Death's Door Review
Developer: Acid Nerve.
Publisher: Devolver Digital.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, PC.
Game Length: 10-15 hours.
Platinum Trophy Difficulty: 15-20 hours, dependent on player skill.
Death’s Door has players controlling a crow, but not just any crow, this crow works as a reaper. Players are introduced to this unnamed character as they arrive for another day working at the Reaping Commission Headquarters. Your character is given their latest assignment and players are introduced to the premise of this world. When reapers traverse doorways to explore different areas of the world their mortal clock begins to tick down, which means the longer they remain among the living they will begin inching closer towards their own demise; though there are no gameplay ramifications based upon how long the player spends in the mortal world. With that introduced to the player, your crow faces off with the monster they have been sent to reap, but things don’t go as planned. Upon defeating the monster, you are knocked out and the soul you were sent to reap is stolen by an older crow. After confronting this thieving elderly crow, the player is introduced to Death’s Door and must help the older crow obtain three ‘Giant Souls’ to help open the aforementioned door.
This basic quest sends players on an intriguing story, which involves the company you work for and the potential nefarious activities it has carried out. This concept of death and immortality is a central theme of Death’s Door and within this world outliving your expiration date slowly corrupts your soul. It is an interesting premise, which had me questioning whether I would want to live forever, even though living in this manner would mean I lose the very thing that made me who I was – my soul.
Compared to Acid Nerve’s previous game Titan Souls, the story of Death’s Door is at the forefront of the adventure, and it provides a fascinating tale which motivates the actions of the player. Although the story itself is simmering in the background as players vanquish these corrupted beings, the majority of the plot is provided during the final act of the story. While there are additional journals scattered throughout the Reaping Commission and certain characters provide subtle hints to the deeper narrative at play, with an exposition dump presented during the final few hours of the game adding much context to the adventure. There is an additional ‘True Ending’ which fans of Acid Nerve will want to experience as it ties the story together in a mind shattering way.
Players can still enjoy Death’s Door without paying much attention to the narrative, but the game is improved due to the story that unfolds. The world itself is also fleshed out with some quirky side characters, like a bard who sings some humorous songs of your adventures, and a bar owner named Jefferson, who is quite clearly a giant squid possessing a man’s dead body. Even the majority of bosses you encounter are given unique personalities, each showing how soul corruption works, but also making each encounter more memorable when compared to Titan Souls’ unknown monsters. Overall, the narrative tells an interesting story with some mature themes, especially regarding whether it is better to die with freedom or live without it, which I really enjoyed. It will take the average player around 10-15 hours to finish the main story and access the ‘True Ending’, but that estimate will vary depending on player skill.
The Reaping Commission Headquarters is essentially that, it is the main area where you can fast travel to different locations (through various doors) and improve your abilities. I loved the visual style of the Reaping Commission, which is essentially black and white, devoid of any others colours aside from your weapon and the occasional neon light. It removes any joy, excitement, or vibrancy from the Reaping Commission, and anyone who works in an office each day will know exactly how this can feel.
The visual design of Death’s Door has a similar style to claymation works such as Wallace and Gromit or Coraline, and I certainly felt Little Nightmares visual vibes throughout the adventure. It’s a unique art style and the world outside the Commission has varying degrees of detail and vibrancy, which helps make each area distinct. Environmental locations feel more unique than Titan Souls, as players will explore various locations, such as a cemetery, a large mansion, a water area and many others. Each area is fairly large which provides its own positives and negatives, as there is no in-game map to examine when exploring. For the most part, I had no trouble moving throughout each area, but when it came to navigating each location to reach 100% completion for the ‘True Ending’, it was frustrating to navigate (the cemetery especially). As exploration is a major element of Death’s Door, I can certainly see some players finding the lack of in-game map more frustrating than it should be.
Death’s Door has similar exploration aspects to The Legend of Zelda or the Dark Souls series. For example, certain sections of the map will be locked out until you have the necessary equipment to access that area. This encourages players to explore each location further, once they obtain new skills, to find hidden collectables, health/magic upgrades, and additional souls which are used as upgrade currency for your character. As for the Souls series comparison, players can unlock shortcuts as they progress, which makes exploration much faster during additional expeditions. As I mentioned though, due to some sections of each location having blocked areas and no shortcuts, the lack of an in-game map meant I did take many a wrong turn when re-exploring areas for hidden items. I feel this aspect will be divisive amongst players, and I personally can see the pros and cons of adding a map, but providing players with the option could have at least improved this aspect.
