Originally published at: https://xboxera.com/2021/07/20/review-deaths-door/
You are a reaper. With your glowing red sword, you take the souls of those whose time is up in this mortal coil; also… you’re a crow. This is the latest title from the two-man development team at Acid Nerve. Through a global collaboration with various artists, they’ve created something special. A beautiful game that finds humor in the melancholy and hope in death. A fantastic soundtrack is matched by tight controls and a story that tugs at your heart. Here is our review of Death’s Door.
The Lord of Doors and a world without death
Your character’s day starts like any other. In this land of immortality you punch in, go to the mortal realm and reap a targeted soul. The difference this time is that a shadowy figure knocks you out and steals the soul. With your target gone, you can’t clock out, leading you on a search for 8 hours or so as you unravel the many mysteries of this fantastical world. Your travels will take you through a variety of biomes, as you face terrifying foes, make new friends, and empower your crow into becoming the ultimate killing birdchine.
To kill and not be killed you have at your disposal a light attack, charge attack, immunity granting dodge, and an ever-growing variety of spells. Progression starts slow, but as you slay the monsters all around you their soul power can be used to purchase upgrades that come in 4 varieties. First up is a basic strength enhancer, next is an attack speed boost, then a movement speed and dodge cooldown buff; rounding things out is the ability to make your spells stronger and faster to charge. There are also green and pink shards scattered throughout shrines in the world. Four of each will give you one extra pip in your vitality and spell pools respectively (both start at four). One issue with the combat is that the enemies can sometimes track you a bit too well after you roll. A few bosses seemed able to roll directly at me if I dodged even a split second too early. Some of the platforming sections felt a bit unfair as well when an enemy attack I had dodge still somehow pushed me off the edge and removed a pip of vitality.
Death is a constant in this difficult game. There is no way to change how tough things are, so you’ll want to explore and upgrade as much as possible if you’re finding the current objectives to be too difficult. There is no map either, instead, you must memorize each area as you explore it. Thankfully, the level design is brilliant and full of shortcuts that stay forever once they are unlocked. This game is neither rogue-like nor souls-like. There is no penalty when you die. You lose nothing, and thanks to the excellent shortcut system getting back to where you were at the time of your last death generally takes anywhere between 10 seconds and a minute. The game uses less of a checkpoint system and more of a respawn one. Your game world stays the same after you die, any enemies killed stay dead, and only traveling back to the hub world resets it. Everything feels fair, though it must be stated that some form of accessibility options should be there so that everyone can enjoy this incredible game.
Facing your end
The writing in Death’s Door perfectly blends humor, emotion, and the struggle against one’s mortality in a way that elevates the medium. There are few games that are legitimately funny, and this one is. Every joke lands, no matter how big or small, and even in the saddest moments there would be a line that would make me smile even though I had just reaped the soul of someone I truly felt pity for. Your job of ending lives has real meaning here, and the game makes great use of just what a terrible job this would be for anyone to ever have to do. Graphically the game is gorgeous. The art style matches the tone of the story and the world, and the soundtrack brings a feeling of deep melancholic beauty that had me searching for where to buy it the moment I hit the end credits (sadly, I can’t find it for purchase online at the time of review). David Fenn is listed as the Producer, Designer, Composer & Sound Designer on Acid Nerve’s website, and the job he did as Composer is simply stunning. Mark Foster is the other half of the Acid Nerve duo (along with numerous contracted artists who are listed in the game’s credits), and he is credited with the Writing, Programming, Design, and Animation work on the game as well. What they have been able to pull off here is astounding.
Their take on the structure of this game caught me off guard. It’s so thoroughly and smartly built out that even with little to no direction I never felt lost. The game guides you with the slightest touch and the gated progress gives you a good reason to explore areas you had previously cleared out as new spells can be used to unlock new areas of the map. The options in the game are almost non-existent outside of changing audio levels and choosing an impressive number of languages for the text (there is no voiceover work). I would have liked the option to remap the spell from a hold-down left-trigger and pressing B to simply using B by itself, but that is a very minor issue. There are various weapons to find and unlock and each has its own use cases so that they feel worth seeking out. There are 5 in total, though I only found the last two after the credits had rolled and I was exploring the small but high-quality post-game content. In total my playthrough lasted a little over 9 hours before I had reached just under 100% completion.
At $20 US if this type of game has any interest to you, you should buy it. The frustrations I have with games like Dark Souls don’t exist here. There is no penalty for death, instead simply a learning experience as you progress through the incredible story that deserves to be experienced by as many as possible. I know on the Xbox platform at least there is always a “well I’ll wait for Game Pass” mentality for many, but this game deserves success. It is a remarkable achievement by a very small team, and I simply loved it.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X, Code provided by Devolver Digital for review.