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Death’s Door Review

First Impressions

Presentation

The small reaper crow that I controlled was a tiny unimposing presence on the screen compared to the vast towers and giant enemies that I would need to conquer. The ominous atmosphere and haunting soundtrack added to the overall somber feeling shared by the reaper and I. The enemies and environments are all interesting and memorable, and all the while the reaper’s weapons shine a pleasing contrast to the death-filled setting. Death’s door nails its tone throughout the game. Its Studio Ghibli-inspired characters shine and although the setting may feel ominous like a Souls game (and of course even has the player reaping souls) it offers enough brightness and playfulness that makes it so much more approachable to a casual audience.

Initial Thoughts

Death’s doors movement, combat, and puzzles were all intuitive and addicting from the start. It is a special experience. From the first very early boss fight this game grabbed my attention and never let go. I was interested in the story, I was committed to leveling up my combat skills, I wanted to uncover all the secrets that this game had to offer, and all the while I was challenged by its tight and engaging combat.

Gameplay

Combat

The combat in this game is the glue that holds it all together. Not only do the simple combat controls of slashes, heavy attacks, dodge rolls, and ranged attacks feel like second nature from the start, but each enemy is unique and forced me to shift my strategy just enough to keep me absorbed each moment. The mechanic of earning back ranged attack “ammo” by performing a melee attack forced a beautiful ebb and flow into each fight of coming in and out of a scramble of enemies to stay safe and continue to deal damage. Having four hit points may also sound like the reaper is fragile from the start, but it was enough to allow me to make mistakes while still forcing me to learn and grow as I went in order to stay alive. The smartly placed health pots that can be reused each death also made it so I rarely felt hopeless.

The combat starts pretty simple, and it does not get more complicated. I could see wanting a bit more combat options, combo moves, special skills etc. but the simplicity really allows this game to be so approachable. And it allows players to focus on learning the different enemy types and their patterns in order to improve while knowing from the start everything that the reaper is capable of.

The difficulty really felt right, as it offered a challenge that forced me to die many times, but unlike in Souls games, nothing is lost when a player fails, so it is not punishing – just challenging. The player is simply transported back to their most recent door upon death and allowed to try again.

Combat especially shines in the boss fights, which made me study the unique giant’s movements and attacks and allowed me to come out victorious only when I had mastered the enemy and performed at my peak.

Level Design and Exploration

The level design was the arguably the most brilliant part of this game, even if I didn’t recognize it at first. Dungeons were deep and sprawling. Dying and being forced back to the door at the beginning of the level could feel aggravating, but it never does. Instead, after taking the only path through hordes of enemies and winding from left back to the right, I would come to a point where I could open a passage back to beginning of the level. I would then die, but not have to repeat the slog through the initial enemies. This would happen again and again and level to level I would continue to unlock new paths though the stage that opened up in more and more interesting ways.

The campaign is linear, though there are always more paths and hidden rooms to be discovered. There is no map or waypoint, so I did feel a little lost at times, but I felt a sense of accomplishment when I began to learn the map and memorize where I was and where I needed to go, and that was a big part of the experience. Thankfully the settings were colorful and memorable with eye-catching landmarks and some helpful signs that all aided my journey in conquering the map. This can be contrasted to Hollow Knight, where when I was without a map I felt absolutely useless as it was too dark and the environments were too one-dimensional to easily grasp where I was.

Players are welcomed and encouraged to backtrack to past levels as the story progresses, as new abilities will allow new secrets to be uncovered. This is not a novel concept but it is rare that it comes together so addictively and the developers knew just how much to show me of the level to intrigue me to returning again and again to uncover it all.

Progression and Puzzles

Players progress through the story by defeating enemies and opening more doors while unlocking three additional ranged weapons that will double as keys to get to the next bosses. This simple formula can seem to grow predictable by the end, though every time I thought I had seen all there was to see, I uncovered a deeper secret or another rabbit hole that kept me going.

There are many collectibles in the game from the souls currency used to buy combat improvements, to the seeds used to plant in life plots, to the shiny objects that will adorn the reaper’s desk, to the shrine gems that increase life and vitality, to even more secrets waiting to be uncovered. In the end I was more interested in finding some secrets more than others, but the puzzles and secret passageways leading to collectibles in the late game kept me just as engaged as the combat. Nitpicking: I do wish that the post-game contained a few more opportunities to battle and utilize all of the combat improvements that I made very late in the game.

I always love when the combat techniques also act as tools to solve puzzles, and Death’s Door does this greatly. Though, many of the secrets to be uncovered felt less like puzzles and more like hide-and-go-seek. I would catch glimpse of where I wanted to go, a shrine just off screen or a shiny object out of reach, and it would be up to me to search the surrounding area thoroughly for a secret opening or path to get me there. Early on I wished there were more “riddle-like” puzzles that were harder to solve, but these did come in the late-game and post-game.

Lasting Impressions

Story

The story of Death’s Door involves the main character – a crow – who messes up his first day on the job reaping souls and is forced onto a journey to take down three legendary giants to unlock Death’s Door and find the soul he lost. Along the way the lore of the world is slowly revealed through short quips of dialogue and though diaries left behind by lost crows. The story and the secrets behind the world were memorable and I was excited to get to the end of the game and continue to uncover more beyond that. Just like the puzzles, though, I feel like a lot of the most memorable story and character moments were reserved for the optional post-game when those moments should be experienced by all.

Takeaway

I can’t think of many complaints. This game is a masterpiece with its own creative style and it captures such an amazing epic tale of this reaper crow in such an understated and delightful way. The gameplay offers a perfectly polished 2021 version of classic 2D Zelda games while holding on firmly its own charm and identity with fresh ideas. Enemies and side characters were fascinating and help sell the story and the underlying messages underneath. I absolutely adored the combat, the collecting, and even the exploration – which is something that rarely motivates me in games. The difficulty drove me to improve while the secrets just out of reach drove me to find everything there was to discover. It is challenging and memorable while leaving me wanting more. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Pros

Tight and challenging combat

Addictive collecting and exploration

Inventive story and lore

Memorable characters and environments

Cons

None

Overall

10/10

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