- Death's Door is a fantastic action-adventure game with smooth combat
- It's set in a grim world but quirky characters keep it lighthearted and enjoyable
- It looks great and sounds even better
- Completionists will have a great time 100%-ing it, though it won't be that easy
Death’s Door is an almost perfect action-adventure in which you play as a soul-reaping crow. You explore beautiful worlds, face swarms of enemies and giant bosses, and unlock new abilities along the way that open new hidden secrets.
While the game starts in much the same way as many of our working days do, taking the public transport to the office building, it doesn’t take long for Death’s Door to break the black-and-white barriers of bureaucracy and set you off on a hunt for souls.
You play as a small crow who is tasked with finding stray souls who refuse to pass on to the afterlife. In return for your efforts, your own expiration date gets extended for each successful contract. As soon as a new one starts, however, the sands in the hourglass start trickling down again.
Reap souls to extend your life
Sadly for our black-feathered hero, the first soul you’re tasked with capturing gets snatched by an elder crow and by tossing it into the titular Death’s Door, he sets you on an adventure through colourful worlds to find and defeat three giant souls.
These giant souls are beings who’ve been using different means to escape death and stay alive as long as possible and they won’t go down without a fight.
What I could really appreciate is how some of these pop their head in while you make your way to the inevitable boss-fight. Some will tease you or attempt to scare you off, others try to bargain or explain their motivations. It really helps make the world feel like it’s been lived in and they’re not just there to give you a challenge.
Boss-fights feel like a reward
The boss-fights are easily the highlights of the game for me. Not because the rest is disappointing, far from it, but because they change up the gameplay from a standard hack & slash to a more methodical approach where you learn their patterns, dodge out of the way and strike only when you see an opening.
The King Frog boss fight especially stood out to me, with him destroying or tilting the platform you stand on and hitting his mace to restore it and give back some breathing room.
🏆 I’ll even throw in a free hint here for achievement hunters and tell you to chuck a bomb in his mouth when he does his inhaling attack. It’s a missable achievement so forget about doing this and you’ll need to start a second playthrough. The same goes for the Witch fight and hitting her with a fire spell! – You’re welcome!
An audio-visual treat!
The Death’s Door boss encounters are also visual masterpieces, with fantastic animations and effects. You can immediately tell a lot of attention to detail went into the game even after only a short while of playing it.
Clouds cast shadows on the floor when passing overhead, defeated enemies leave broken shards or bloody prints on the floor when defeated and there are even tiny details like dropping a few feathers during a dodge-roll… And that’s just the visual side of things!
It’s downright stunning how masterful the audio has been implemented and I’m not just talking about David Fenn’s killer soundtrack, which more than deserves any praise it has been getting.
Where it gets really impressive, is when you start to notice things like the witch’s basement level moving in sync with the audio. The platforms pump along to the rhythm of the background music, making it a truly wonderful experience.
The regular enemies you face in Death’s Door are no push-overs either. You start off with 4 health crystals which means you can only afford to get hit three times and when you do, it will reset you back to the last door or the start of the level.
There are no health potions here, but you do find 50 seeds and plant pots scattered throughout the worlds and when you plant a seed, you can use it to restore all your health.
🏆 Another Achievement tip: don’t hoard them but plant the seeds right away. There is an achievement for finding all 50 of them and it will even come into play for the secret True Ending, but more on that later.
But be wary; regardless of how careful you try to play, you’ll still die a lot in Death’s Door.
Luckily it’s not as cruel as a Dark Souls game and you’ll keep all souls you collected, ready to be spent on upgrading your abilities like increased physical strength, better dodge rolls or more powerful spell attacks.
To further draw the comparison, the labyrinthine levels also get easier to navigate as you progress, with ladders extending and gates opening permanently as soon as you find the proper lever.
It’s always been magical how creating a shortcut can almost feel just as much as an achievement like unlocking new abilities.
Speaking of which…
Powerful abilities have to be earned
Much of the game’s progression relies heavily on receiving new abilities and using them well. They can all be used in combat, but first and foremost their usefulness lies in how they open new paths or help you solve puzzles.
