Review – Death’s Door
I really have to sit back and give Devolver Digital some praise because it’s rare that a publisher has such a great track record in curation. It’s not even like they’re going after titles that are tried and true AAA formula money makers either. They find some of the most unique indie titles and get them out there. Something like Loop Hero may have gotten overlooked if it just launched on Steam without any of their advertising at large showcases. I digress, Death’s Door by Acid Nerve is one of the best games I have played this year and you need to play it.
Death’s Door has one of the strangest story and character setups, that oddly makes sense in a lot of ways. You’re a crow that works for a company of reapers that set out to collect expired souls. Unfortunately, it’s not all flashy. As with most jobs there is a lot of boring paperwork and rules that comes with it. However, during one soul extraction a rogue reaper steals your soul assignment and loses it. The perk of being a reaper is a prolonged life, that is, if you complete your contracts. If you don’t recover the soul you were supposed to reap, you will age rapidly. Thus starts your journey to recover your soul. Of course, things are never that simple.
The concept of a crow having a job and being a reaper oddly makes sense to me. Considering crows are one of the smartest birds and have inner thoughts similar to humans. They can perform complex tasks like sharing knowledge, doing jobs, and mourning their dead. Crows also consume just about anything and will often collect items other than food. All these traits are touched on, often in humorous ways, within Death’s Door like having the collectables called “Shiny Objects”. It’s these small attention to details that add to the charm.
Death’s Door is an isometric ARPG that reminds me a lot of older Zelda games like TLoZ: Link’s Awakening. Instead of having one main hub area with branching paths to other regions and dungeons, here there are two. Back at the reapers’ main office there are doors to the various different areas of the game controlled by the “Lord of Doors”. These guys have the power to create doorways to anywhere they want. This not only is a main aspect of the story, but it also serves as a fast travel and checkpoint system. During your exploration you will unlock new doors allowing you to get back and forth between the office and other realms.
Back at the realm of expired souls you will also have a main hub area that will have a mixture of hidden areas that encompass all the unlockable gear. You’ll need to unlock regions by exploring the hub and finding the entrances. More often than not you will need a specific item or magic to unlock new paths. Each region will have its own specific ways to deal with puzzles by unlocking a new magic move. The concept has been done many times before: level entrance, level dungeon, boss fight. You then take the new moves you acquired to unlock the next region and then return to older regions to unlock additional paths with your new moves.
Acid Nerve isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel here, but what they excel at is still making it all feel so unique with its own style and charm. The secret paths and puzzles, the NPC’s you find and interact with, the level designs themselves are all very well done. There is a level of intrigue in the world that makes me want to explore and uncover more of it.
The gameplay and combat mechanics themselves are a tight and responsive hack ‘n’ slash affair. It’s pretty straight forward as far as mechanics go, which helps it from becoming complicated, but can feel a bit light in depth. Your weapons will have straight stats of damage, reach, and how many times you can swing it. Your level ups consist of spending souls on upgrades like Strength, Dexterity, Speed, and Magic. You obtain four different magic abilities: Bow & Arrow, Fireball, Bomb, and a Grapple Hook. There is a light attack with combos limited to the weapon, a heavy charge attack, a dodge roll, and a dodge roll attack.
It’s simple, but all of it implemented well. Each magic ability is better for certain enemies and you’ll need to learn patterns of the larger more threatening enemy types. I never got tired of the combat, but I do wish there was a little more to it. Not even in the way of extra combos or anything, but in the functionality of the magic items. You will be able to level up each magic ability once by completing a hidden combat trial, but these are more modifications to the move than a new way to use it. For instance, I would have liked the option to place a bomb down as a landmine to bait enemies into. Or be able to use the Grapple to pull enemies towards you instead of only pulling yourself.
Boss fights are a highlight and offer some additional challenge. However, I felt some of the challenge room fights were more difficult most of the time. The plus here is the uniqueness of the boss fights themselves. They of course have their own over-the-top moves that will keep you on your toes. As the bosses lose health, they will keep incorporating new attack moves to change things up and catch you off guard. There are also special ways to stun them if you use a specific item during one of their moves. I thought this was a nice touch and encouraged trying different magic on bosses.
One of the things I love about the bosses are their designs and how they fit within the levels and dungeons themselves. In fact, the art design of the entire game is so simple, yet beautiful in its own way. There aren’t a ton of hyper detailed textures, but the environments are still very detailed. The lighting and color pallet usage is handled very well to make all areas feel very distinct. One of my favorite things is the juxtaposition between the black and grey dull reaper work office and the bright and beautiful land of expired souls. Unfortunately, the regular enemy variety was one of my let downs. The designs themselves are great, however, there is some reskinning and the roster isn’t super deep.
Unlike the enemy variety, the music has no such issue. The sound design in Death’s Door is phenomenal, and that goes for the combat, random ambient sounds, as well as the soundtrack. I really wish I could track down the composer for this game because they did a fantastic job. Each region has it’s very own stylized music and it hits all the moods. It’s used well to entice exploration or set in an unsettling feeling like when the Urn Witch randomly shows up. Even the ambient sound effects like the whistling wind, rustling leaves, and silly animation sound effects from characters. I was thoroughly impressed with everything the sound design offered.
Death’s Door was a title I was looking forward to from the previews. I liked the concept, the gameplay looked good, and the characters looked silly and fun. However, I did not expect it to be one of the best games I’ve played this year. Beating the main boss and rolling the credits isn’t even the end. There is still more mystery to unfold and I haven’t been able to put it down. You absolutely owe it to yourself to play this title.
Death’s Door has a very distinct art style that is both simple and beautiful. Fantastic use of colors and designs to set moods within each region. Enemy designs are good, but can become a bit repetitive.
The isometric action RPG hack ‘n’ slash mechanics are tight, fun, and engaging even if a bit light on depth. Character and item progression felt appropriate for the length of the game.
The soundtrack’s variety of well crafted tunes that hit perfectly from the playful exploration to the sinister dungeons and bosses. Various sound effects from combat, enemies, and powers are all perfectly done.
From the beginning to beyond the credit roll, Death’s Door hooked me like a very few games have. I enjoyed every moment of exploring this intriguing world and reaping souls as an adorable crow killing machine.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Death’s Door is available now on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of Death’s Door was provided by the publisher.