Doom Eternal’s first piece of campaign DLC is coming soon, and it’s a big one. The Ancient Gods, Part One takes place following the end of the original story, and while it’s available as a release that stands alone from the original game, it’s meant to be an ultimate test for Doom fans – and yes, that means we’re going to be fighting a whole lot more of Eternal’s most hated enemies.
The Ancient Gods gives you a fully-powered Doom Slayer – every power-up and weapon upgrade from the main game is unlocked from the start – but the folks at id Software tell us that you shouldn’t expect an easy ride in the new content. In fact, you might just have to bump the difficulty down a notch or two.
Read on for our full-length interview with game director Hugo Martin and executive producer Marty Stratton, where they break down what’s coming in the DLC, how its scope matches that of the main campaign, and hint that those Marauder fights might just be a little less infuriating this time around.
PCGN: Can you give us a breakdown of the scope of The Ancient Gods DLC?
Marty Stratton: Sure. So it’s a sequel to Doom Eternal – it takes place relatively shortly after, and really focuses on expanding the lore. Hugo can talk more about the details of the design of it, but in general we’ve kept the Slayer intact, given him basically everything, maxed him out, as if you finished the campaign with everything maxed out. Runes to mods.
Locations are unbelievable and the AI we've introduced changes the whole dynamic of play
So just all of the goodies, and then we take you to some fantastic locations to fight new enemies. The experience starts out on this UAC research facility out in the middle of the sea. Just fantastic, unbelievable types of experiences where you’re kind of dangling 300 feet above crashing waves in the middle of the storm. It takes you to a really cool blood swamp in Hell, kind of a totally new location, and then the remnants of where you left Urdak after Doom Eternal, destroyed and dishevelled, you get to go back to that.
So, the locations are unbelievable and the AI that we’ve introduced, things like the Spirit, are really cool and change the whole dynamic of play. We have the player making new choices about their tools they use and how they fight, really challenging them. It’s, you know, if you’ve ever heard us talk about Doom Eternal at all, it’s all about engagement and this is definitely intended to engage and challenge players that have spent some time with the game. Having the full kit so you’re immensely powerful, and being able to take that into the fight is just… it’s a new level of fun.
Have the new locations created opportunities to explore fresh gameplay and locomotion avenues?
Hugo Martin: The new locations allow us to do some really interesting things with the level design itself. Obviously the combat is the star of the show, but outside of combat, just solving the puzzle of the levels offers that same engagement. You know, the combat is meant to be a puzzle in itself – we were really vocal about that on the lead up to the launch of Eternal, and I think now everybody sees what we’re talking about. It’s not just a mindless corridor shooter, it’s a thinking person’s action game, and so the levels also require a bit of thought to progress through and unlock.
The combat is meant to be a puzzle in itself
So absolutely, the locations are chosen because they provide us with an opportunity to challenge the player and engage them in different ways. There aren’t really new mechanics introduced, I would say – in terms of the basic core principles and ruleset that you learned in Eternal – but the levels themselves take advantage of the environments in new and interesting ways. You know, you’re high up in this giant offshore rig, 30 storeys above the ocean during a storm, so we’ll definitely be doing some cool level design stuff, and then you go to heaven and what we call the Equestrian Hold, which is actually a forest up in heaven.
We’ll definitely be doing some interesting things with navigating your way through the forest, which is beautiful and somewhat eerie and unsettling at the same time. And then there’s the swamp which Marty mentioned, and it will incorporate some of the new ideas that are built for that location and also, for those that are interested, some really cool story stuff as well.
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We’re very proud of the scope of the DLC. Most people would associate DLC with being of smaller scope – it’s kind of like the made for TV version of the movie, and the movie was the main game. For us, this is very much like a two-part film – this is every bit as grand as the main game was.
MS: Not as long, but in terms of what you do. The price point’s also different, so it’s justified that it’s not as big. It’s DLC, but in terms of the scope, scale, and level of engagement, it’s all going to be as big as the main game – and in some cases, I would say, bigger.
Have players’ response to the main campaign informed what you want to do with the DLC?
HM: Yeah, I think specifically we want to engage people in new ways, like, certain combos and weapons that they lean on which, by design, are what we hoped would happen in Eternal. We had an opportunity there to, rather than introduce new weapons, give you the full kit and then maybe lean on certain weapon mods that you didn’t use as much during the campaign – the Microwave Beam on the Plasma guns being one of them.
