Death’s Door Review
Some video games have etched themselves into the fabric of the industry, influencing numerous titles. Although aspects of games like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls have seeped into many titles, Death’s Door manages to seamlessly combine elements from pioneers to create a refreshing experience whilst maintaining its own identity. With an incredible art style, exceptional level design and addictive gameplay, could Death’s Door be 2021’s greatest indie title?
Set in a strange and morbid world, you play as a Reaper, whose task is to collect lost souls. Assigned to take down a botanical beast, you venture through a mystical world to fulfill the contract, however, something goes very wrong.
After slaying the abomination, its soul is stolen in front of your very eyes, altering the run-of-the-mill operations at the office. Now our avian hero must capture the souls of three giants in order to reach the antagonist who has to take refuge behind Death’s Door.
Reaping 9 to 5
The dreary, monotony of life is perfectly captured in Death’s Door. The monochrome aesthetic of the central hub area contrasts with the vivid worlds that you’ll explore, polarising the two parts of the crow’s job. Not only does the ever-evolving, bureaucratic office house doorways to areas, but it is also filled with NPCs that further cement the tedium of the paperwork that accompanies each assignment. Black comedy lingers throughout. Each character is well developed, possessing clear motives for their actions which is expressed in witty, tongue-in-cheek dialogue exchanges. A clear sense of comedy accompanies these moments, creating a delicious juxtaposition with the macabre nature of reaping souls.
As soon as your talons step through the doorway, you’re transported to a new world. Each area is impeccably designed, beckoning the player to explore its wonderfully crafted environment. Similar to the Souls series, the intricate areas are interconnected. Locating shortcuts is an absolute joy and highlights the many layers that imbue the design. Doors act as checkpoints and are situated at the beginning of each area. These allow you to teleport back to the central hub so you can easily access previous areas, which is vital as you’ll gain new powers that allow you to access previously blocked regions adding an element of Metroidvania to the game. Whether you’re dropping ladders, destroying barricades or activating lifts, new routes give you quick access to the doorway, constantly opening new paths and routes that give a continued sense of progression.
Death’s Door’s focus on precision-based combat makes for some incredible battles. Due to the limited number of hits that can be taken, a methodical approach is recommended when dealing with encounters. Enemies are varied and contain vicious strikes that will leave you with the ominous ‘DEATH’ screen if you enter combat haphazardly. As a result, learning attack patterns is imperative. Armed with a close and ranged-based weapon, measured and thoughtful strikes are key to successfully progressing through dangerous areas. Weapons have different properties that will suit various play styles. The sword acts as a perfect all-rounder, whereas others prioritize strength or speed, allowing you to experiment with combat. Ranged weapons are not only suitable for particular enemy types, but they are also used to solve the many environmental puzzles that are littered throughout.
Bosses are foreboding and possess a myriad of attacks that will test even the most adept gamer. Their unnerving design, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, adds to the stress and anxiety of the battles. Without a health bar, you will have to read the perfectly implemented signifiers to determine your position in the battle. Strikes will become more intense and cracks begin to emerge on the character’s aesthetic resulting in a sumptuous finale, concluding exceptional boss fights.
Stone the Crow
Although many games include a ‘souls-like’ system, I personally believe that none have implemented it as successfully as Death’s Door. As you slice and dice your way through foes, you are rewarded with a meager amount of souls. Polarising itself from others in the genre, you do not lose any souls you have collected upon dying. This helps give a real sense of progression due to the ability to spend the form of currency on upgrades in the hub area allowing you to tackle difficult routes with improved stats. However, this is not at the detriment of challenge, encounters are still brutal and reliant on skill. Health and magic can also be upgraded by finding shards scattered throughout and nestled deep in sacred areas, adding further reason to explore the luscious labyrinth.
The art direction is endearing. Festering between whimsical and weird, Death’s Door’s minimalist design is absolutely delightful. Characters are full of personality making each foe unique. Enemies skitter across the terrain, whilst others lumber towards the protagonist. A highlight is the boss design. Each encounter will see the character transform, become more agitated and volatile, enhancing the delicious dance of death.
Backing your journey to the ethereal realm is the piano-based score. The melancholic ambiance that manifests through moments of silence combined with sustained notes is masterful. Perfectly, the audio crescendos, helping to create intense and epic battles. Each moment is enhanced due to the mournful tones that entangle every note.
Death’s Door is a masterclass in level design. The interwoven areas encourage and reward exploration, whilst the simple yet challenging combat makes confrontations a thrill. With an alluring art style, sorrowful soundtrack, Acid Nerve has managed to create one of the greatest indie titles of 2021.
*** Xbox key provided by the publisher ***
•Lovely Intricate Level Design
•Intense Boss Battles
•Some May Find It a Little Difficult
•Puzzles Are Quite Simple
•Harsh Checkpoints on the Final Boss