Could it Be… Mecha Satan?!
Recently, I wrapped up the final DLC for Doom Eternal, The Ancient Gods – Part 2. Overall, I thought it was fine, but it held all the telltale signs of id Software finally hitting the breaking point with the game’s primary brutal gameplay loop as well as letting their worldbuilding reach the point of self-parody. Case in point: The ultimate antagonist of the game’s final expansion, the pure evil that controls the forces of Hell, is The Dark Lord, he made me cry tears of laughter and scream at my screen in rage in equal measure.
The Dark Lord – The Set-Up
The first thing to note about the buildup to this big showdown is the level design of The Ancient Gods – Part 2. Unlike other levels in Doom Eternal, these final stretches are far more linear and lean really heavy on the universe’s bizarre setting to propel the plot. It’s not just about getting to a boss then turning it into chunky salsa, but about lighting torches, rallying troops, and finding a way to The Dark Lord’s stronghold.
It cannot help but bring the lore of Doom Eternal from the background onto centerstage. In the broadest strokes, it is a deeply convoluted cosmos that feels far too self-conscious about its own primitive roots. The original Doom game was about a soldier in a science facility on Mars fighting for his life because the scientists discovered a portal to Hell. Now, the existential forces of Heaven and Hell are just really advanced alien races embroiled in a large cosmic war, and the Doom Slayer is turned into a super soldier by a group of ancient warriors called the Night Sentinels to help protect humanity. While the entire production does a fantastic job of channeling this inherently juvenile energy into an exciting cosmic death metal opera, it feels so portentous and gangly when it isn’t just an excuse for filling arenas with monsters to fight.
Enter The Dark Lord. The Devil himself in all but name, given a physical body that makes him look like Doomguy (but EVIL!), decked out in a suit of power armor leading the charge against Doomguy for all the marbles. Everything from the marketing trailers to how the game’s levels themselves funnel you towards this big fight want you to be invested in the story thus far. Except, due to how much of a chore The Ancient Gods – Part 2 has made Doom Eternal’s combat, I was more interested in the lore entries peppered throughout, leading to the greatest unintentional joke ever in the game.
After all the time Doom Eternal has spent packing its world with millennia of overly complex manipulation by immortal beings, planets living and dying, and the efforts of several small, brilliant human scientists grappling with their greater place in the universe, thanks to a bunch of eleventh-hour retcons, it all boils down to “The Dark Lord did it.”
Dr. Samuel Hayden trying to create alternative energy to help Earth solve an energy crisis in Doom (2016)? Actually Hayden was an ancient alien as well, doing stuff on behalf of The Dark Lord. The charming artificial intelligence who helped you throughout the plot, Vega? Turns out he’s an AI construct of The Father (basically God) who was trying to stop The Dark Lord in the background. The Khan Maykr going all nihilistic and deciding to help Hell conquer the universe in a big betrayal formed out of spite? The Dark Lord was whispering in her ear the entire time making her slowly go crazy. And Doomguy, the guy who suffered through at least six different ’90s shooters’ worth of nonstop demon action, then got transformed into a walking weapon of mass destruction, slayer of millions of the infernal hordes? The Dark Lord created him, both by playing sixth-dimensional chess to make all the events in the games happen, and by having a part of himself be what helped turn Doomguy into a supersoldier. Why? Because a prophecy foretold that the two would fight to determine the fate of the world.
While I may have generalized and omitted some details, I didn’t lie about anything. At the very end of a Doom game, they try to have the big bad be the biggest bad ever, the one behind Everything, and it is such a blatant exercise in artificial raising of the stakes that it defies rational or thematic reason. The series has finally come full circle from rejecting Tom Hall’s infamous “Doom Bible” in 1992 to writing their own in 2020. Worse still, they didn’t bother hiring an editor.
The Dark Lord – The Boss Battle
The actual showdown with The Dark Lord gets even worse. The fight with The Dark Lord manages to be the antithesis of Doom Eternal’s “Push Forward” combat in every single way. There are five health bars you have to get through with checkpoints only happening halfway through. The only way to damage The Dark Lord is to get close to him and wait for a certain attack animation where his eyes glow green, then stun him with a powerful attack. From there you get a few precious seconds to damage him before he recovers. This attack in question is one of at least seven that happen basically at random. Furthermore, if any of these attacks hit you, The Dark Lord heals. In a game where passivity might as well be a four-letter word, the big bad final boss can only be beaten by waiting and responding, and you are punished for no reason other than randomness.
This fight took about an hour to complete. Not because it was challenging or because of how involved it was, but by how much it disrespected my time and tested my patience. It took all of the most annoying and baffling design decisions by the highly contentious Marauder enemy and doubled down on them. It was one of those rare instances where I regretted getting to a game’s extended DLC ending, where I wanted to just forget the additional material. For all of its faults, at least The Icon of Sin fight at the end of the original campaign felt like a final test of Doom Eternal’s emphasis on enemy target management, spatial navigation, and familiarity with all of your weapons and tools. In contrast, The Dark Lord might as well have been a big budget version of Simon.
The massive misstep of The Dark Lord, both as a narrative antagonist and as a video game final boss, isn’t just a disappointment. It retroactively cheapens The Ancient Gods expansions for Doom Eternal. As an attempt at spectacle, it is contrived to the point of farce. As an ending to this radical reinterpretation of the Doom series, it is tone deaf. But above all, in a game that opened with the iconic line, “rip and tear until it is done,” its big final baddie amounted to “sit and wait until you can shoot.”