Death’s Door review
Death’s Door is a great new indie title and another that has taken the world by storm. This is an isometric Zelda-like with elements of the Souls genre, plus there’s plenty of secrets to discover too. It’s come out of the blocks at a furious pace, and it’s definitely something you should check out on PC or Xbox.
You play as a small Crow in Death’s Door, working for the Reaper Commission by harvesting the souls of the living. Unfortunately, you’ve been sent on a task to collect a particular Soul, and then it’s stolen from you. You are led into the Undying Realm on a hunt to retrieve the stolen Soul and reach Death’s Door. To unlock the famous Death’s Door you’ll need three powerful Souls, and therein starts the adventure.
Death’s Door looks similar to something like Hades, but the camera angle on the action is the only real comparison. This is a traditional adventure game where you explore, fight, collect items and you’ll lose yourself in the gorgeous and stylized environments like graveyards, ruins, and mansions. Complimenting the action there’s plenty of puzzles to solve which include things like hitting switches, gathering keys, and opening gates. The balance of the puzzles is pretty good. They start out fairly simple, they get progressively harder but they are never too tricky to make you want to bang your head against the wall. The developers have done a great job with the balance.
The environments take center stage, and you have a bunch of fun exploring the winding landscapes, delving deeper into the lush landscapes, and probably get lost once or twice too. There’s a decent verticality to the levels which offer up a fresh dimension to the gameplay. Partnering with the puzzles, there’s also plenty of shortcuts to find in Death’s Door, which makes the opportunity to replay appeal. There’s a joy in exploration which reminds me of A Link To The Past and early Zelda games. There’s a real character to the environments – for example, in the first ‘dungeon’ you’ll be taken to a Witch’s House that’s covered in porcelain pots. The pot motif is scattered all throughout the house, and as you approach the house you are taught through gameplay mechanics to break and investigate the pots. The Witches house itself is classically presented in the haunted style, winding corridors, and all the rooms you’d expect in someone’s house.
Combat in Death’s Door feels very satisfying. It’s something that great indies of the last few years have got very right; games like Dead Cells, Hades and Hollow Knight all managed to nail the feel. Death’s Door does a similar job with the combat and the overall feel. Our little Crow can hit, dodge and roll. It’s tricky to block incoming attacks so combat is often about understanding the patterns of your enemies and moving out of the way accordingly. As you progress through the game the waves of enemies get tougher, and this adds to the fast-paced nature of the combat and improves the overall feel of the game.
Complimenting your standard attacks you have a few special abilities in each dungeon. These sections are fairly similar to the Zelda gameplay experience where you have a combination of puzzles and magic. For example, there are switches you can activate with a ranged spell. The magic and the interactions in the game aren’t too complicated and if you run low, then you simply have to defeat enemies to recharge the magic meter. This promotes using a combination of attack styles and not just sitting back and spamming magic to take everyone down in your path.
Our Crow has standard attacks and a smattering of magic, but there are also weapons to find too. There’s a range of weapons including a Big hammer, Reaper Sword, Daggers, Great Sword, and finally the Umbrella. There aren’t any direct weapon upgrades of sorts, but you can exchange souls for points related to dexterity, speed, and magic.
An important part of the battle system is healthy, and Death’s Door does have a rather unique take on this mechanic. Rather than picking up hearts and health-restoring potions, there are Seeds of Life dotted throughout the map. They range from being right there in front of you to being hidden away completely, so you may need to hunt down the seeds to help restore some valuable energy. It all plays into the exploration nature of the game. The thing to look out for is that your Seeds of Life only spawn one flower for health regeneration, so you’ll have to find another seed and plant pot if you need to restore again.
Death’s Door has a familiar structure. After going through the introduction and meeting the big Crow who successfully stole your assigned Soul to try and open Death’s Door, you have three options. Head north and you’ll come across a graveyard, which acts as the introduction puzzle to the Haunted House and eventually the Witch. Each area has a puzzle-filled introduction, where you have to solve a bunch of environment puzzles, followed by waves of enemies and a mini-boss.
The boss fights in Death’s door are a lot of fun and often play with the scale of our tiny crow friend. For example, in the first hour or so you’ll face off against a massive boss protecting the end of one puzzle area. Attacks are fairly slow and methodical at first, and you have to run in there and get a timely thwack in, before retreating quickly to jump out of the way of impending attacks from the Giant. Lasers then stream from the huge beast’s eyes, and you have to simply run out of the way of its death stare. As you progress through the game the bosses get harder and incrementally more inventive than the last. It’s not quite Dark Souls, but it’s no walk in the park either.
After these relatively tricky boss battles, it’s nice to see and hear some comic relief in the form of NPCs who appear to be trapped in this forsaken land too. Early on you meet a chap whose head has been turned into a soup pot and boasts about how handsome he was in the before times. The moment he offers you soup is pretty funny, as our silent protagonist simply shakes his head in a firm ‘no’. You both set off on an adventure to get into the Witch’s house, then once you are in he says ‘Oh not to worry, you go ahead and I will guard the door’. The game has a great sense of humor and it’s subtly done, but the comedic timing should be praised.
The game looks great too. It’s all played from an isometric angle and the camera zooms in and out based on the activity at the time. For example, if you are trying to figure out a puzzle the camera may swing round to reveal a Soul piece for you to pick up, and then swing back into the right place once you are done. The graphical style is very nice, it’s kind of cell-shaded and the animations are smooth. Each enemy has its own personality expressed through the movement which is great, for example, the shelled creatures who run at you only to bump their head on the wall and flail around on their back. The environments themselves have a lot of character too – I really enjoyed walking through the pile of leaves in the graveyard. Also, our Crow Reaper has plenty of character, leave him alone for a few seconds and his little head will twitch around like a real bird.
The audio is worth a shout out too. The general in-game music is subtle and compliments the graphical style well. The music can be creepy and subdued which matches the surroundings. The music shifts up a gear when you go into boss battle mode, which can really get the blood pumping.
Death’s Door is a great package. It’s a console exclusive on Xbox at the moment, but not available on Game Pass, but I can’t imagine it’ll be too long before we see it there given the critical reception it’s got. It’s also available on PC via Steam, and this is one of the best indie games we’ve seen this year so far. The controls are tight, the gameplay is fun and varied plus the game looks & sounds great too. The puzzles work very well and strike a good balance of difficulty, the only real drawback of the game is the incentive to go back and play it again due to the lack of variety of loot. Otherwise, this is something you should play. Normally I’d say this was a perfect Switch game, but not I guess we can say this one will work great on the Steam Deck.
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 20th July 2021