We saw a chance to design AI that would encourage you to try new things
It’s a really fun weapon to use, but the fact that it slows you down and there’s certain pros and cons to using the weapon means that most players don’t use it that much. The risk reward/factor on higher difficulties is a little bit too much for most people, although we do see great players using it.
So we saw an opportunity there to design AI that would specifically encourage you to try new things – that sort of rock paper scissors that we have in Doom that’s like sticky bombs take out Cacodemons and Plasma gun pops shields etc. So we did more of that with some of the new AI. And that’s in direct response to the way that they were playing Eternal. The same old combos that you’ve been using throughout the game will work on many of the enemies, but I think a lot of the new enemies will challenge you in new ways, and get you to think a little bit differently, which increases the engagement levels.
We really are obsessed with engagement! We want people to feel engaged during every minute of it. And then once you learn it, you master it, and it becomes as easy as everything else.
We need to ask: how many marauders are in the DLC?
HM: There’s a lot.
HM: Yes. But you’re going to be fully loaded when you start the DLC, as Marty said. It’s basically like typing in Doom Eternal cheat codes and unlocking everything. So you’re really powerful, you’re a fully loaded F22. It’s going to take some time to get used to that, for sure. But there are moments that we will create fair, but engaging, challenges for you to overcome. And ‘fair’ is the operative word. For example, there’s an encounter with two marauders, but there’s a balance – it feels amazing, it’s challenging, it definitely puts me through my paces.
And also, you have difficulty settings and there’s no shame in like, needing to. I suspect that most people will probably play at a difficulty setting that is, maybe right from the first level, a little bit lower. Maybe if they finished Doom Eternal on Ultraviolence they might want to start this one – I mean, they can start it whenever they want – but I think some people will probably, even for a little bit, drop it down to Hurt Me Plenty while they get re-acclimated to how to drive the race car, you know?
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We’re proud of the Marauder – we feel like he tests your knowledge of all the combat systems, but there’s a balance there. I playtested it yesterday, and gave some notes that you have to have fodder in with the Marauders, so the player has a way to replenish ammo and stuff. But the types of fodder that you have in that fight can really increase the challenge of it. There were a bunch of Gargoyles and Imps in that encounter with the two Marauders, and that was frustrating. It was too many. Like, I need zombies. If I’m going to deal with two Marauders, I need the fodders to be relatively chill, because that’s already enough. There’s summoning two dogs, two wolves so it’s a little bit crazy. We’re always looking to ride that edge of fun and fair and challenging.
There’s nothing that I do, both in games or my personal life, that at some point isn’t frustrating. But it’s overcoming those obstacles where the engagement is, and then achieving mastery is that much more satisfying as a result. Nothing that’s easily gained is satisfying, once you have it, you know? Doom Eternal is a power fantasy that you have to earn. And then it’s that much sweeter for it. I mean, we have a lot of confidence in that design theory, because we’ve seen it play out now over the past couple months with Eternal. So there will be some moments of double Marauders, yes.
MS: When we look at how many people have played through the game we have a large percentage – higher than 2016 – that have completed it, so you’re always looking at that and seeing how far players make it through your game. It’s important as we want the DLC to reach as many people as possible. In fact, you don’t even need to own Doom Eternal to buy the DLC and play it.
MS: Yeah, it’s kind of a unique thing we’re doing. But, it’s particularly cool because you basically start out with all the weapons, and you can knock it down to an easier difficulty. It’s a really unique way to experience the game, and we hope people do that
Doom Eternal makes you a black belt
But that aside, it really is built for that large audience that finished Doom Eternal and is looking for a greater challenge – not new adventures necessarily, but new combat adventures for sure, and new ways to use those skills that they’ve learned. As Hugo describes it, Doom Eternal makes you a black belt, and if you don’t have a new more difficult fight to take on you feel like your skills aren’t being tested. So yeah, it‘s built for those players to go in and really show off what they can do.
Can you expand on the new AI and enemies that you’ve mentioned?
HM: We have a turret AI that basically is this Hellified little turret – the character that you saw briefly in one of the Nekravol hell levels. In the Eyes of Kalibas fight, there were these little eyeballs that shot at you, well now they’re going to be like recurring characters – little turrets that add just an extra element of challenge, not unlike tentacles, kind of an ambient AI.
