Death is scary. The day the reaper comes is a frightening prospect that haunts folks grappling with their mortality.
In the action-adventure game Death's Door, soul reaping is assigned to a cute lil' crow with a lightsaber. Suddenly, the prospect of death is a little less spooky. With its unassuming protagonist, Death's Door delivers up a package that may be familiar, but is nonetheless packed with quality at all levels.
Just the Facts
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): PC*, Xbox Series S and X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 *platform reviewed on
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Key provided by Tinsley PR.
In Death's Door, you play as an adorable little crow — one of many in this world's soul-reaping department. Using a system of teleporting doors, these crows travel worlds known and unknown to collect the souls of those whose time has come. After getting assigned a fairly routine job, our hero gets wrapped up in something much bigger.
Pulled into a realm where the Reapers and those above them have no oversight, you meet an older reaper who has tracked a lost soul-reaping target to a mythical door. Death's Door. The only way to open it is to retrieve powerful enough souls whose energy could break through it. In this realm, three such souls exist. Three figures who've cheated death by hiding away. Three souls way past their expiration date. And you have just the skillset to make sure they get what's coming.
And so the table is set and the journey begins.
It's a tried-and-true formula that works just fine, but story is far from the priority in Death's Door. Still, its environmental storytelling is on point, with layers of lore hidden amidst the design of each of the game's unique areas. There's a ton of unexpected comedy littered throughout as well, contributing to a generally lighthearted tone, in spite of all the soul reaping and death dealing.
Now, death dealing... THAT is one of Death's Door's priorities.
2021 is the year of the action-adventure Zelda-like — and if our GOTY-so-far, Chicory, was the flawless representation of the adventure half, Death's Door just might be its equivalent for action.
Combat is fluid and responsive, encounters are well-paced, and your arsenal of weapons and abilities is satisfyingly diverse. Between the six unique melee weapons you find in the world and the four spells you acquire across the game's 10 to12 hour story, you'll be well equipped to handle the dangers that await.
A personal favorite combo: the upgraded fire spell that chipped away at enemies after it hit them combined with the rapid attack style of the daggers acquired early on.
The game demands a measured approach in all facets, as enemies can easily lock your vulnerable little crow into a corner and force you into an early death. Death can be costly too. Checkpoints are determined (in most cases) by the last "door" you used in an area, and they aren't always spaced perfectly. This leads to a few frustrating chokepoints, when you're forced through a gauntlet of rooms to get back to where you died, only to rinse and repeat.
That being said, dying in Death's Door is almost always your fault. It's a tough game, but a fair one. Enemies telegraph their attacks fairly obviously. And no matter where you decide to focus your upgrades in the game's simple skill tree, you'll always feel well-matched as you progress.
There's a fun risk-reward system at play when it comes to healing. The only real way to heal damage is to plant seeds you find in the world that sprout healing fruit. Finding the seeds, deciding when and where to plant them — it's never obvious when you might need to keep yourself topped up, and it's up to you to decide.
Boss battles are another highlight. Each of the three reaping targets lives up to the hype, as they stalk you through each zone, cheekily taunting you as you go. It all culminates in multi-phase battles that push you to your limits. It makes sense that some of the best bits are hidden in these boss fights, as Acid Nerve's last release — the simple yet mechanically sound Titan Souls — was a boss rush game that drew comparisons to Shadow of the Colossus.
On the less slashy side of things, exploring the world is a delight. With its zoomed-out isometric view, Death's Door hides tons of fun secrets just out of view, begging you to explore every nook and cranny. The satisfying tone that plays as the camera swings around to reveal some secret area of the world is very good. Puzzles are solid too, but far from difficult to decipher. If you've made your way through a Zelda dungeon before, nothing hidden in these dungeons will surprise you.
Which is my only real negative with this game.
Playing Death's Door is all familiar, from the Zelda-like world structure to the Hades-esque fast-paced combat, but at times... it's almost too familiar. I undoubtedly enjoyed myself playing through it, but at times felt like it lacked its own identity.
It wasn't until the game's closing hours that it introduced some truly dynamic set pieces that played with its setting and mechanics in intriguing ways. It wasn't until the post-game quest for the true ending that puzzles and exploration take on a few interesting wrinkles. (And I do recommend going after the true ending, although it can add 2 to 3 hours of gameplay depending on how thorough you've been in exploring up to that point.)
What IS special, though, is the world Acid Nerve crafted for this literally death-defying adventure. From the monochromatic, ironically soulless office hub of the Reapers, to the lush greenery of the Frog King's forest, anchored by dappled sunlight coming through the trees, this hidden realm shines.
Musically, Death's Door is almost as unassuming as its protagonist. Light piano riffs and fluttering woodwinds accompany most of the game, but just like our crow hero, it amps up when it needs to. The high intensity of tracks like Avarice and King of the Swamps balances beautifully against the calming nature of tracks like Lost Cemetery and Estate of the Urn Witch to create an engaging and surprising soundscape.
Death's Door is all around professional. It's incredibly polished, well crafted with sound mechanics, and for the most part, it's a blast to play. I just wish the game surprised me more often. I wish it had something new to say, something different to offer. Everything else is so damned good and I don't want to come off as negative at all. I just felt that this great game was a few pieces away from being an all-time classic.
Either way, it's easy to recommend spending some time knocking on Death's Door.