Video Game Reviews

Death’s Door Review: Beyond the Threshold

Death’s Door is an isometric action-adventure hack-n-slash game developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital.

In the game, you play as an anthropomorphized crow who acts as a “Reaper” for Reaping Commission headquarters. 

Just working that nine-to-five

His job is to collect the souls of those unwilling to pass on, and he’s just been given a commission to collect the Giant Soul of someone who has clung onto life for far too long.

The crow’s job is made more difficult when the Giant Soul is stolen and sent beyond Death’s Door.

So, to retrieve his commission, the crow will have to collect three more Giant Souls in an effort to open Death’s Door. Unfortunately, the three Giant Souls in question belong to a terrifying witch, a self-styled king, and a raging beast.

This is a game I’d heard about periodically through 2021, but never really gave much thought until I saw it on several “Best of 2021” lists from some sources that I consider reputable (for whatever that’s worth). 

Well, I bought Death’s Door, and while I don’t quite think It lived up to the hype (but like, very few things ever do,) I do think that it was a very worthwhile game in many ways.

So, if you were on the fence about this particular title, hopefully, I can provide you with whatever piece of evidence you need to justify the purchase or ignore it completely.

Concise Combat

One of the things that Death’s Door has going for it is combat. The animations are smooth, the controls are responsive, and it feels great to play — which is fortunate, as this makes up the brunt of the game’s actual gameplay.

You start off with four simple moves:

  • Attack
  • Charged Attack
  • Ranged Attack
  • Dodge roll

That’s it.

What’s amazing is how well those four moves are used. Sure, at some point you get some new weapons, and a couple of pretty useful spells, but the basic moves were implemented so perfectly that you don’t need anything else to defeat your enemies. 

To help this combat system stand out is the way health is handled. You start off with four pieces of health, and every time you’re hit, you lose one of them. This means you really have to master the four basic moves to stay alive. 

To add to this need for mastery, you can only heal your character by going through a door back to the reaping commission (basically your checkpoints) or by planting life seeds in pots scattered around the world. This makes conserving health paramount in combat-heavy sections since the only way to heal any damage is to either go back to a door or previous flowerpot (which can only be used once per life), or to continue onward and hope that there is a flowerpot in your not-so-distant future.

The only thing that stands between you and oblivion.

My only gripe with combat was the dearth of enemy types. There are only a handful of unique enemy types, and while most get slightly more complex the further you get into the game, they are still the same basic enemies.

Labyrinthian Levels

Some games are so on the rails that you move forward and never look back. Others offer sprawling open worlds to explore at your leisure. Others still, allow you to go through certain tougher segments of the game, only to offer you a shortcut on the other side, so that you never have to experience the hell of going back through the same area again. 

Death’s Door uses this last style of level design, but not in a fun way… or even in an “Oh, thank god, a shortcut” way like the majority of the From Software games. No, Death’s Door opted for levels that look like they were designed using an old Snake game. The levels twist and turn, constantly running alongside, over, under, or indeed sometimes through themselves in confusing and frustrating ways.

Now, I’ve played games for a long time, so making an internal map of a game, even if none is offered, is second nature to me. However, Death’s Door had me questioning my every move.

This is partially because of the almost inane number of shortcuts you can open. Seriously, it felt like every other moment I was pulling a lever to open a closed gate, or blowing up a wall to a previous section. 

While this did allow me to get around segments I’d already played through — which let me hold onto precious health — the majority of the time I found myself sort of muddling through and hoping that I was heading in the right direction.

This looks right… probably.

Also, this whole style of level design started to feel tedious at the halfway mark and then became mind-numbing near the end.

Noteworthy Narrative  

The story in Death’s Door is an interesting one. It involves death and its place in the natural order of things, as well as the will to live. 

So, not the cheeriest of topics

However, Acid Nerve managed to handle it with enough humor to offset its heavy nature, but not so much as to be distracting or undercut the main theme.

In fact, without the humor, you would basically have an isometric From Software game. So, it was good that they kept the humor front and center throughout the game. 

Now, this being a combat-centric game, the story did end up being relatively simple, even with such heavy and complex themes. However, the developers did a fair job of balancing the story and combat all the same. They used impromptu encounters with bosses preceding the actual fights to give you small pieces of story. They even had a couple of locations and NPCs that provided exposition on the back end of the game to even things out. 

Would I have liked to see more of the story? Sure. But what I got was enough for a short hack-n-slash-style game.

Artful Aesthetics

The art style of Death’s Door is what…

like, tied the whole thing together, man.

Basically, the art style worked synergistically with the story, humor, and gameplay, to create an experience that felt whole in a way that most games aim for, but few achieve. 

It’s not often that it happens, but this time the art was one of the main reasons I decided to purchase this title. It was clean, stylized, adorable, and worked very well with the isometric camera style. There was even some use of colors and negative space that I really appreciated, especially during a couple of the ending boss fights.

One aspect of the overall look that I hadn’t anticipated was the way the developers would use perspective and focus to give the game an incredibly unique feel.

For example, when you’re up on top of something higher up, things under you begin to lose focus pretty quickly, making a good portion of the game feel like you’re looking in on a miniature world… which is, I guess, what all video games kind of are.

Opportune Outro

Overall, Death’s Door is a solidly good game. The combat is simple, smooth, and feels good even when fighting through the same segment for the twentieth time. The story, while a little stunted, was interesting, funny, and handled the heavy subject matter with a deft hand. And, the art tied everything up in a neat little bow. 

Unfortunately, there was something about this game that I cannot put into words. Everything was pretty on point, so I have no excuse as to why I’m giving it a 7.5/10…

Oh wait, now I remember. After you beat the game, you can get an item that opens up the ability to acquire more items, which are required to unlock the game’s true ending.

Usually, I’m all for secrets and extra content. The issue is that one of the items requires you to acquire and plant every life seed in the game, and if I hadn’t made it clear, I had a hard time finding my way around 

…I also saved about 15 of the seeds thinking I might need them later, and I had no idea which pots I’d planted in and which ones I had not. Meaning I had to go through the entirety of the game’s map a second time looking for any stupid pots I hadn’t planted in.

So, if you care about finding all of a game’s secrets, you might enjoy this game more if you go through the first time and PLANT EVERY SEED YOU FIND!! 

I guess if you don’t care about getting the true ending, then it’s probably more of an 8.5 to 9/10.

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