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Death’s Door has certainly grasped the attention of gamers ever since its initial announcement, teasing their curiosity with snippets of gameplay footage that revealed a rather visually unique and uncanny ”Action-RPG”. Indie developers Acid Nerve have teamed up with publishing behemoths, Devolver Digital, to deliver their most recent project exclusively to both Xbox and PC.
Showcasing gameplay formulas similar to the likes of older Zelda games and numerous other popular dungeon crawlers, I had set my expectations quite high, as these types of games are my usual ”go to” above the majority of other genres, and it’s not very often that one successfully marks off all the boxes on that personal checklist. I can honestly say I walked away beyond satisfied with Death’s Door’s compelling storytelling and addictive combat, easily making it one of my favorite and most memorable experiences of 2021. The adventures awaiting players in this grim, bizarre, and beautifully crafted isometric world are ones that shouldn’t be missed.
The life of a Reaper is a rather monotonous and daunting career, one which rarely attracts any means of excitement or variety. Obtain your assignment, collect the soul, and properly discard them. Welcome to the Reaping Commission Headquarters, a string of offices operated by a murder of crows. Their sole purpose is to aid the dead in passing over to the afterlife, thus maintaining the natural balance of life and death. Numerous, large floating doors surround this main hub, eventually serving as a primary travel system.
Players are introduced to the black feathered protagonist of this tale, and are quickly tasked with their first duty . Matters take an immediate and unexpected turn however, as a routine retrieval of a “Giant Soul” is interrupted by a nameless figure, commencing a cat and mouse pursuit into otherworldly realms untouched by death. Here, living creatures are mysteriously living beyond their expiration, evolving into corrupted entities. The lone fledgling then sets out on a race against time to collect the stolen goods, revealing a much larger conspiracy in the process.
At its core, Death’s Door is a challenging combat focused dungeon crawler with RPG elements. The overall layouts of this strange world consist of maze-like pathing systems riddled with an array of enemies, puzzles, and numerous other obstacles placed throughout. Each zone is home to an overlord as well, and several other NPC’s whose unusual narratives also tie directly into the main premise of the story. It’s a gameplay formula that felt both familiar and fresh, encouraging exploration with its many aesthetic touches and engaging storytelling.
The realms that players traverse are an impressive and artistically designed bunch, injected with an admirable level of detail. For such a small development team, they certainly did not hold back crafting bleak and beautiful worlds within this dark fairytale-esque adventure. Desolate graveyards pelted with large tombstones, colorful and vibrant mansion courtyards painted with stone pathways engulfed by autumn inspired trees; these were just a few of the numerous peculiar regions awaiting discovery.
Descending into the depths of the tight, claustrophobic corridors of the Mushroom Dungeon was certainly one of my favorite areas, homing a rather quirky amphibian that I’m still grinning about. There is an adequate splash of humor throughout the game. Keep in mind however, as endearing and magical as these locations appeared to be, something vile has corrupted their inhabitants and overlords, twisting the worlds into dangerous labyrinths filled with numerous obstacles to overcome.
The Reapers journey is an action filled one, and fortunately, the combat system in place felt fluent and rewarding every encounter. Melee attacks, dodge rolls, and an array of ranged abilities become available at the crow’s wing tips, with most needing to be discovered and unlocked as you progress deeper into the story. The variety of hand weapons that become available offer a bit of a change-up regarding combat playstyle, though I mostly stuck with a trusty glowing sword for the duration of my playthrough. Frantic and fast paced engagements were consistent, and a diverse line of enemies assured each encounter would differ from the last. The screen could get quite congested at times, making it difficult to notice or avoid certain incoming attacks.
The Headquarters serves as a safe haven and HUB, altering over the duration of the story. Your fellow crow-workers (I’ll see myself out) provide new dialogue and other tidbits regarding the main plot, and some new exploratory areas open up as well. As mentioned earlier, this area becomes a main travel point, and new Doors will appear, serving as checkpoints to the other worlds.
As the beaked hero slashes his way through a variety of grotesque and downright odd creatures, soul energy is dropped from the fallen, which serves as a currency back at Headquarters. The Soul Vault allows players to spend their hard earned souls on upgrading a wingful of stats, strengthening their character for the adventures ahead. Other soul orbs can be obtained by exploring the world, some of which I found to be quite difficult to see due to the isometric angle of the camera. It’s very easy to miss smaller details if you’re not paying attention. Optional collectibles can be found scattered throughout the regions too, should players choose to hunt them all down, which won’t be a simple task. The puzzles however, were quite effortless, usually requiring nothing more than hitting a few switches or lighting fires in a specific order.
Having such a small health bar left little room for error, but the fights never felt unbalanced or unfair. Players will come across seeds throughout the level, which in return can be planted inside placed flowerpots, serving as a primary health recovery source. The ”simple to learn, tough to master” approach worked well, forcing me to learn attack patterns with the diverse lineup of enemies. Falling in battle resulted in a brief screen prompt stating your demise, followed by a respawn from the last door used to enter the current world.
The large boss encounters are a huge standout in Death’s Door, and were probably one of my most favored aspects of the game. Each realm is home to a peculiar tyrant that players meet early on, possessing a Soul that the Reaper is intent on retrieving. These absurd individuals are large in size, and waste no time trying to pummel your hero into nothing more than a pile of feathers. Each transitions through several phases, differing in attacks and combat speed. It took me a few attempts to learn their patterns, as there’s very little room for error during the confrontation.
As with most adventure games, Death’s Door rewards curiosity, packing a ton of hidden secrets throughout each of the carefully crafted areas. The majority of these secrets can’t be accessed until later on in the story once you unlock specific abilities, such as a bomb spell and a rather familiar hookshot. Large stone shrines are cleverly placed within the world as well, offering crystals that will also boost your character’s if they can all be found.
I did come across a few minor performance issues during my playthrough, but none were damaging enough to make me walk away from the game. Several times I found my character rolling off the screen in an area where it shouldn’t have been possible. I also got jammed in mid attack animation while bashing some crates, forcing me to reboot and start over. They were noticeable and made for a good laugh, but never took away from my overall experience.
Between it’s gripping, well paced plot reveal, and rewarding, accessible gameplay aspects, Death’s Door is unquestionably an adventure that deserves attention. It’s darker premise maintains a comedic charm to it, especially regarding the memorable cast of unique characters . The atmospheric touches regarding both the musical scores and compelling visuals set an emotional tone that veils the journey from start to end as well. I would’ve welcomed a photo mode option with open arms too, as the cinematic designs made for some stunning shots. Some replay value is present, as the world is open to explore after concluding the main story, giving players an opportunity to seek out any hidden areas or items they missed early on.
Aside from a few quite minor gripes I had mentioned earlier, this was an all-around remarkable experience, and the fact that such a small development team tackled a project of this caliber deserves very high praise. Death’s Door is now available on Xbox and PC.