Don’t fear the reaper unless, of course, it’s a crow wielding a mighty sword! Acid Nerve, on the back of the impressive Titan Souls, has followed up with Death’s Door – a game that not only takes inspiration from classic Zelda-like hack n’ slash adventure games but exceeds the majority of games within this genre with its impressive sense of discovery; gorgeously detailed diorama-like world and utterly charming characters which truly makes it something special.
Working for the Reaper Commission, your silent fledgling Crow protagonist is tasked with doing what he does best – harvesting the souls of those who are way past their expiry date, unwilling to submit to death and consequently have morphed into monstrosities. All doesn’t go as planned when the soul of a particularly strong target that you have just reaped is stolen by a mysterious figure. Initially you’re tasked with tracking down this lost soul, but on confronting the thief your adventure becomes much larger with you having to track down three tyrants, who have cheated death, in order to unlock the titular Death’s Door.
Over the course of your journey, you will come across an array of weird and wonderful characters that could easily be straight out of a Tim Burton movie. These characters move the story forward and help to expand the lore of the world, whilst also offer excellent comedic relief. My personal favourite is Pothead, whose name reflects his appearance as he has a giant pot of soup as a head. The poor guy has been cursed by the Witch tyrant and needs your help in breaking this curse. Pothead always brought a smile to my face seeing him use the lid of the pot as a shield and having soup splashing about. I won’t spoil the surprise of the other characters you come across but one of them has an exceedingly horrifying demeanour involving a squid!
Let’s take a minute to also applaud how perfectly animated your protagonist crow is. From his twitchy head movements to the lovely detail of feathers springing off you as you roll, Acid Nerve have nailed the look and feel of being a crow!
The top-down diorama world of Death’s Door is a visual treat. Beginning in the headquarters of the Commission, with its bleak monochrome colour pallet, helps to nicely set the atmosphere of a noir-style adventure and your crow protagonist is really emphasised through the only speck of colour being his glowing red sword, which looks striking and powerful against the muted shades. While the start of the adventure may lack a lot of colours, as the next location on your quest is a dreary graveyard with a lot of subtle greens, the undead realm does brighten up when you visit a lush overgrown ruin and a swamp with brightly coloured wooden platforms to traverse over the water.
Each environment within Death’s Door is impeccably detailed and beautiful lit. There are piles of leaves that prettily flutter when you walk over them, and mushrooms that will regrow once slashed. I thoroughly enjoyed the Witch’s mansion as I was expecting a location that would be dark and dirty, riddled with cobwebs, but surprisingly the mansion reminded me of the castle from Resident Evil Village with a lot of grandeur and plenty of smashable vases, which in some cases may spring to life as enemies.
The level design is a real highlight and takes a great deal of inspiration from the Souls series, especially Demon’s Souls. I say this because each area starts with unlocking a door back to the Commission’s Headquarters and from this point, the level can begin to split with many paths to explore that are cleverly designed to link together via a multitude of shortcuts. There is nothing more satisfying than finding a hidden tunnel or flicking a switch that drops a ladder or opens a gate, that loops you back to the central area so you can pop back to the Commission to regain your health, or upgrade your abilities, before returning to venture off to a new section of the level.
There is also an ample amount of exploration on offer with secret areas to discover and, in typical Metroidvania fashion, parts of the level will only become available once you have the required ability to progress.
Death’s Door really succeeds with its fast, frantic and incredibly responsive combat that is challenging yet well-balanced. Your start the adventure just with your trusty sword and a bow. You can either do a simple slash with your sword or do a heavy attack, that has a slight build-up time to unleash and therefore timing is key to get this attack in without being hit. Your bow is your ranged attack that takes mana to use. You can replenish your mana by hitting enemies with your sword or smashing boxes and other structures within the levels. This means you can’t relentlessly sit back from afar taking enemies down with projectiles, but you must be on the offence and up in their face to be able to then utilise this form of attack.
