Death’s Door wasn’t originally on my radar. I had heard murmurings about the new indie Zelda-like title from famed indie publisher Devolver Digital but nothing really stuck out to me. In fact, I’m very glad I didn’t miss out on it, because boy was my radar wrong. Death’s Door takes the best pieces of Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest and the Zelda franchise but keeps the package tight and concise. It builds a world without a lot of extra fluff. It pushes combat to intense situations but doesn’t overload you with options. It gives what you need and it is better for it. I cannot say enough good things about this game!
The world of Death’s Door is one of bureaucracy and paperwork. You are a crow who works as a grim reaper. He treks in, day in and day out, riding the bus to the office, clocking in to do the next job while his superiors barely acknowledge him. It’s such a fascinating introduction to the character in what feels like a jazzy noir tale, but once you enter the world of soul reaping the colors really pop comparatively. The level design is intricate but simple. Dungeon design is pretty basic but it’s layered extremely well on top of each level design with tons of shortcuts to find.
Along with the intricate layering of the levels, there’s also a fantastic attention to detail within the worlds. There are tons of nooks and crannies to explore that reward exploration. Those “aha” moments when you ask “can I go around this corner?” and are paid for your time with a dramatic camera angle change to present you a hidden shard that can increase your life pool. These moments happen frequently and are always so satisfying. There were multiple times when I found the area the story was leading me to, but backtracked because there was a path I hadn’t explored yet. Death’s Door is designed to entice you to look for more.
Combat in Death’s Door is a mix of close ranged combat and ranged abilities. Your sword attack as well as your bow and arrow attack are fast, but can be charged for a harder hit. There’s also a quick dodge roll that doesn’t offer the elusive invincibility frames but acts as a ‘get out quick’ button. These basic mechanics are used against enemy fodder but also large, highly detailed boss encounters that will test your skills. The bosses are beautifully designed and complex. Bosses like laser shooting mini cathedrals and giant explosive jar throwing witches look straight out of a Studio Ghibli or Tim Burton movie.
To add to the sword/ bow combo you start with, magic spells and a grappling hook are added to really up the combat flow. The grappling hook can be used for traversal but also to go towards enemies quickly for a satisfying kill. Magic acts as another shot or beam that doesn’t take time to charge like the bow but is a welcome addition. Getting into a good groove with the combat feels great as long as you understand that quick reflexes and timing are needed to progress. I rarely hit difficulty spikes that I couldn’t push through by learning the enemy patterns and performing well timed dodges. There’s an upgrade system called the Soul Vault that lets you add more magic attacks, quicker dodges, and harder hitting or faster attacks in exchange for enemy souls collected. It’s a minimal upgrade system, but enough to push your own personal play style to the limit.
The music is orchestrated well to match each environment. The scores range from gritty Noir jazz to intense string instrumentation that will make your heart race. Death’s Door’s soundtrack provides a fantastic emphasis to the on screen action. The character interactions are quirky with plenty of personality that makes the world feel unique and alive. Lastly, new equipment can be found to adjust combat but it’s kept more to a minimum so any new items feel meaningful. The charm of Death’s Door is fantastic. The story of a crow in a humdrum job getting tangled up in something bigger than himself isn’t entirely new, but is welcoming nonetheless.
Developer Acid Nerve has really upped their game, so to speak, with their sophomore outing. Coming off their cult hit of Titan Souls, Death’s Door expands to a world of grim realities with bright colors of hope. The craft in the game is top notch from the fast fluid combat to the dynamic orchestral soundtrack. There’s whimsy around every corner and that’s what kept me wanting to explore further. Death’s Door is shooting to be the new indie darling and we’re pretty sure that it will join many game of the year lists in 2021.
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