Death's Door is an exciting indie title from Devolver Digital and Acid Nerve, the team behind the popular top-down action-adventure Titan Souls. Acid Nerve has taken their expertise and poured it into Death's Door, creating a unique and enchanting action role-playing game (RPG) that really scratches the Zelda-itch for those locked to an Xbox or PC.
In this universe, crows are known as reapers, and they serve as agents of death itself. Reapers ferry souls to the afterlife and must slay entities that aren't willing to go down without a fight. As a fledgling crow, your early career hits a bit of a snag after your quarry is stolen. The paperwork involved in a lost soul is enormous, and our fabled reaper is sent off to hunt down this wayward spirit in an attempt to understand just what the heck is going on.
A much larger world awaits the reaper in Death's Door. As the game progresses, you peel back layers of an intriguing conspiracy that threatens the balance between life and death, taking place across a wide variety of dimensions and otherworldly locales.
This is Death's Door, a game that absolutely deserves your attention.
Bottom line: Death's Door is a near-flawless isometric action-adventure full of heart, humor, and honest-to-goodness combat excellence.
- Tight, satisfying combat
- Great art direction and level design
- A dense campaign with lots of variety
- Stunning music and fun writing
- Great value at $20 for around 7-9 hours of gameplay
- WASD controls are a bit iffy
- Camera motion isn't smooth on Xbox
- The lack of a map makes navigation disorienting
Death's Door: The Good Stuff
Death's Door is first and foremost an isometric action-adventure game that pays tribute to the likes of classic Zelda, complete with soft RPG progression and Metroidvania-style secret hunting.
|Play Time||7-9 hours|
|Xbox Game Pass||No|
|Launch Date||July 20, 2021|
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series S, PC|
Right from the outset, Death's Door paints itself as something special. The monochromatic offices of the reaper administration juxtapose bleak desolation with charming humor and characters that range from vaguely disconcerting to endearingly cute. Your first assignment takes you into a forest realm, serving as the game's tutorial. After dispatching the strange entity in the forest, an elderly crow reaper steals your reward on his personal quest to unlock the titular death's door, ensconced in a forgotten cemetery. What's behind the door exactly? Therein lies the central mystery of the game.
The crow's actions leave the forest portal permanently open. Hilariously, throughout the game, cute forest spirits gradually pour out of the door into the greyscale decrepitude of the reaper offices, gradually filling them with color. The affectionate characterization permeates the entire game and gives the game huge memorability.
The game's major boss characters taunt you throughout their respective levels too, making their defeat all the more satisfying. The way the game's characters and story are presented helps the lasting impact of Death's Door, and I can safely say it's among my favorite games of 2021 on this basis alone. Death's Door does a lot of other things worthy of love and praise, though.
The way the game's characters and story are presented helps Death's Door leave a lasting impact very quickly.
I already touched upon the art of Death's Door, but it really has so much to offer. From the cast of unique characters to the large variety of environments, to the majestic soundtrack, Death's Door delivers far in excess of its $20 price point. A forest that hides a submerged swamp fortress, a Resident Evil-esque mansion filled with ceramic-infused demons, a frozen tomb in the mountains, and much more await you on this 8-hour adventure. I was impressed with the broad soundtrack too, adding another dimension to each area. The laboratory basement level had machinery that moved in time with the beat of the soundtrack, which I felt was beguiling and clever.
The variety and pacing make Death's Door feel a lot longer than it is in reality, and completionists hunting down the game's various well-hidden secrets will be more than satisfied. Death's Door's clever level design uses camera angles and even surface reflections to hide its secret areas, which include weapons, ability upgrades, and even hidden bosses. There's also some post-game content worth exploring as well.
Death's Door doesn't hide its soulslike inspiration, with a few characters that seem inspired by individuals from the Dark Souls roster, as well as its boss introductions. For those concerned that it is as punishing as your typical Soulsy-game, though, know that Death's Door is actually quite forgiving. Enemies do respawn upon death, and Death's Door lets you create shortcuts as you cut through a level that persists through death. There's a large frequency of these shortcuts, though, giving you the ability to sidestep mob packs you've already slaughtered. Death's Door auto-saves on each shortcut unlock too, and unlike a more typical soulslike, you aren't robbed of any progress upon death. The game can be incredibly tricky, though. At base, you can only endure four hits before being sent back to the start of the area, and mobs can be relentless with their attacks. Death's Door is anything but unfair, though.
