Death’s Door Review
One may remember a relatively unknown title from back in 2015 called Titan Souls, which was positively reviewed by most outfits for its clean and precise action-adventure style of play. Indie Studio Acid Nerve definitely had a formula they could build on and it shows in their latest effort years later with Death’s Door.
Death’s Door is the latest indie gem to get high praise this year when it was released back in July for the Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC. With a laptop that could barely hold itself together and an Xbox Series X on the other side of the world waiting to be sent home, I opted to wait out an eventual release for the other platforms.
So imagine my smile when I found out that the game was to see a release for both the PlayStation and the Switch, which immediately became my choice for Death’s Door due to its portable nature.
After taking my time with it, and while I personally don’t think it to be the Game of the Year nominee that many make it out to be, Death’s Door is an extremely polished and well-made effort from Acid Nerve, and definitely one of the best indies of 2021 hands-down.
Fear The Reaper
Since I just mentioned that the game is one of the best indies of 2021, I’ll also start by saying something of an extreme contradiction – Death’s Door is nothing you haven’t already seen before. This is not a dig at the game, but just some fact for those expecting it to be a totally revolutionary release because of all the praise it received.
What Death’s Door does, and does very well, is give you gameplay that is slick and snappy, paired with visuals that are easy on the eyes and satisfying combat that will make this 10-ish hour ride one to remember.
The premise for Death’s Door is simple, seeing as its narrative aspect isn’t its strongest. You are a crow that works as a reaper who works at the aptly named Reaping Commission Headquarters, an agency responsible for all things death-related. As a reaper, you are tasked to collect souls but what was supposed to be a routine day on the job goes awry as the soul you were assigned to bring “home” gets stolen, putting you in a precarious situation where your immortality as a reaper is at stake.
If anything, the workings of the world and its inhabitants are interesting and compliments the overall design of the world. There are NPC’s you can talk to in the game, but don’t expect an elaborate script, just enough to give tidbits on what’s happening. None of these are required reading, but you get to learn a bit of the world through these conversations here and there.
The world of Death’s Door is linear to a certain extent. As you traverse the wonderfully designed terrain draped in muted colors and serenaded with a sublime soundtrack, you’ll be met with branching pathways that highly encourage exploration thanks to the very useful rewards that you can get. These rewards are strategically placed throughout the game, always being shown to you but just staying out of reach, pushing you to explore. The world is also littered with puzzles, ranging from simple “shoot to unlock” to moderately complex puzzles that aren’t too hard to figure out.
Level design is one of Death’s Door’s strongest suits, ensuring that the paths you take conveniently lead to one another, always pushing you forward. You may not get to unlock a gate during the start of a new area, but venture deeper into the zone and towards the end, you’ll find a switch that unlocks the same gate, bringing you back to the start if you find the need to backtrack. Even without obvious markers, you’ll always get a sense of where you need to go.
One of the most glaring challenges of the game is limited amount of healing, which you can only get through seeds that you can plant in pots scattered around the world. These pots are very well placed, meaning that you’ll most likely encounter a healing pot just by the time you actually need it, unless you’ve been very careless.
Combat Is King
Which leads me to arguably the best part of Death’s Door, its combat. I could throw many adjectives around to describe it, but I can easily sum it up as snappy and satisfying.
There’s a crispness to combat in Death’s Door, where each dodge and attack responds in exactly the way you want it to. It’s simple too, where actions are limited to a few buttons that won’t test your finger dexterity too much.
The fodder run-of-the-mill enemies in Death’s Door have a simplistic nature to them – they’re not too tough to beat and die in a couple of hits. However, there’s no real way to cheese or stagger your opponents, turning battles into something that always keeps you on your toes because you can’t interrupt any of their actions. You can’t even block, which forces you to control your aggression, calculate your moves, and choose the right time to strike.
Most combat sequences throughout the level will be punctuated by waves of enemies that you’ll need to conquer before you can advance. Things can get hectic at times, but the encounters never feel unfair. Difficulty in Death’s Door is almost perfect – a bit challenging for those expecting something “easy” but not hard enough to throw your controller at the screen.
Bosses are big and grand, well-designed encounters that employs patterns that are quite easy to read but will require probably a few tries to get right. As mentioned, none of these challenges (even the bosses) feel unfair, making the victory a satisfying one to get because it rewards your skill and not some cheesy strategy.
Kill enough enemies and gather enough souls to upgrade your abilities, giving you an edge in battle. There aren’t any complicated skill trees here in Death’s Door, as the game goes for the rather linear approach of “increase move speed” or “increase magic attack”, with multiple levels per ability.
On the Switch, performance ran at 30fps, which is fine for the most part. There were some drops here and there, but nothing too bad to ruin the experience, especially during heavy combat sequences. Loading times are a bit lengthy, as you can expect (around 10++ seconds), but very tolerable for the kind of game.
What We Liked:
- Simple formula but executed to near perfection
- Fast and snappy controls
- Challenging but never unfair
What We Didn’t Like:
- All good things come to an end, with a rather short campaign
- Performance slightly limited by Switch hardware
Verdict: Buy It!
Death’s Door is a good example of a game that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but instead polishes it heavily and puts out a clean and satisfying experience that makes it a must-play.
Considering that the game was the project by a team of two talented devs, Death’s Door gets things just right, especially the difficulty, which is just the right amount of challenging without being unfair for the player.
Acid Nerve has kept it simple all throughout, and the game is arguably better for it, trimming a lot of excess fat and giving players a lean 10-hour package that’s a good time from start to finish.
Death’s Door is now available for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, Switch, and PC.