Sometimes greatness comes not from something new or groundbreaking, but from a fantastic iteration on what's come before. Besides Death Door's story and characters, it doesn't bring much that's new to the table... but it does everything so well that it's earned a permanent place on my shelf of games I bug everyone about until they play.
It’s no secret I’m obsessed with Dark Souls, and I can’t help comparing every action RPG I play to FromSoft’s influential series. After doing this for years, I’ve finally figured out why I love Miyazaki’s games so much. For a title to compete with Dark Souls, it needs the following: meaningful exploration, challenging but fair combat, and NPCs that say strange things and then laugh. Therefore, I’m very pleased to report that, despite not being directly influenced by my favorite series, developer Acid Nerve’s newest offering has all of these things in spades.
In Death’s Door, you play as an adorable little crow who works as a Reaper, harvesting the souls of beings whose time it is to die. Things quickly go awry, however, and you end up having to venture through a land where creatures live far beyond their years, growing larger and more powerful than they ever had a right to. Naturally, you’ll need to kill these creatures, and collect their overgrown giant souls. In your travels, you’ll meet strange NPCs, discover secrets, unlock shortcuts, and learn more about why there’s all these magic doors everywhere.
Acid Nerve has drenched Death’s Door in style. The music strikes the perfect balance between innocuous and interesting, and always seems to fit the environment. The NPCs you meet are funny and weird. Each area has a beautiful pallet of colors and textures, with enemies to match. The way fallen leaves are brushed aside by the little feet of your crow is incredibly satisfying, and I often found myself detouring just to run through them.
Another way in which Death’s Door has style is in its bare-bones HUD. Instead of HP bars, there’s an in-universe visual indicator for damage done to bosses and regular enemies. On many foes, this takes the form of pink cracks growing and thickening, while an enemy with a pot for a head might chip and lose pieces as it takes damage. It really adds to the immersion factor, and it just looks cool, too.
Exploration is also expertly handled. Simple yet clear environmental cues let you know where the paths lie, making it easy to navigate the isometric environments from a fixed camera angle. There are secrets to find almost everywhere, whether it be a small chunk of change or a more significant upgrade, so it never feels like a waste of time to explore every nook and cranny.
The post-death runs back to a section or a boss are fairly forgiving, and the clever healing system might be Death Door’s greatest innovation: You can choose to put one of a finite number of seeds in a pot to grow a once-per-life heal there. These pots are scattered around the levels, in locations that vary in their utility. The fact that the seeds are a limited resource gives a false sense of scarcity, but I ended up with plenty of Life Seeds by the end. The design of the healing pots makes each seed feel precious, but never ends up being too punishing.
Ok, that’s 2 out of 3. What about the combat? While this should come as no surprise given the skill with which the rest of the game is crafted: it’s awesome. It takes all the best parts of games like Hyper Light Drifter and Hades, and strips it down to a clean, smooth, and readable version that I think is the best take on isometric combat yet. All the enemy moves are easy to discern, your powers feel satisfying to use, and there are no sections of the game that will make you say “that’s bullshit!” and throw your controller (unless you’re just that kind of player).
The way weapons and upgrades are handled is also simple yet satisfying. With the possible exception of the umbrella (I still haven’t figured out what it’s really for), all the weapons feel useful and different. You can get away with using your standard sword the whole game, but there are low-range, fast weapons and some bigger, slower ones as well. The discerning player might find that different enemies and areas are easier to handle with a specific weapon, but I confess I stuck to sword and big sword almost exclusively.
Upgrades are not weapon specific, but instead cover a handful of general stats for your little Reaper, from Haste (which makes you move and roll faster) to Strength (which makes you do more damage with all your weapons). This means you can freely switch to any weapon at any point, no matter your upgrade path — a great improvement over many other games, where you’re essentially locked into using a weapon once you’ve invested a certain amount of resources into it (I’m looking at you, Soulsborne games).
There’s a lot to enjoy (8-10 hours worth, approximately) in Death’s Door’s main story, but the fun doesn’t stop just because you’ve beaten the final boss. Without giving too much a way, I’ll just say that this is the probably the first game I’m going to 100%, and I bet I’ll enjoy every minute of it. Death’s Door releases today, July 20th, on PC and XBox One.
If you get stuck while making your way through Death’s Door, or just want to know where the good weapons and upgrades are at, check out our walkthrough or our other guides!
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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.