toughest fight yet to an end. The Holt also has two areas where there are Blood Punch pickups available, and it becomes very clear as to why these are needed: hordes of dæmons appear, and while they’re not super-heavies, their numbers can be overwhelming. The fact that Blood Punch pickups are available means having a chance to really let loose and punch everything to pieces.

  • With the rest of the map cleared out, and every secret collected, I thus walked into the final area of the game. After being met with health pickups and a fresh power supply for the BFG, I knew that I was in for a fight. BFG pickups are considerably rarer in The Ancient Gods, but I never once ran below a single shot for the BFG 9000 (or 30 shots for the Unmaykr): by looking ahead and planning out my fights, I was able to make my way through most areas without needing to rely heavily on these weapons. As it turns out, the final fight of The Ancient Gods‘ first part is against Samuel Hayden himself: he’s become corrupted by the transfiguration curse and turns into a monster of sorts.

  • There are a few segments to the fight, and while the Samur Maykr is unshielded, he can freely teleport. The first section of the fight is straightforward, but the Samur Maykr will summon two Spirits to power his shields in the second phase, and again during the fourth phase. It takes patience and a sure aim to win this boss fight, which lasted longer than I had anticipated. I note here that the BFG 9000 and Unmaykr aren’t particularly useful, so players must fall back on everything they know in order to survive. Once the Samur Maykr is defeated, it would appear that I’ve weathered this storm successfully. Thus, The Ancient Gods‘ first part comes to an end, and I look forwards to starting the second act soon.

The sum of the new gameplay elements in The Ancient Gods creates an experience that is unfair, utterly frustrating, and paradoxically, superbly enjoyable – after DOOM Eternal, players feel accomplished at having beaten the latest DOOM instalment, and had The Ancient Gods opted to go with a more conventional route, players would have no trouble melting through everything. Instead, by adding new elements, The Ancient Gods completely throws players off. Fights with Spirits and Blood Maykrs completely alter the dynamic of each fight, forcing players to prioritise what part of the encounter should be dealt with first, and not knowing how many super-heavy dæmons each encounter will send a player’s way means being more cautious than before about using one’s ice bomb. The change in pacing is such that DOOM Eternal‘s developers outright state that this is designed to test players, and that it might even be necessary to step the game’s difficulty down to get a feel for things first. The rationale behind going in this direction for The Ancient Gods is therefore easy to spot: players who’ve mastered every last detail in DOOM Eternal are not looking for more of the same, and in this regard, The Ancient Gods delivers – it forces players to cultivate a new play-style and step out of their comfort zone in order to earn their victory. The Ancient Gods‘ first part was designed for the most die-hard fans of DOOM Eternal, and in offering something overwhelmingly challenging, it has succeeded in creating an all-new experience that sets the first set of expansion missions apart from the main campaign. While the missions were indeed difficult, unlike anything I’d faced in DOOM Eternal‘s main campaign, there was definitely a sense of pride from having beaten some of the most unfair fights to date, which includes fighting two Marauders at the same time, and a possessed Tyrant together with another Tyrant and Doom Hunter. Having now beaten the Samur Maykr, Samuel Hayden’s transfigured form, I’ll need to take a bit of a breather before continuing on to the second half of The Ancient Gods.

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