The dodge roll gives a generous amount of invincibility frames allowing you to roll through most hits, and enemies generally telegraph their attacks and have set patterns with minimal randomness. Learning which tools to use for each mob and boss is part of the fun of the game, and Death's Door gives you plenty of weaponry to carve through the hordes of minions that would halt your advance.
A Zelda-inspired Hookshot aids you in traversal and lets you pull yourself into enemies for rapid attacks. Swords, daggers, and a heavy mace, a claymore, spells, a bow, (an umbrella?) give you a wide arsenal of toys to play with, and a soft progression layer rewards your exploration and mob-slaying by boosting your attack power and speed.
In its very first outing, Death's Door has star quality.
Death's Door's overarching story deals with the balance between life and death, and the role of crow reapers within this strange universe. Despite the game's relative brevity, there's a surprisingly large amount of lore to find in various collectibles, NPC conversations, text logs, and various story beats. The plot draws to a satisfying close, drip-feeding intrigue about the broader conspiracy piece by piece as you progress. In its very first outing, Death's Door has star quality. I firmly believe it could evolve to become a big franchise in its own right, but there are a few pain points worth being aware of.
Death's Door: The Bad Stuff
The biggest complaint I have about Death's Door is the lack of an in-game map, probably. On some level, I appreciate the desire to have the player explore manually, but given the game's Metroidvania-like leanings, backtracking to actually find those secrets you can now unlock is a pain. Once acquiring the grappling hook, I realized I could go back and access a bunch of secrets I'd previously missed, only, I couldn't remember exactly where they were. Finding them again felt like a chore, so I just didn't bother. Maybe my memory is bad because I'm getting old, but it's worth being aware of either way.
While I primarily reviewed this on an Xbox Series S, I did play a fair chunk on PC too. The game does support mouse and WASD keyboard play, but it's clearly designed to be experienced with a controller. On PC, you can only really move in 8 specific directions, which makes pulling off a running attack or aiming the heavy strikes incredibly difficult. Additionally, the bug from the preview build that shows cursor elements in the game's floor reflections remains as of writing, which can be disorienting in a panicked situation.
The game performs well on my RTX 2070 and an Xbox Series S, hitting 60 frames-per-second (FPS) without issue. The resolution takes a hit on the Xbox Series S, but I expect it looks far sharper on the more powerful Xbox Series X, given that Death's Door is fully enhanced for the new-gen consoles. I did encounter some bugs here and there, though, some of which forced me to close and reload the game. The grappling hook caused me to get stuck in the terrain a couple of times, with no recourse other than a reboot.
There were at least three instances where I couldn't progress due to a combat event failing to resolve properly, at least one of which was due to an enemy falling through the floor. I did encounter a couple of strange graphical glitches on the Xbox Series S too, where character models would briefly freak out into huge fractals before snapping back into place. The crow also has an odd judder on the Xbox Series S, which is irritating but not exactly game-breaking. I didn't experience any crashing though, thankfully, and the majority of these bugs are pretty minor and will likely be fixed with a day one or post-launch patch.
Death's Door: Should you play it?
Death's Door is a triumphant game that honestly feels like a steal at $20. A great cast of characters, a menacing menagerie of monsters, satisfying and stylish hack n' slashery, all wrapped in a gorgeous world that somehow manages to be desolate and uplifting at the same time.
While there are a few bugs and minor issues here and there, they're ultimately minor and don't threaten the whole package. Acid Nerve once again proves themselves to be masters of their craft, creating a world that defies its budget and delivers something unique and special in the process. Death's Door effortlessly joins my list of best Xbox games launched in 2021 so far, and hopefully, it will join yours too.
Bottom line: Death's Door is a tremendous isometric action adventure with great characters and tight combat. Find out what lies behind Death's Door and save the reapers from a conspiracy threatening the balance of life and death itself. Death's Door is among the best reasons to spend $20 this July.
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