We’ve done some funny things with the tentacles which again are just support AI to add little surprises in there for you. And then we, full blown AI. We have the Blood Angel, which is a demonic Angel – it’s an all new character for and it’s really, really awesome.
The old Ballista Super Shotgun quickswitch combo is not going to work against this character, you know? There’s a specific way to fight it, and it’ll test your ability to land precision shots under duress. Not unlike the Maykr drones. The head is the weak point, so you’ll have to lean on sticky bombs and or precision bolt depending on who you are.
Sticky bombs tend to be the easier way to land headshots for people and precision bolt is the higher skill but easier to execute a little bit faster. And there’ll be certain windows where you’ll be able to land those because this character is armoured. That’s what you saw in the Khan Maykr fight – during her attacks, she’s armoured.
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The Blood Angel is armoured but then, not unlike the Marauder, during certain attacks they’ll remove their shield to execute it and there’s this brief window, a handful of frames where the player has an opportunity to land a headshot. They could damage them through regular shots to the body, but it’s kind of like shooting the Pinky – it‘ll suck up a ton of your ammo, and will take way longer.
While you’re taking the headshot it gives all the other AI in the space an opportunity to attack you. And that’s how we design all of the chess pieces in Doom – they may seem too easy on their own, but once you put them in an arena with a bunch of other guys you see how challenging it can be. We’re very proud of the Blood Angel, and the glory kills are really cool for it.
We're very proud of the Blood Angel, and the glory kills are really cool for it
We also have the Spirit, which like a dead summoner that’s been resurrected, and it possesses other demons and buffs them in really unique ways. It’s not just more damage and faster, it makes it so you can’t remove that demon’s weak points ever. And while they’re possessed they don’t falter. Faltering is kind of like the meta of Doom that I think the good players really recognise as super important – a falter gets an enemy to stop shooting at you. So when they don’t falter, it’s a huge difference because they’re just effectively non stop.
Take the Mancubus, for example. When he’s possessed, you can’t break his guns anymore. And it doesn’t matter what you shoot him with, he doesn’t even flinch. He’ll just keep shooting at you, which makes them really threatening, and he has more health and is pretty tough. When they’re possessed, they become extremely resistant to the Ballista because we know it’s a weapon that players love to use – we love to use it, too! But in this particular case, it’s a counter to their Ballista combos.
Also, if you try to kill the AI when it’s possessed, it gibs and then the Spirit comes out. And then you have a few seconds there while the Spirit is stunned before it begins to search for the next AI to possess. In that time you have to kill it with the Microwave Beam of the Plasma. It’s basically Ghostbusters. You go up to it and you fry it with the Microwave Beam and you have to hold it there for like a couple of seconds. And again, in that time, of course, all the other AI are going to be attacking you.
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So finding and pulling this off is a challenge in the course of the arena fights. But you definitely want to do it because when they possess things it’s really nasty. And then the coolest thing is that, if you /did/ use your Ballista Super Shotgun combo to kill the possessed AI, by the time you get to killing the now exposed Spirit and you switch to your Plasma and Microwave Beam you’re actually going to be out of ammo. So it’s this really interesting tweak, this new meta that emerges where you have to actually fight possessed AI differently.
How long do you expect it to be between these DLC chapters?
MS: They’re both part of the Year One Pass. So you can suppose that they’re both within a year of launch. COVID-19 has definitely taken its toll on all of the things that we can do. We’ve actually had to move some things around, we’ve pushed Invasion, which we intended to have done, out a bit. And we haven’t released as much on the Battle Mode front as we’d hoped to because we’ve been focusing on the DLC. So, you know, our expectation is to get them both out in that year-one timeframe.
Why did you decide to do campaign DLC for Eternal?
MS: It’s what people wanted. We did a season pass for Doom 2016 that was based on multiplayer content. And, I think it was a pretty loud and clear from fans that they would have much rather had campaign content. And justifiably so. I mean, the campaign is the star of the show. We built Battle Mode to kind of extend that campaign experience into a social experience – something you could do with your friends. For Doom Eternal, we really wanted to do more to support both. Do free content for Battle Mode, and focus our attention on DLC around what people have really asked for.
From a story and lore perspective, it really does give us an opportunity to tell more, which is always exciting, and to give players more of what they’re asking for. We have more things that we want to, but probably won’t get those out until later because the focus is on the DLC. So we’re trying to balance supporting both elements fully.