Death’s Door Review – A Murder Of Crows

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After each of the challenging, climatic boss fights in Death’s Door, you’re forced to sit through a brief eulogy for the foe you’ve just slain. Sombre music plays as a gravedigger arrives to fulfill his duty, summerizing your enemy’s actions–good and bad–while also throwing in a joke or two for levity. Death’s Door doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it always finds interesting ways to make a point about the unending cycle of life and death, the pursuit of a means to unbalance that cycle, and ultimately the consequences of those actions. It’s a consistently entertaining action-adventure game with an eye-catching art style and engrossing combat, all which elevate its distinct setting into something special.

Playing as a fledgling of a commission of crows, you’re duty-bound to reclaiming the souls of those that are meant to pass onto the next life. Aided by doors that can transport you to lands near and far, you can hop between locales rapidly as you reap souls. The catch is that every crow needs to complete its task in order to halt the flow of their own life, with incomplete missions forcing you to experience that natural flow of time. When one such assignment goes poorly and your target’s soul is stolen, you’ll need to aid an old crow into opening a large, ominous door to reclaim your lost soul and, in turn, continue to live indefinitely.

Death’s Door starts strong with its introduction to the commissions, with its bleak black-and-white presentation fitting in with a strong noir theme. Colors stand out in these bureaucratic offices, with the warm glow of your weapons and the searing brightness of sparse neon signs creating a striking contrast. The rest of Death’s Door’s worlds are far more colorful but all distinct in their own ways–the dreary, muted colors of the game’s opening cemetery transform into a lush, green forest with a damp and dark temple, while the snowy white peaks of the northern mountain regions offer another opportunity for piercing bright colors from your attacks to shine through. The isometric angle of the game’s camera doesn’t limit your ability to soak in the artistic beauty of Death’s Door, which consistently had me stopping to take in the atmosphere of each new area.

Enemies are peppered throughout each of these worlds, giving you numerous opportunities to engage with Death’s Door’s simple-yet satisfying combat. You only have access to a single weapon at a time, with each one you find offering its own range, combo count, damage, and unique ability. Your starting sword is great for whacking out short three-hit combos, while lighter daggers offer less damage output but a better chance to get more hits in without needing to take a break. Attacks aren’t limited by stamina, instead simply taking a different amount of time to execute depending on their animation. It can take some time to get used to the pauses you have to take after each attack, and the lengthier ones after each combo will punish you for overextending yourself. However, these demands make combat feel purposeful–each hit you initiate needs to finish, and enemies are designed with this in mind. They routinely take one more hit to kill than you might expect, encouraging you to play around with spacing offered by your dodge. Death’s Door doesn’t feel punishing by any stretch, but it’s also a game that plays by a set of rules that don’t always allow you to feel invincible.

Death’s Door is a fairly linear adventure game, limiting your movement through its handful of hubs by the current abilities you have. Each new boss requires a new ability to reach, corresponding with the mechanics you’ll need to overcome in the eventual fight. These abilities are regularly fun to use, too, starting with a simple bow and arrow and eventually giving way to a fireball spell (which is fired with a very hadoken-looking animation), extremely useful bombs, and a satisfying hookshot that can reel you into new areas and enemies alike. Each of these abilities can be upgraded, too, should you find each of the associated challenges out in the world. They’re not required, but they can radically alter how you use each one in combat. The hookshot, for example, can be upgraded to include a deadly attack when used against enemies, letting you reel yourself in and fire off a powerful strike as soon as you connect.

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These abilities are mostly used to give you access to new areas (bombs let you blow up cracked walls, and the hookshot gives you access to new platforms as examples) but learning to combine them into your repertoire of standard attacks makes combat exhilarating. This is especially true when you’re consistently faced by a growing roster of enemies, each of which changes the ways in which you need to engage them. Some are incredibly agile, such as hunched-over beasts that can jump around you while throwing boomerangs in your direction. Others are slower but tougher to take down, such as armored knights with shields that take a couple of solid hits to finally beat. Death’s Door is at its best when it’s throwing you into combat arenas that pull from the entire roster, challenging you to get hits in where you can while also keenly identifying which enemies to take out first. It plays out like a deadly dance of dexterous dodges and opportunistic swings of the sword, giving skirmishes an elegant rhythm that’s consistently fun to fight in tune with.

Each of the hubs that you visit in Death’s Door is visually distinct and eye-catching, but its layouts are just as engaging to uncover as you explore. Each one is segmented into small sections that eventually lead to shortcuts that loop back around to the start, acting as ways to quickly get back to where you were after an untimely death. There’s a tangible feeling of relief each time you open a gate or generate a ladder that lets you cut out a challenging section, coupled with the intriguing discovery of how the entire hub you’re in folds in on itself in a clever way.

Death’s Door doesn’t feel punishing by any stretch, but it’s also a game that plays by a set of rules that don’t always allow you to feel invincible.

Understanding the layout of each level also lets you tactically plant seeds in special pots laid around, which offer the only way to regain health. Since the seeds for these are limited (and sometimes hard to find) laying out your own route for healing and identifying which sections you can risk it blends in well with how hubs have intricate layouts for you to learn, making your understanding of each route as crucial as your ability to deal with the enemies contained within them.

Although there is a very clear main path, all of Death’s Door’s hubs have numerous optional secrets for you to uncover, especially during return visits with new abilities. The standard types are there–for example, shrines that you can pray to to increase your health and magic pools, the latter of which you pull from to use your abilities–while others are optional boss fights that will upgrade your abilities. Some weapons are also only found outside of the main path, which can drastically affect your overall playstyle should you choose to seek them out or not.

Death’s Door can be challenging if you don’t take a break from its main path, especially if you find yourself struggling with the initial health pool you have. Without revisiting areas or going out of your way to look for obscure paths hidden by the game’s fixed camera view, you can quickly find yourself wishing for the ability to take one more hit during hard fights. It’s not impossible to complete the main story without this, but the adventure certainly feels tuned towards these small breaks, which can slow down the pacing in an irritating manner.

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All these secrets are still present once credits have rolled, as well as an entirely new one that lets you explore all the game’s hubs at a new time of day. This opens previously inaccessible areas and presents new combat challenges for you to undertake, giving Death’s Door a long tail after its main narrative is complete. There are areas and doors that cannot be opened without a thorough comb through of areas you might already be familiar with, revealing some hidden depth to each area that lets you appreciate its design in a new way. It can be frustrating to have to relearn the structures of some dungeons again after some time away, and the omission of an in-game map doesn’t let you quickly brush up on these areas. Despite that, if you’ve found yourself enamored with the game’s balance of exploration and combat, the additional content and draw of uncovering all that is there is a welcome addition.

With an engaging world to explore and consistently satisfying combat to keep things entertaining, it’s easy to fall in love with Death’s Door. Its premise hooks you immediately, and it has the style and the substance to maintain the captivating allure of its opening. Perhaps most importantly, it’s just consistently fun to play, with sharp enemy designs that keep you on your feet to challenging boss fights that test your skills in satisfying ways. There’s a lot of death to deal and souls to reap, but Death’s Door makes it a delight every step of the way.

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