As the game progresses you unlock new ranged attacks, that also act as puzzle-solving elements within the levels, with the flame spell used to light brazes that open gates, bombs to blow up sections of breakable walls and the hook-shot for attaching to poles on a platform initially out of your reach. These ranged attacks can also be upgraded by defeating a tricky sub-boss that is hidden in an area that you can only unlock through using the specific ability, such as for the flame spell the secret area is behind a cobweb that has to be burnt away.
Your sword isn’t your only close combat weapon to hand, but you will also find more throughout your journey, each with its own benefits and weaknesses. For example, the daggers might not hit as hard as your sword, but you are able to string more attacks together, whilst the hammer is slower but has a useful heavy attack that unleashes shock damage that can chain-hit multiple enemies to stun them.
On defeating enemies within Death’s Door, you reap their soul which can be used to upgrade four ability areas – Strength; Dexterity; Haste; and Magic. Within each upgrade, there are 5 levels to unlock to enhance the benefit further and costs progressively more souls. This upgrade mechanic helps to offer a bit of choice in how you shape the build of your protagonist to best suit your style of play. If you like to get up close and personal you will want to focus on the Strength and Haste abilities so that you hit harder and then avoid attacks better, with the extra speed boost and reduced dodge-roll timing.
Avoiding getting hit is essential as you only have a small amount of health and enemies are particularly aggressive. You can restore health by finding seeds and planting them within pots strewn throughout the levels. There are a plentiful of seeds to be found, but once you have restored your health from the plant it will wither and die and can’t be re-used again unless you exit and return to the level. Death is not to be feared and will come frequently and thankfully you don’t lose the souls you have gained, and the only consequence is having to return to the central door of the area and all the enemies have respawned.
Again, through exploring and finding secret areas you can find one of two types of shrines to pray at. The glowing greens shrines will offer a shard that goes towards increasing your health and red shrines offer a shard towards your ranged attack ability use. You must gather four shards before you receive the increase in health or ability use is and it is well worth seeking these out for added support in late game and tackling the secret sub-bosses.
Enemy design and type in Death’s Door is varied and largely themed to the location that you are in. Expect to typically find spiders in dungeon areas and plant-based enemies in the overgrown location. Enemies do repeat in a multitude of areas, but they may have a slightly different look to them or an added attack. For example, the aggressive zombie-like enemies, that will instantly run at you on sight and try to claw you to death, appear throughout the game but in each area will wear different headgear such as a vase or mask, and also may have an added jump attack.
Death’s Door superbly hits that perfect balance of challenge and reward with its combat situations that can be very intense with a plethora of different enemies to fight all at once. Often you will find yourself in a battle where you are having to avoid teleporting mages and enemies with bows firing projectiles at you, whilst you are trying to break the shield of an axe-wielding minotaur that hits incredibly hard, but also having to keep an eye on a close-combat enemy ready to dart in and slash at you.
Then there are the tough but fair bosses that again feel very Souls-like and are brilliantly designed with unique and tricky repeating attack patterns to avoid. No two bosses were ever the same and I found it would take 3 to 5 attempts to really learn their patterns and it was usually down to my own impatience in trying to get one too many hits in that I would end up getting hurt.
There is so much game on offer with Death’s Door. I rolled credits at just over 13 hours and this included finding many collectables and shrines. Furthermore, there is end-game content on offer if you wish to see the true ending. I’m struggling to find anything negative about the game as I had such a brilliant and highly addictive time with it. I’ll also add that I’m amazed at just how polished the game is too. I came across absolutely no glitches; bugs; crashes; or performance issues, which is so refreshing, and Acid Nerve must be congratulated for this. The developer is only a two-man team that had a small amount of wider support to help make Death’s Door, so what they have achieved is truly remarkable.
Death’s Door is easily one of the best and well-rounded action games that I’ve played this year. It gets all the basics right and then excels with a compelling story and cast of characters, a gorgeous and interesting world to explore, and combat that is intense and extremely enjoyable. It’s an absolute must and has left me now never quite looking at a crow in the same way, always wondering whether it’s about to attack and reap my soul!
- - A gorgeously detailed diorama world with a vast amount of secrets to discover
- - Compelling story and humorous supporting cast of characters
- - Satisfying, responsive and challenging combat
- - Memorable boss battles
- -None. One of the most refined and well produced games in its genre