Maxwell Alexander reviews Death’s Door on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S
Title: Death’s Door
Platforms: PC (Tested), Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Rating: PEGI 12
Reviewed by Maxwell Alexander
Death’s Door is charming, stylish, funny and crammed full of nostalgia that will have you harking back to action-adventure games of the early 90s.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to pick up Death’s Door and not think back to the SNES classic Legend of Zelda – A Link to the Past. Players will be familiar with item-based exploration that will see you need items like bombs to progress to secret areas, Simple but effective that see you hook shotting across the map to nearby enemies even the camera angle will feel familiar.
Death’s Door thankfully breaks away from the Zelda blueprint when it comes to setting. It trades in the age old princess rescue mission trope in place of an interesting tale about a company of soul reaper crows (should that be a murder of soul reaper crows?). You play a seemingly unremarkable reaper crow, going about their business; collecting souls that have grown past their expiry date and become evil.
The main hub of the game, the Hall of Doors, is where the crows head office is based. This purgatory-like setting does a great job of not only being your primary mode of travel between worlds but also in its depiction of a bleak neverending workplace, with its washed colour pallet and bored inhabitants, who are trapped on this never ending hamster wheel.
That is until you get a contract for a soul that ends up getting stolen from you. Desperately you chase after the soul, determined to do a good job for your company. This sets you on a quest which leads you to Death’s Door. A large imposing black door that has sucked in the soul you were charged with collecting.
To open the door and get the soul back, players will have to collect three giant souls from the three distinct surround areas, each filled with unique puzzles, enemies and secrets to unlock.
Your journey will take you from a decadent castle to swampy jungles and frozen tundras, with each biome more deadly than the last. Each level is lovingly designed, handcrafted to make every second of exploring, a rewarding one. Be that in search of weapons, souls (currency) or collectable items that adorably adorn your desk back at the office. Exploring rarely feels like a chore and even if you’re not interested in collectables, the benefit of finding one of the game's many short cuts is a valuable one. Especially as HP isn’t always readily available if you take one too many blows.
The combat always feels dangerous and even the earliest of enemies can land some fatal hits on you if you’re not careful. Players can slash at enemies using one of five collectable melee weapons or pick them off using one of the game's drip-fed ranged special items. The latter certainly being the more careful approach to dispatching monsters in this dangerous world. But ammo isn’t infinite and if you want to keep firing off arrows like a tiny, feathered Robin Hood, you’re eventually going to have to get up close and personal.
Ammunition for special items is replenished by landing physical melee attacks, each blow filling up a slot on your specials bar. But diving head first into combat and mashing attack can be a dangerous one, especially when the game throws multiple enemies at you. Thankfully our crow has a trusty dodge roll ability to dive out of harm’s way. Through most of the game I found myself in a nice rhythm of firing off ranged attacks, running in to land a couple of strikes with my sword, before rolling out of combat and repeating that formula over again. That’s not to say that every enemy can be tackled in the same way, and Death's Door is full of varying enemy types that change with each location, to keep you on your toes.
If in the likely event you do take damage, players can discover plant pots, sparingly dotted around each map. If you discover a seed to go into these pots, players will be able consume the plant that grows there and restore their health. These are one shot health wells that only replenish upon death and they pose a good risk mechanic. Do you take the health now when you have only taken one hit or do you risk delving deeper into a dungeon to save the health for when you’re a little more vulnerable? But doing so may require you to make along trek back. This conundrum can often be the difference between life and death. And if you do die, you won’t only be sent back to the last checkpoint you visited, but all the enemies you have dispatched up until then will have respawned as well. This makes the search for shortcuts even more important, especially when facing one of the game's many mini bosses or area bosses.
The boss fights in Death's Door are definitely one of the highlights for the game, each one acting more as a fast combat based puzzle than straight slug fest. The second world’s chief in particular, is a very fun fight that sees a giant toad inhale tiles from the platform you’re standing on and requires you to make a well-timed ranged attack at the magic mace on his back to replenish what was destroyed. His design is also great, looking like a toad variant of Thor. Bravado and all.
For that matter, all the character designs are fresh and fantastic. Along the way you won’t just be meeting characters to bash on the head but also a lot of colourful NPCs that really liven up the world and add a bit of humor to a game that is intrinsically about death and the 9-5, such as Steadhone the Gravedigger, who is on hand to give a surprisingly funny eulogy to each of the world’s bosses once they have been defeated. Or my favourite character – Jefferson, a squid that rides on the back of a fisherman’s cadaver to blend in with other ‘fellow bipeds’ and run his restaurant in the third biome. The game really is full of the most quirky and memorable characters you could hope to meet and I had a lot of fun getting to know them and their strange back stories.
The story of the crows themselves and the never ending jobs they find themselves serving is surprisingly a breath of fresh air and the intrigue for what was behind Death’s Door kept me pushing on through the game, which at 11 hours long is the ideal length for what is on offer. Although there were lots of secrets to uncover in previous biomes now that I have unlocked all of the special items. So if you’re looking for an old school game with a totally fresh design and a few modern concepts, I don’t think you can go wrong with Death’s Door. This is a game packed full of charm that will definitely be living in my head for a while.