Title: Death's Door
Developer: Acid Nerve
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Atmosphere is a vague yet undeniable determining factor in the lasting impressions emitted by any piece of media, and video games are no different. Whether it be somber and morose or jovial and inviting, the tone is the crux of atmosphere, and the Devolver Digital published Death’s Door exemplifies this vein of gaming impact all too prominently. While Death’s Door’s combative design decisions are uninspired and rudimentary, its area layouts, soundtrack, and mood are what truly define this adventure and make it a worthwhile investment.
Death’s Door has players take control of a nameless Crow who has the arduous job of reaping souls. However, one of its assigned Souls gets stolen, initiating a course of events leading to reluctant adventure. The Crow is one of many in an organization of other Crows who also reap and perform other tasks such as tracking down the locations of requisite souls and alchemizing souls into stat increases. Truthfully, the organization’s existence is a minor, mostly non-intrusive factor of the job as it acts as a convenient hub more than anything else. Whenever exploring the various lands, there are doors players come across that, once activated, act as fast travel points leading back to headquarters.
While seemingly minor, the fast travel doors continually and gradually being added to the hub area throughout the course of the game grants a genuine sense of satisfying progression other than simply growing stronger. They also provide substantial convenience since unlocked abilities open paths in priorly passed areas akin to a Metroidvania.
As for the areas themselves, they tend to be both aesthetically and mechanically unique. One of the areas, for instance, requires the destruction of a specific number of pots to unlock doors, and reaching said pots requires lite puzzling and region comprehension. Understanding the layout of the maps is certainly where I derived the most thrill and fulfillment, but that isn’t to say the combat is uninteresting.
While I did remark the combat as uninspired earlier, that doesn’t necessarily equate to it being thoughtless. For example, enemies all have transparent telegraphs, which is a fundamental hooking point for continuous fighting. Additionally, there tend to be groups of varying enemies placed together in encounters to prevent the possibility of combat potentially growing dull.
This serves to make the movement as vital as identifying when to strike particular foes is paramount to success. Projectiles also play an intriguing role since they can usually be deflected with a swing of the equipped weapon. I appreciated this functionality as it encourages a more aggressive and hands-on approach to defeating foes rather than making it a constant cat and mouse game of endless dodging.
The Crow initially wields a sword, though other weapons are obtainable. The act of combat is identical regardless of the tool. In addition to the standard combo that can be performed, there is a charge attack with decent range and power. It can also be immediately performed following a dodge roll, prioritizing proper positioning and enemy reading.
The final notable mechanic is ranged tools that come in the form of arrows and magic like fire. Using ranged techniques requires a brief charge time and a bar located right below the Crow’s health. Bars are recovered each time a physical hit is landed, which occasionally grants a required modicum of thought, but sparsely so. Each time a physical hit lands, a bar is recovered, regardless of whether it’s an enemy that gets struck or not, so environmental objects like mushrooms or crates also refill them. This is a perplexing design choice since it necessitates the question of why even bothering to include these skill bars in the first place.
The only occasions where this mechanic is mildly thought-provoking is in the midst of boss battles since the lack of environmental objects can’t allow for a free-for-all of ranged skill usage. I feel like this idea could have used more fine-tuning to make it more of a constant mental process of executing rather than a spam fest of easily obtainable ‘ammunition.’
The narrative and dialogue are some of this experience’s high points, with charm and wit being exuded by several characters, as well as a gloomy sense of humor that rightfully accompanies the dreary landscapes. Furthermore, the backstory behind select characters can be genuinely moving. This contrast of hilarity and graveness is balanced unquestionably well.
By far, the most impressive facet of Death’s Door has to be its absolutely wondrous soundtrack. As noted prior, this title expertly crafts its atmosphere and tone, and the music is the primary tool for making that happen. Despite the presence of a headquarters with fellow Crows, the circumstances of the main story and the continually monster-infested maps contribute to an undeniable and omnipresent sense of loneliness. The soundtrack embraces this despondency masterfully, as each song can best be summated as tragic whimsy. Aside from the locations being visually engaging and stand out, the tracks only add to their identity, thereby supplying the lasting impact this game can potentially employ to players.
The title is polished incredibly well and performs smoothly, though I occasionally faced one head-scratching dilemma. There are instances where progression is locked behind forced enemy encounters, and there were a few instances where I would get hit during a brief scene concluding the fight due to a projectile hitting me while the scene occurred. Hopefully, this issue is addressed because, while rare, it does cause needless frustration and worry, especially if one is not particularly close to a fast travel point.
Death’s Door breathes some life into the generalized umbrella of action-adventure titles thanks to its efficient level design coupled with simple to grasp yet enjoyable mechanics. While a few factors, such as the ranged skill usage bar, are questionable in execution, the game’s flow and pace are never significantly hindered from ruining the experience as a whole. Furthermore, the dreary thematic tones exuded by the loneliness of the varied explorable sections alongside the appealing characterizations and dialogue also serve to make Death’s Door an assuredly exceptional time for those feeling even remotely curious.
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