Death’s Door is an adorable top-down action-adventure RPG with Souls-Like elements and an engrossing tale that is rich in character and colour. It is developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital. Death’s Door hosts a strange world where nothing has died for a plenitude of years, where crow’s have been hired to reap the souls of the dead and the player takes control of one particular crow that is assigned a soul in an unfamiliar land. A grim tale with many twists and turns that is offset by its weird and wonderful inhabitants of the land, along with a serene soundtrack that never tires.
The story begins with a crow heading to work, the Reaping Commission Headquarters. Within the Headquarters is The Hall of Doors that acts as a central hub to the rest of the world and is full of doors which are actuated by souls and used to transit between different regions. The player is given the task of reaping a particular soul, and with receiving that task a door is summoned which leads the player to a completely different land that is used as a short tutorial level that teaches basic controls and combat.
Within the tutorial level, the player is thrust into a small boss battle which, when looking back on it, was simple but did feel quite daunting so early on. When defeating the boss, the player obtains the soul they were after, which is stolen by a large, old and mysterious crow that summons a white, glowing passageway to another land. The chase is then on, to find the thief and retain what is rightfully the players. Through pursuit the player can become more familiar with the controls, which is helped with the introduction of a number of foreign enemies that have unique abilities and movement.
When reaching the older crow, it is learnt that previous souls were disappearing into a peculiar door known as the Death Door and so assigned souls could never be found and reaped. The land that is being explored suffers from symptoms akin to immortality and the only way to open the Death Door is to obtain the three strongest souls within it and use the power of those souls to open it. The three souls that have to be acquired are those of a Witch to the North, a King to the East and a Beast to the West and the temperament of each of these characters is unique in whacky and wonderful ways.
Each of the three souls has an unique area that they reside in and to get to them the player must free four souls by partaking in combat challenges as well as puzzle solving. Puzzles never get too complex, and it is often a matter of trying every avenue until the right one is found, while combat can become a bit strenuous at times when there is a large number of enemies to be taken out at one time. Death will only ever result the player in being returned to the last door that they entered, however, enemies will always respawn, unless they were part of a challenge room. Once four souls have been released it opens a door where the player will receive a new ability after completing four waves of enemies in a challenge called “Avarice”. After earning a new ability, the player can then progress to the boss of that area.
Movement is quite basic and controlled by the analog stick (on console) and the only other movement option is an evading roll, which is used to dodge enemy attacks and make traversing the world just a little bit quicker than simply walking. While the controls are very basic, they are also very precise, which is extremely important in a game like Death’s Door, where there are a lot of areas that the player can simply input the wrong action and end up falling down a deep crevasse, which I am ashamed to say happened to me quite a bit in my playthrough. The one negative about exploration is that there is no map for a player to view, but with most areas being lineal in their design it is never too hard to find a way back.
Though the story can seem linear there is plenty of time to explore every corner of the world, with some rewards to be found along the way. Players can obtain a number of useful items by finding things such as:
- Life Seeds – Used to plant into a Green Pot that then yields Soul Fruit which is used to restore back to full health.
- Mass of Soul Energy – Contains a large number of Soul Energy, which can be spent on Reaper upgrades towards Strength, Dexterity, Haste and Magic back at The Hall of Doors.
- Shrines – Pray at Shrines to receive either a Vitality Crystal (collect four to gain a health bar) or the Shard of a Magic Crystal (collect four to gain an extra magic slot).
- Mini-Bosses – Defeat these enemies to receive upgrades to ranged weapons.
Soul Energy is collected from each downed foe which means that, while skipping past enemies to quickly get to a particular waypoint is at times tempting, the upgrades that come from Soul Energy often outweighs any time saved. Combat is very responsive and smooth, while remaining challenging without being deterring. Players have two basic attack options: a quick attack that allows the player to chain multiple attacks together and a heavy attack that is slower but has a much larger damage output. There are five weapons that can be obtained throughout Death’s Door by participating in a little bit of puzzle solving and they each have four stat variants that are only slight, but enough to make every one unique:
- Damage – The weapons damage output
- Swings – Number of swings that can be chained together.
- Range – The distance that an enemy can be hit from.
- Swing Time – How quickly the player can attack
There are also four ranged attacks that can be discovered through the natural progression of the story which are: bow and arrow, fireball, bomb and a chain hook. Each of these ranged attacks will also be used to explore what were unreachable areas of the world; like the bomb destroying breakable blockages and walls. They are vital in defeating some of the tougher combat challenges as there are plenty of times where a bit of distance is not required but recommended.
There is a multitude of different enemies to be faced in Death’s Door, as well as a number of bosses and mini bosses that have unique abilities of their own. There are ranged enemies, tank enemies and of course an exceptional few that specialise in both fields of combat. While most enemies are not much of a threat alone, the player is seldom faced with a lone combatant outside of boss fights. Opponents also do not display any sort of health bar, but rather begin to fracture with an iridescent glow when descending into death.
The music is such a fantastic part of Death’s Door and even in the most intense of battles it always seems to be at the foreground of the sound. Each area has its own theme and there was not one that was not just delightful to hear. Only ever interrupted by an intense note to inform the player of their death. Enemies make sounds when attacking which is handy to avoid taking any damage, but there are also a lot of visual cues to help with that too. Every hit sounds like it hurts, it is not a lousy “cling and clang” soundbite, rather each strike makes a certain sound depending on whether it is against armour or flesh.
Graphically, Death’s Door is a beautiful game. Everything from the characters to the terrain and objects that they are surrounded by have been handcrafted to fit the bill of Death’s Door’s wonderful art style. The lighting is unreal, with projectiles casting shadows over the ground and bodies creating silhouettes on distant surfaces, whether it being from natural light or lit fires. While The Hall of Doors is absent of much colour and sets a gloomy tone, many of the areas to be explored are full of colour and personality and it really invites exploration to the fullest because every corner of Death’s Door’s world is as beautiful as the next.
It is really up the parents whether they want their kids to watch this one. It is not grotesquely violent, and it is quite colourful, but there is also blood splatter that cannot be turned off and it has some dark themes that could frighten some younger children. It is easy enough to pause at any time if the player needs a break and if the game is exited the player will just resume at the last door they entered. Death’s Door took me only about 8 hours for a full playthrough, but I really stopped to smell the roses on multiple occasions so I imagine it could be shorter. Not that it matters much, I enjoyed every minute.