Open Death’s Door
I’ve been interested in Death’s Door for a while. Both because of the visual style and the fact it’s being published by Devolver Digital. And though I had some past experience with Acid Nerve, and found Titan Souls compelling, I also felt it was poorly balanced. But still, I was willing to take a chance on their latest game. Not only is Death’s Door much, much better than I was anticipating, it frankly has no right to be this damned good.
The first thing that excited me about Death’s Door was when I realized how much it was inspired by the likes of Zelda. But not some Breath of the Wild open world nonsense. This is classic Zelda, just how I like it. Though it also has a bit more Souls difficulty than fans may be accustomed to. But the neatest trick about the game is it’s so well balanced, I didn’t even get frustrated when I died. Which reminds me of another game I admire, The Binding of Isaac.
Though Death’s Door isn’t a giant open world, nor is it entirely linear. It almost plays like a Metroidvania, with your plucky Crow gradually getting new abilities to not only aid in combat, but open up new paths. In the demo itself, that consisted primarily of a fire spell I acquired. This let me light cobwebs on fire and kindle great furnaces. The other main tool used for puzzles was my trusty bow and arrow. Though it technically had unlimited ammo, there was a catch. It could only shoot four arrows before it had to be reloaded. This was done simply by slashing an object or foe with my sword. Even though I didn’t get more tools in the preview, it’s clear there’s at least a couple more you’ll eventually acquire.
Now, since you play an avian Reaper, your main goal is to find Giant Souls and bring them back to the Hall of Doors. Your mission quickly goes awry after you find your first one, a giant demonic plant boss. Right as you’re about to bring home the bacon, someone knocks you out and takes the soul from you. Since you can’t return without it, you’re quickly forced to adapt and figure out what’s going on.
Eventually I came upon a wizened Crow with a goal. He’s trying to open up the titular Death’s Door. He stole your quarry to force you to open the door for him. To pry it open, you’ll need to find 3 Giant Souls first. In the preview, you only face one such boss, but there’s also no shortage of other bosses. I faced a handful in my time with this build, and that’s not including gauntlets of minor foes or mini bosses. Each and every boss was totally different, from gigantic angry castles to the aforementioned plant and many others besides. My favorite was the boss fight against the Witch of Urns. She’s a demented Baba Yaga style spellcaster, and the entire fight revolves around her creative use of ceramics.
When you aren’t fighting bosses, you’re unlocking the path forwards by solving puzzles and clearing rooms full of nasty critters. They’re all delightfully strange, from winged menaces to monsters with pots for heads, gooey slime creatures and rolling foes with stone faces strapped to their backs. There’s no shortage of creativity here. In a weird way, Death’s Door kind of reminds me stylistically of Studio Ghibli. Foes are strange, wonderful and powerful. And since a handful of hits will take you out, you need to be careful. Luckily you’ll find magical seeds you can plant to harvest healing plants, which fully heal you.
The HUB area is the Hall of Doors, a sort of bureaucratic purgatory painted solely in black and white. There you can spend souls to upgrade your Reaper, as well as accessing phantasmal doors to any area you’ve previously opened. This helps avoid unnecessary backtracking, and is another reason I so enjoyed my time with the game. You’ll also occasionally find hidden and dangerous corners of the Hall of Doors, including one area that had a sort of gauntlet. It had me face wave after wave of dangerous foes, and then rewarded me with a fire spell. I also got to meet the lock-headed Lord of Doors, who is quite strange. It’s clear there’s a fascinating and obscure plot at work here, and I cannot wait to discover more.
I quickly got the hang of the combat, which is both fluid and intuitive. Your Crow can slash his sword, shoot arrows / cast spells and do more powerful charged attacks. You also have a nifty dodge roll that can surprise foes with a rolling slash. You’ll even find some projectiles can be deflected back at foes with your sword. It’s good the controls are so polished, since you’ll need a firm grasp on them to survive. Death’s Door is not easy, and that goes double for the dynamic boss fights. But rooms with waves of foes aren’t any pushover either, and I got my first death courtesy of one such encounter.
It may seem like I’ve been talking about Death’s Door for a long time, and the simple reason is the preview was shockingly large. I expect most demos to be maybe a half hour to an hour. I spent 3 hours getting through this preview, and enjoyed every minute of it. Not only is the game challenging and beautiful, but it’s full of strange humor. It’s clear to me Acid Nerve has learned a lot of positive lessons since they made Titan Souls, and I’m eager to see where this story goes when it releases July 20th. If you’re interested, stay tuned to HPP and be sure to check out the official website.