It’s time to blow out the Lost Soul-shaped candles and dig into the velvet cake made of pulverised giblets, because today Doom celebrates its 25th birthday.
That’s 25 years of glorious mods, ultraviolence and anxious parents concerned that their children are being brainwashed into demon-killing space marines (though if your kids are trying to sign up to Elon Musk’s one-way Mars trip while muttering about ‘fighting off hell’s hordes’, then maybe you should have a word).
To celebrate, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best Doom mods you can play today, taking you from a post-apocalyptic future to the bloodiest iteration of Doom imaginable, by way of a level created by one of the game’s star designers 21 years later.
Want to know how to actually get these mods running? Our Doom modding guide has you covered.
If you want to see just how far Doom’s engine can be pushed in terms of visual fidelity, then Valiant remains the high watermark.
The so-called ‘megawad’ has a whopping 32 maps spanning monolithic space stations, brooding keeps, and shadowy forests – all with an impressive surreal aesthetic and sharp high-contrast lighting. It features some striking design elements that wouldn’t look amiss in a modern art gallery.
Valiant is more than just a looker too, reconfiguring attack patterns of traditional Doom enemies to present an all-new threat, and each level is designed for you to start with a pistol, making each a self-contained pistols-to-plasma-guns journey.
2. Golden Souls
Taking the Super Mario 64 concept and violently debasing it, Golden Souls throws you into a colorful castle filled with paintings to jump into. Each one warps you to a themed world – be it a verdant field coated in flowers, or a sandstorm-swept desertscape where you can just make out the silhouettes of demons in the haze.
True to its inspiration, the mod incorporates platforming elements and plenty of verticality as you traverse the land in search of the titular souls (Mario Stars, essentially).
Golden Souls 2 builds on the concept, this time inspired by a Super Mario Bros 3-style world map that lets you unlock alternative pathways through the game. The level design and weaponry is even more ambitious, taking you through settings like a medieval fairy tale village and a pink Candyland (home to bloodthirsty Pinky demons, naturally).
Overwatch, Blizzard's online shooter, continues to be a gaming superpower, so it’d be remiss to ignore OverDOOM, a mod that lets you use some of Overwatch’s most out-there weapons on Doom’s creatures.
Weapons include Hanzo’s Storm Bow, Widowmaker’s Sniper Rifle and Tokki – the glorious pink mech armed with dual fusion cannons.
The weapons are all beautifully-rendered in Doom’s timeless pixel style, with some incredible animations (particularly jumping into Tokki – pictured above).
Crucially, all weapons are visibly wielded in the hairy arms and gloved hands of Doomguy.
4. The Adventures of Square
This psychedelic mod looks like it was created by a particularly talented Microsoft Paint artist. But beneath the wild exterior, Adventures of Square is evidently cut from that unholy Doom cloth, which you’ll quickly realise once you jump in and start shooting coin-people, rabid squares on a cheesy moon, or eye orbs in a dark forest that seems to be closing in on you.
It’s the unpredictability and diversity that makes this so hard to take your eyes off. Weapons range from strange magic wands to crossbows, and enemies explode into puffs of vibrant color.
It’s technically impressive too, with a quipping hero and proper verticality and projectiles thanks to GZDoom.
5. Ashes 2063
Running on GZDoom, Ashes 2063 depicts a grimy world of spiked collars, fingerless gloves, and weaponry that appears to have been crafted from gutter pipes and used hospital bandages.
It’s a surprisingly deep game with trading, characters to chat with, and an RPG-like inventory system. The first episode is a solid nine levels, pitting you against all manner of mohawked and mutated baddies, and there are more episodes to come.
6. Pirate Doom
This painstakingly-crafted makeover of Doom takes everything from the base game and dresses it up in a whimsical pirate theme. Featuring 18 levels of cutlasses and eye-patched pinkie demons, rum and revenants, Pirate Doom is one of the great Doom mods that commits to a theme and goes full-sail-ahead with it.
Everything from the Caribbean-style accordion music to the old-timey weapons and Monkey Island homages clicks perfectly, immersing you in this charmingly hellish Doom reimagining.
The only thing we can really fault is that they didn’t call it Cacodemons of the Caribbean.
7. Going Down
You start at the top of a skyscraper belonging to UAC – Doom’s faceless evil corporation – then work your way down the building over 32 levels right into a hellish underworld.
This mod’s corporate corridors and Deco touches offer a nice contrast to the vanilla games, but the action is right at the ‘Nightmare’ end of the difficulty spectrum with tight confines demanding quick reactions from the player.
It’s filled with nice details, humorous writing and a bespoke soundtrack from mod creator Cyriak Harris.
8. Doom 64: Retribution
There have been quite a few projects over the years that have brought the dark and fascinating N64 version of Doom to PC, and Doom 64: Retribution is the most polished of the lot.
It takes advantage of all the bells and whistles of GZDoom, offering precise controls, fluid framerates, and dynamic lighting – which really pops in this particularly moody mod.
To the unfamiliar, Doom 64 was developed by Midway Games (of Mortal Kombat fame) instead of id, and had a completely different aesthetic to the mainline games. It was darker and more surreal, with some awesome use of colored lighting, and sinister new monster designs that gave it an arty, horror feel.
9. Tech Gone Bad (John Romero’s level)
In 2016, legendary Doom designer John Romero re-emerged from gaming obscurity to create a new Doom level.
It’s called Tech Gone Bad, it replaces E1M8 in the first game, and (in classic Romero style) it’s one of the most claustrophobic, challenging levels in the game.
It’s interesting to play a classic Doom level that’s inevitably influenced by 25 intervening years of advancements in level design. It has a good few puzzles based around teleporters, but it’s not labyrinthine, and contains visual flourishes like glowing red cracks branching across the floor.
10. Brutal Doom
The Spider Mastermind of Doom mods, Brutal Doom takes full advantage of GZDoom’s technical bravura to deliver the most modernised, spectacular Doom mod to date. The key thing is in the title as Brutal Doom adds hundreds of animations, death poses, and even finishing moves on the denizens of Doom.
Not just that, it feels incredible, replacing old-fashioned hitscan gunfire with proper dynamic bullets and letting you crouch and jump with vicious abandon.
You can apply Brutal Doom to all of the base Doom games, or chuck it into most of the mods we’ve listed above. It’s a testament to how, with a good bit of polish, Doom can feel like a modern shooter even after 25 years.
- The most impressive PC mods ever made
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Robert Zak is a freelance writer for Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, TechRadar and more. He writes in print and digital publishing, specialising in video games. He has previous experience as editor and writer for tech sites/publications including AndroidPIT and ComputerActive! Magazine.