One of my favourite visual elements of Death’s Door is the lighting. Seeing the shadows cast from the trees above when exploring the Overgrown Ruins, or the cascading lights from a nearby fire is incredibly beautiful. There is one area in the Ceramic Mansion which uses lighting as a vital element to success, as the entire room is pitch black before players must light nearby torches to see their enemies. The subtle visual elements found within each area add to the environment and help create a beautiful world, one which genuinely had me stopping on occasions to simply appreciate the visual design on display.
If exploration is one of the major elements of Death’s Door, the other is combat. The combat on offers feels like an improved and expanded version of Titan Souls, which is a positive complement. This combat system provides players with a basic sword strike, charged attack and dodge, which can be used in conjunction to the five weapons available in the game, each with their own unique statistics. Players also have magic abilities, ranging from a bow and arrow, fire blasts, and a bomb players can throw at enemies. Players are also given a grappling hook which is mostly used for exploration purposes but can be used to zip players across the battlefield to attack enemies as well. Combat is smooth, responsive, and the variety of physical and magic attacks allows players to mix and match their perfect build. Players wanting to hit hard can use the Greatsword which provides more damage at the sacrifice of speed, whereas players wanting to attack quickly can use Daggers which deal less damage.
Death’s Door doesn’t allow players to simply spam magic attacks from a far, as your magic powers are finite and will only refill by utilising physical attacks. Sure, players can strike nearby crates and pots to refill this bar, but for the most part it encourages players to get up close and personal with enemies to make magic skills viable; consider how Bloodborne encouraged you to quickly counterattack to get back your health, the system in Death’s Door has similar elements. It’s an intelligent system which forces players to engage in enemy combat in a variety of ways, rather than focusing on one strategy to become victorious. Players can also upgrade their magical abilities by seeking out hidden mini-boss battles, which are both challenging and exciting to defeat.
I found the combat system satisfying, and provided enough challenge to keep battles entertaining, but it never felt overwhelming. I personally think Death’s Door isn’t incredibly difficult, even the boss encounters can become quite manageable if players learn attack patterns and engage in combat methodically. For the most part, some sections leading up to boss encounters are more difficult than the boss itself. Players only have a finite amount of health and can only regain health by planting seeds in specific locations scattered throughout each level, or by revisiting the Commission. This means some locations will have players being swarmed with enemies and require constant on your feet thinking to survive. Death’s Door is the perfect example of working smarter, not harder, and it will reward players who bring this mentality to each battle. But don’t expect Death’s Door to be an easy adventure, you will die a lot as you learn enemy locations, and boss patterns, but nothing is too overwhelming, and death is usually your own fault.
My favourite aspect of Death’s Door is the incredible soundtrack, which is consistently brilliant throughout each area you visit and boss encounter you experience. From the serene musical score as you explore the cemetery, which feels oddly relaxing yet also ominous, as piano keys and slight percussion emphasise the unknown surrounding the player. To the music players encounter as they explore the Ceramic Manor, as the piano-centric track that accompanies players is both foreboding, yet incredibly peaceful. Then, players explore the Overgrown Ruins, and the mixture of musical elements feels magical and heightens the sense of wonder found within this area.
My personal favourite piece of music is ‘The Old Watchtowers’. This track appears late in the game, and it helps heighten the tension and adventure the player is encountering on screen. It heightens the narrative and helps drive the player forward through some of the toughest battles thus far. It’s utterly brilliant and I have been obsessed with this track ever since I hit the end credits days ago.
Strong narrative, with a ‘True Ending’ which Acid Nerve fans will greatly appreciate.
Phenomenal soundtrack, which is consistently brilliant throughout the adventure.
Great visual style, with gorgeous lighting.
Responsive and satisfying combat.
Lack of in-game map makes aiming for 100% completion more annoying than it should be.
Death’s Door feels like Acid Nerve improved and expanded on the greatness found in Titan Souls to create a brilliant successor. Death’s Door is clearly influenced by The Legend of Zelda and Souls series similarities but is able to use these inspirations to help craft a brilliant adventure. The soundtrack is simply phenomenal, and even if you never intend to play Death’s Door, I implore you to check out the soundtrack. You will not regret it.
If you’re looking for a charming indie experience, with a brilliant soundtrack, responsive combat, and an intriguing narrative, Death’s Door is worth opening and experiencing for yourself.
The Score: 9.0
Jamiex66 loves checking out indie games, and for all his latest video game content you can follow him on Instagram.