In Death’s Door, you play as a reaper. A crow whose nine to five has been transposed to that of the grim reapers. There is no more aging, no more death, only reaping souls. While out on the job you become stuck in limbo. In order to set yourself free, you must capture three large souls. With these , you are able to restore order and close Death’s door.
Developer: Acid Nerve / Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Xbox and PC
Release Date: July 20th / MSRP: $19.99
Immediately you will notice the dark noir setting. Your office, which acts as a hub world, remains black and white, while the reapers’ glowing red sword creates a fun contrast. Death’s Door’s atmosphere along with its dark, dry humor sets a consistent brilliant tone. From here you travel a number of branching pathways in between each of the incredibly distinct dungeons.
Nearly everything about Death’s Door’s backdrop is charming. The way you waddle, the dialog, the music, the birdcages for elevators, while grim, Death’s Door is delightful. Though I did find myself wishing there was more context and dialog. The few coworkers, still in their office chairs, add nearly nothing to the story. Visually it creates a smaller part of the narrative and ambiance. Yet, having someone in the office remind you where you left off, or what is left to finish would be an effective addition. The animated scenes are brilliant and deliver more context but, they are few and far between. The final moments of the game have the bulk of these contextually narrative moments. With that, the story does come around. Yet a large portion of the game would be improved by having more story elements.
From the beginning, you can explore most of the game right away. Although as you progress you encounter roadblocks that require one of the four unlockable spells. Death’s Door uses a mechanic similar to SNES-era Zelda games. The game shows you branching paths that require an item to get through. As you obtain that item (in this case a spell), you must remember where to traverse back to continue on. Layered between these branching paths bring an array of puzzles, which for the most part are not too challenging.
The many branching paths in Death’s Door give it an expansive open feeling. At no point will it ever hold your hand and direct you where to go. As some modern AAA open-world games can often feel like checklist simulators and nav-point trackers. Death’s Door will not even give you a map.
With that said, looking back at a game like Links Awakening, I wish Death’s Door did have at least an overworld map. Between the collectibles, weapons, items, and stat progression you will need around 12 to 15 hours to discover everything. If you are just looking for the story, racing through areas will have you finished in around eight hours. Needless to say, there is a lot to find if you want, but the game does nothing to make it easy to find out what you are looking for.
Along the way, you will unlock four additional melee weapons, paired with the four spells to round out the combat system. You start out with four health points as well as four magic points. Another point can be added to each with a high level of exploration and patience. Magic points (MP) are replenished by physical combat. Whereas health is restored through seeds along the way.
When it comes to combat Death’s Door is similar to many of the games that came before it. Games like Moonlighter, Hyper Light Drifter, and even a little bit like Enter the Gungeon. On the Xbox, X is attack, A is roll, R is heavy attack, and L1 + B is a ranged attack. For the most part, the combat is great. There is a great mix of rolling and swordplay. Whereas the range attack is a distant third due to the need to build up MP.
This mix works due to the fact that, while the combat is solid and fantastic, the combination of L1 + B for a ranged attack is tedious and clunky. I understand what Acid Nerve is trying to do with the controls. They want holding L1 and pressing B to feel like a two-handed attack. It is a departure from the games that came before it and it just does not work out that well. Pressing two buttons while pointing the movement stick to aim often leaves you missing your mark. As the game progress, this becomes increasingly frustrating.
Difficulty and Accessibility
When it comes to difficulty, there are no sliders to change settings. Nor can you change the button mapping on the controller. In fact, the audio mix, language, and screen shake are the only settings you can change. For a game in 2021, this was a surprising take on difficulty and accessibility. though none of the dialog is spoken, leaving Death’s Door open for the hearing impaired. The lack of options may turn off some from outside the core audience.
My lone issue with Death’s Door’s difficulty is not that the game is hard. In fact, I do not find the game to be difficult overall. For the most part, I think Acid Nerve can get away with having limited options. Although there are two or three parts that feel as if their sole purpose was to frustrate the player. To make things less difficult would be to change the design of these moments altogether. Something you cannot do from a menu slider.
One small area, and one boss fight, in particular, lacked clever design and sought out to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. For instance, a Yeti that rolls towards you can adjust his direction in mid air after you roll under him. Or painful platforming sequences involving L1 + B spells to traverse. I assume that some casual players will just quit on Death’s Door during one of these moments. Yet those that stick through, and can forgive the lack of a map, will have a solid experience that is fun overall. Especially considering it is not a Souls-Like game, dying does not particularly punish the player.
From a technical standpoint Death’s Door is favorable. The lighting and reflections are fantastic and make for great use of the Xbox Series X. The framerate is a rock-solid 60 FPS, all while in 4K resolution. Yet not to be outdone by the visual fidelity, Death’s Door has a superb score that is fully allied with the art style and action. While fine from the TV, I took the opportunity to test out the new official Xbox headset. Adding a nice pair of headphones gives another layer of depth to the audio.
Overall Death’s Door is a fantastic experience. One that will inevitably be a nice indie console exclusive score for Xbox. If you can get past two or three challenging parts, what’s there is an adorably comical game that will never hold your hand. If Xbox is your only platform of choice, you may not have a Breath of the Wild but, here is your Link’s Awakening.