Anyone who’s played a Zelda game will recognise some of the designs, like using your arrows and shooting through a fire to light a distant torch or blowing a hole in the cracked wall to reveal a hidden secret. Heck, the last one you’ll unlock is the famous Hookshot.
These aren’t just given to you however, you’ll have to earn them. Chest mimics will swallow you whole and inside, you’ll face challenging waves of enemies. Want to upgrade them later on? Be prepared to face even harder mid-bosses.
You also can’t rely entirely on these ranged abilities in combat. You only get a few uses out of them and to recharge your ability crystals, you need to get up close and personal with enemies and get a few physical hits in with your sword. It creates a nice risk versus reward kind of gameplay.
Getting lost isn’t very fun
While dying in combat is obviously frustrating, you usually only have yourself to blame. My major frustration with the game actually ties in with one of its strong suits, namely exploration.
It’s a well-known dopamine release when you backtrack to older regions in games with new abilities and can now reach places you couldn’t before. But with the isometric perspective hiding some paths and teasing inaccessible other ones, just outside of the camera’s reach, it can become daunting to remember all of them.
I personally kept a notebook beside me while playing, mostly because there isn’t any map that marks collectables you may have missed, but luckily a friendly squid (disguising himself as a human restaurant owner) will provide you with useful hints later on.
Death’s door never shies away from getting silly and I love that about it. From a character that has a pot for a head to the squid above pretending to be a human, the mood set by the serious topics like death and the afterlife never get too broody because the lighthearted content is equally spread throughout the game.
Hunting for upgrades
You’ll do well to hunt down all these secrets too. While the “Shiny Things” are only useful for an achievement, they also give you little bits of rewarding lore.
More importantly, you can find 16 hidden shrines, each one rewarding you with a crystal shard and four of those either increase your health or the amount of times you can use a spell.
There are even a handful of weapons you can equip, like a thunder-casting hammer, nimble and quick daggers and my personal favourite being the slow but powerful Greatsword.
🏆 Completionists however, will need to stick to the Umbrella you find at the start, as there is an achievement for only using this goofy weapon that only deals half the damage as your default sword.
But just when you think you’ve found most of the secrets and you’ve even seen the credits roll… You’re only at the halfway mark
Time for round 2
That’s right. When you finally beat the end boss of Death’s Door, you’ll notice he drops a key. The key opens a door to a belltower you couldn’t previously climb and when you strike the bell…
The world turns dark and you’re now playing at night. In some levels this will drain the water level in others it will reveal hidden platforms that you can now walk across.
If you want to find all seven tablets that open the door to the True Ending, you’ll need to retrace your steps and truly complete the game. Remember those 50 seed pots I mentioned earlier? One of the tablets is behind a door that unlocks after finding all of them.
I can see some people rolling their eyes at this, but for someone like me, the completionist path Death’s Door sets you on is one filled with rewards and I can honestly say it’s been one of the most satisfying games to try and 100%*
*As you can see in the screenshot below, this took me around 15 hours. But keep in mind a lot of that time was spent getting lost.
Final thoughts on Death’s Door
- Challenging but fun
- Incredible soundtrack
- Lots of secrets to discover
- No map or quest list
- Missable achievements
Final Score: 4.5/5
Death’s Door is an incredible showcase of what an indie studio can accomplish given the right tools. It combines elements from well-known series like The Legend of Zelda or Dark Souls but throws this into a mix that truly stands on its own as a unique experience. It will push you to your limits, but so rewarding that you’ll always want to keep trying to succeed.
The moment-to-moment gameplay feels fantastic, the quirky characters keep the tone from getting too grim, and the perfect marriage of visual attention to detail and the stellar soundtrack make this an easy game to recommend.
Death’s Door costs €19.99 and is available on PC and Xbox consoles. While it’s not exactly pushing the Xbox Series X console to its limits, it looks, plays and sounds fantastic and should be considered a must-play for every owner of the console.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by the publisher.