Death’s Door is a stunningly gorgeous action RPG with a deep focus on moody backdrops, satisfying combat and engaging puzzles that not only allows it to be a strong contender for one of 2021’s best indies, but also a challenger for Game of the Year. Developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital for PC and Xbox, this charming hack-and-slash explores a world where crows reap the souls of the dead, delivering interesting insight into our own morbidity.
During my first full playthrough, I began my journey as a tiny, everlasting, weapon-wielding crow tasked with the mission of reaping the soul of a demonic forest spirit. Working as a reaper, Death’s Door quickly established that these crows did this to prevent themselves from ageing and dying. However, upon the success of obtaining the spirit’s soul a much bigger crow swooped in, struck Crow on the head, and ventured off to use the newly-obtained soul for their own agenda.
This larger crow had attempted to use the soul to venture beyond Death’s Door – however, this wasn’t enough. So we, the player, are tasked with the challenge of finding and defeating three incredibly powerful monsters who have, in fact, overstayed their welcome in the land of the living.
As in life, everything has an expiration date, however. This has led to these three extending their age at the cost of their own mortality. Death’s Door explores these themes with humour, despair and makes us question our own relationship with life and the time we have in it.
As my experience in gaming is often driven by my desire to hunt achievements, I noticed early on the challenge of using a particular melee weapon. This item presented as an umbrella added a level of difficulty by reducing physical damage by half – the game’s ‘hard mode’ if you will. As a result, your mileage may vary.
Firstly, the combat mechanics are fast, fluid and incredibly satisfying. Using your melee weapon, you can fight with a combination of light or heavy attacks or as the story progresses, with opportunities for spellcasting arrows, fire and bombs also presenting themselves. Melee hits will replenish your spell counter and so will defeating opponents, or via destroying vases and boxes. I found myself using more distanced attacks due to the boss fights being incredibly challenging, however that allowed for a strong sense of accomplishment once these enemies were defeated. There is no option to block, instead the game opts for a dodging mechanic that becomes incredibly important against larger enemies.
The areas range from a variety of dark and gloomy backgrounds such as icy mountain ranges, dark creepy mansions, sinister swamps, and an intriguing Hall of Mirrors, “the hub world of the Reaping Commission” which is a shadowy organisation dedicated to the reaping of souls. This black and white land contains doors that act as gateways to every other level in the game while allowing you to purchase upgrades in the way of strength, agility, dexterity, and magic. Upgrades in strength lead to stronger swing damage in your melee attacks, agility increases your movement speed, dexterity allows for more swings per second, and magic leads to your spellcasting attacks being stronger. I found myself opting for magic as I was drastically looking to increase my ranged damage.
Scattered seeds throughout these worlds acted as both collectables as well as health replenishment when planted into their pot counterparts. Death’s Door also presents plenty of opportunities to explore past its isometric view to discover secrets such as shiny items and shrines in such a puzzle-like style that is reminiscent of earlier Zelda titles.
Also, can I just add that swinging your melee weapon at a signpost, chopping it in half and then viewing it again to showcase half the sign is so incredibly funny to me.
Graphics and Visuals
Death’s Door features simple character designs delivered on stunningly gorgeous levels filled with deep shadows that allow most worlds to be presented as dark and moody. These worlds are filled with an abundance of charm and beauty. Cutscenes demonstrate the amount of thought that has gone into sculpting this environment with a combination of insightful commentary on life and death, delivering a jaw-dropping experience that in this day and age only an indie can masterfully deliver.
The backgrounds showcase the beauty in their simplicity, demonstrating that you don’t need a AAA budget to build worlds that are truly remarkable and that encapsulate the heavy subject matter discussed. I felt particularly drawn to the use of shadows, especially in battles against the three big bosses, scaling massively in comparison to your protagonist, Crow.
Audio and Music
David Fenn has done a wonderful job carefully matching sounds to each event or level. The music complemented the design’s charm, allowing for a simple atmospheric sound during world exploration to give those environments heart, whilst also providing intensely paced pieces during boss fights to demonstrate the grand scale of the challenge.
While there is no voice acting for the game, the narrative is delivered through a strong use of written dialogue, which allows for better delivery of some of the game’s ideas and humour. I also found that well-paced audio cues for the combat system complemented it nicely and left me feeling satisfied after direct hits with enemies.
You would be amiss to ignore Death’s Door, as this stands to be one of this year’s best releases and a must-play for its stunningly intuitive combat systems and gorgeous level design. Upon writing this review I had completed one full playthrough of the game and intend to re-explore every nook and cranny of these wonderful worlds on my hunt for the full completion.
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Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital