STAFF REVIEW of Death's Door (Xbox One)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
by Josh Morgan

Death's Door Box art Some games just grab your attention from the moment you see a clip and you just know that you need to play it. Death’s Door by the small team at Acid Nerve was that game for me when the trailer debuted at E3 this year. I quickly fell in love with the art style; it showed a crow strolling around a black and white city with a bright red sword on his back. As the trailer continues you see him enter a door, and then you are introduced to the quick and snappy gameplay in colorful vibrant worlds. Immediately I knew how the visuals of the game were going to be highlighted. I knew that the black/white combo was going to be used to portray his boring life, and that once he entered doors it was going to be a colorful adventure. A lot of us gamers can relate to this, we live normal lives every day going to work or school but get us into a video game and we are whisked off into an endless possibility of adventures. Ok, so they hyped me up, but did they deliver?

In Death’s Door you play as a Reaper and your job is to collect the souls of those that are assigned to you. As the game starts you are entering your office, you interact with some co-workers and then you are given your next assignment. Sound familiar? This all feels normal, like an everyday occurrence. You can tell that this exact scenario happens every day in this little Reaper's life. Every day he shows up, every day he reaps souls. Except this time, as you are about to reap your first soul of the day, a shadowy figure intervenes, and your story really begins.

Over the course of the next 10-15 hours, you are going to unravel the mystery of why you and other crows are stuck doing the dirty work of reaping souls, and you can’t get back home until you complete your assignment. The assignment that was just stolen by the shadowy figure. You’ll meet allies, enemies and everything in between while exploring and slashing your way through dungeons. There are three main bosses that have been cheating death for years and their souls are the keys needed to unlock the truth behind what has been happening to the Reaper Agency and what secrets its shady boss, The Lord of Doors, is hiding behind his keyhole mask. Each boss has its own domain that it rules, and each of the domains have vastly different scenery, music, enemies and obstacles to overcome. For example, the first boss you go after is in a hidden mansion with ceramic pots everywhere. As you progress through the mansion, you’ll be busting pots left and right (which break with a very satisfying crash with the swing of your sword) solving puzzles and slicing up enemies. You’ll eventually make your way into the basement furnace.

The basement furnace is probably my favorite level of the game. The music in the area just slaps. Piston-like platforms move up and down to the beat of the tune, and conveyor belts move you across from platform to platform as you battle wave after wave of a variety of enemies. In the last room of the basement furnace you meet The Urn Witch, also referred to as Grandma. She greets you with “You little shit!” and then you battle for her soul. This type of humor is spread throughout the world of Death's Door, and it is refreshing to play a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. One small detail that caught me off guard was the signs that are all over the place pointing where to go. If you slash the sign in half and try to read the sign again, the top half of the words are all missing. Small details like this really add up to the whole experience. The next two domains that you explore are just as dense, funny, vibrant and full of enemies and secrets as the Urn Witch’s estate.

Combat in Death’s Door is super simple, but very very satisfying. You have a quick swipe, a heavy swipe and a jump swipe. As expected, there is a risk/reward with using the heavier attacks as they take a moment or two to set up and finish (exposing you to your enemies blows) but when landed they deal a significant amount of damage. In truth, I used the normal swipe attack the most and would only break out the heavy swipe in instances that I knew I was finishing off a foe. There are certain enemies, like Betty the rolling bag of dicks, that you do not have enough time to land those heavy blows. With her, you are better off rolling in, hitting a few small swipes, then dodging away to avoid her many attacks. But that is one of the best parts about Death’s Door, trying new methods to beat your enemies because the game does not punish you for dying, and every enemy feels beatable. You just need to use the experience of your death to learn how to do better next time.

You have 4 health bars to lose before you die, and when you die you respawn at the closest door. This is where the spectacular level design really shines. In a game like Dark Souls, you might have a long trek from the spawn point to the spot you died, but not in Death’s Door. In my many deaths, I never had to travel longer than 10 seconds to restart the fight and give it another go. It’s the perfect balance of punishment for dying, but also respecting your time enough that you aren’t fighting 20 enemies through 10 screens to get to the hard part that killed you in the first place. Only to have to repeat that 10-minute run with every respawn.

There are a handful of weapons that you will find hidden in the main open world of the Lost Cemetery, or within the smaller dungeons you traverse to find the bosses. You start out with the standard issue red Reaper Sword, and for the most part this was my go-to weapon of choice. There are smaller twin daggers which I found very useful against the enemies that were slow enough to let you chain 8 or so hits at a time. I just wish there was a way to quickly swap these weapons without having to pause the game and switch in the menus.

In addition to melee weapons, you are also given four spells to use freely. Fire, Bomb, Hookshot, and your standard issued Bow and Arrow you start the game with. Much like the health system you only have four bars to use, but you can refill those bars by performing melee attacks. You can use the D-Pad to switch spells on the fly but to cast a spell or launch an arrow, you must hold the Left Trigger and the 'B' button at the same time and the projectile launches when you release the buttons. I feel like the Left Trigger is not needed at all. Simply holding down 'B' would have been just fine.

You’ll not only use these spells to battle the many different enemies in the game, but you’ll be using them to access the insane number of hidden areas that the world has. You use the Bomb to blow up holes in walls, use the flame to light torches, and use the Hookshot to zip yourself to platforms out of reach. There are so many of these hidden spots that I had to bust out the old notepad to make notes. Since there is no in-game map (a choice I support) I had to resort to old-school tactics of pencil and paper to keep track of the areas I wanted to explore later as I unlocked new spells.

I did not want to mention the "Z" game until the very end of my review. I feel this will be the constant comparison when reviewing Death’s Door. It’s easy to say this game borrows a lot from the Zelda series, but what sets this apart for me from other Zelda clones is that for the first time in a very long time I felt like I was setting off on an adventure. Over the last week I have been taken back to the late 80's in my parents living room with a notepad and a cup of Kool-Aid running circles around the same screens over and over, looking for one more hidden secret.

Death’s Door is everything I love about gaming, and during my 15 hours or so with the game I struggled to find anything about it that I did not like. It has fantastic combat, great characters, an interesting story and the best level design that I have encountered in years. The small team at Acid Nerve has created an absolute must play, and Death’s Door tops my list of game of the year contenders in a year with some heavy hitters coming.

**Death's Door was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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