Death’s Door triumphs at making a dangerous world you care about exploring. It’s layered and filled with many more foes than allies. It’s dreary everywhere you go, but it still finds a way to spark a sense of hope in you. Its cast of characters shines through the dark, alongside engrossing world design and combat mechanics making for an experience I just can’t let go of.
Your corporate underworld overlords have given you, a reaper, a simple mission: collect the souls of rogue spirits unwilling to pass on. This quickly goes awry when a soul you’ve reaped is stolen from you. The soul’s captor gives you a not so simple mission if you want your soul back. With this being your only chance at survival, you embark on a brutal journey across these forgotten lands to reap the most powerful souls before they become too destructive. While this journey will be harsh, your playable hero has a simple earnestness to them, and all their outright adorable mannerisms bring a sense of needed levity. Other characters like Pothead, a warrior whose head has turned into a pot full of soup, and Jefferson, a totally alive human and not actually a squid controlling a corpse. All feel like characters making the best of the circumstances they’re stuck in, which is pretty relatable in our living world turned upside down by the pandemic.
Death’s Door shares a lot of commonalities with Zelda games. Your starting weapons are a sword and bow, you also unlock bombs and a grappling hook, and there are even hidden statues you need to find four of to upgrade your health and magic. It borrows some other gameplay mechanics like collecting souls from defeated enemies and upgrading your stats back at a hub, but luckily you don’t lose your souls on death, cause this game will test your reflexes and combat skills and you’ll probably die a lot. Especially when you finally make your way to one of these major souls which culminate in an epic boss battle that’s crafted to feel intense and dramatic. But outside of taking these major mechanics and gameplay elements, the game sets out to carve its own path.
You’ll gain many tools of destruction as you progress through the game, especially if you take your time to uncover hidden items. Besides your starting sword, there’s a pair of daggers for faster but weaker strikes, and a powerful hammer that chains lightning through your enemies with its massive blows. Alongside your bow, various magic spells fill out your ranged options. If your magic gauge runs out, the only way you recharge it is by attacking enemies with your melee weapon. This makes combat a balance of knowing when to get in close so you can recharge, giving you the ability to back off when you need to and hit your enemy at range.
Another important aspect to combat and exploration is that you can only heal at certain points, you don’t have potions and aren’t picking up hearts, but rather planting seeds in pots and healing yourself at these specific points on the map. In the early goings, it did feel like some minorly frustrating backtracking to just heal, but as I got more competent in the combat and knowing where to go I felt more confident taking a few risks to travel further even if my health was low. This led to a lot of great nail-biting moments that usually paid off by unlocking a shortcut to make the whole process of exploring easier. This loop is all throughout the game enticed me even more to explore and appreciate the intricate world the developers at Acid Nerve have crafted.
I was only left wanting more after getting my 100% clear in Death’s Door, which came in at around sixteen hours. Traversing its harsh world always gave me questions and sometimes no answers. What happened here in this manor and what even darker secrets are underneath it? Where is the key to this mysterious watchtower? How is Pothead such an endearing character even though he’s stuck with a pot of soup for a head for the rest of his life? But not explicitly knowing what lied ahead only makes that world richer, pushing me to uncover whatever I can. This is one of those few games that came along and surprised me with how much I immediately fell in love with so many aspects of it. The exploration, the boss battles, the amazing score that emphasizes the epic moments, but also the smaller moments. All this makes for a game I’ll be thinking about for years to come and a new developer I’m excited to see more from.