Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Death's Door (XBS, XB1, PC) Review

SuperPhillip Central rides into the second half of August with a wide roster of new reviews to share. Starting off is the sensational Zelda-styled Death's Door from Devolver Digital and Acid Nerve. Just how good is it? Let's find out with the SPC review!

You'll definitely want to knock, knock, knock on Death's Door.

Shovel Knight, Celeste, Hollow Knight, Hades - what do these games have in common? Well, in this writer and reviewer's opinion, they're some of the greatest breakout games from the indie scene and some of the best games released in their given years. If it's not too presumptuous to say, I think Devolver Digital and Acid Nerve's latest title, an isometric Zelda-style action-adventure game, Death's Door may just be worthy enough to be included to this roster of aforementioned awesomely impressive indie games. 

Death's Door sees you playing as an unnamed crow, a Reaper, tasked with harvesting the soul of a monster. Upon defeating the monster you're ordered to take down, the soul is abruptly stolen from you. Your adventure thus sees you not only needing to get that soul back, but also needing to acquire three souls from all ends of the world to unlock the titular Death's Door. 

Ah, this must be the fabled Death's Door. So THAT'S why the game is called what it is!

As for the world of Death's Door, it's inhabited by characters both eccentric and charming. This is countered by a solemn, foreboding world. By no means is it depressing or makes for a chore to play - it just has its own feel to it, and it feels rather unsettling in a good way. Myriad secrets hide within the world to explore, many of which cannot be obtained right away. However, through a combination of learning new magic, returning to previous areas, and much welcomed fast travel, this makes for less of a headache.

Unfortunately, on many occasions I found myself seriously wishing there was a map feature in Death's Door. For one, it was all too easy to stumble upon something I couldn't collect or somewhere I couldn't access and forget where it was when I finally had the skills available to me. In addition, getting lost - while rare - can and does happen, which a map would have assisted with heavily.

Like any well-crafted adventure, there is a wide assortment of colorful characters to discover.

Regardless, Death's Door's world had me exploring decrepit cemeteries, visiting the garden and subsequent estate of a witch, and journeying through the forest. Each area distinguishes itself from the other in splendid fashion, offering plenty of points of interests, intriguing discoveries, and varied enemies to keep the experience not just fresh but one that you'll want to keep going through to see what you'll uncover next.

I spoke briefly about discoveries and secrets in Death's Door's world, and there is a multitude of things to stumble upon. Souls from defeated enemies and found in 100 soul increments in the wild can be used to purchase increased stats, such as stronger physical attacks, stronger magical attacks, better evasion and speed, and decreased charging time. Life seeds are scattered around the world, and these can be planted in special pots to instantly grow into life-restoring plants. However, these pots only have a one-time use, and then they're no longer available unless you return to the hub world or worse, perish in battle. Thankfully for the latter, death isn't too punishing, generally placing you back at the last door you exited from. Considering doors are placed in close proximity to the central area of dungeons and areas, it's nothing much to get aggravated over. 

Apart from souls and life seed, there are a multitude of collectible items and weapons that serve as a means to get 100% completion in the game. These are enjoyable to find, sometimes requiring a bit of sleuthing and extra exploration to uncover. Finally, shrines can be stumbled upon, rewarding either a vitality or magic shard. Collecting four of either increases your crow's health and magic by a point respectively. 

Things can get chaotic quite quickly within Death's Door's world. Stay sharp!

You'll need all of these goodies to survive the harsh world of Death's Door. The game can be quite challenging, though by no means an impossible struggle. Enemies require deft dodging, smart attacking, and patience to overcome, especially when engaged in groups, something that happens constantly during the game's Avarice trials. These trials serve as a means to earn new magic.

Magic is used not only to defeat foes, but also solving puzzles and just making progress in Death's Door in general. From lighting torches with the flame spell, to blowing up baddies and cracked walls with the bomb spell, there are four magic spells to earn within the 7-10 hour runtime of the game. Much like how healing works in the game, the way magic recovery works in Death's Door is different than most games, though nowhere near as fickle as healing your health. Instead, all it takes is dealing damage to objects and enemies to restore magic energy. 

The earliest magical ability our avian ally obtains is that of aiming and shooting arrows.

Death's Door has a pretty straightforward but super satisfying gameplay loop. You venture through a new corner of the world, you push through areas, finally reaching the "dungeon" of sorts, find four lost crow souls to send to the afterlife, thus opening a door that leads to Avarice, learn a new magic, use that magic to progress to the next area, battle the boss, take their soul, move to the next area to repeat the process. Written out that way, it sounds a bit more involved than it is, and a bit more mundane at that. Don't be mistaken, though, it's immensely enjoyable. 

One of the early bosses in Death's Door, and one heck of a welcome to the game's world.

The environments within Death's Door are positively stunning. They look wondrous, and the art style and design make each stand out wonderfully. They're insanely impressive to look at, and I found myself sometimes distracted - but in a good way as I didn't really mind - during battles and exploration because of how gorgeous they looked. The game runs at a steady frame-rate, and is smooth as the slice from Death's scythe. One important aspect of Death's Door's presentation that I cannot boast about enough is the soundtrack. Oh my goodness, is it fantastic. It's full of dramatic, well composed, masterfully performed orchestral music that fits the vibe of the game splendidly. I went ahead and purchased the album from the composer's Bandcamp page immediately after beating the game. That's how much I enjoyed it.

Really, that's how much I enjoyed Death's Door, without any hesitation taking a second play-through of the game to sweep up the missing achievements I needed. What Acid Nerve crafted with Death's Door is nothing short of phenomenal. This Zelda-like game with an isometric perspective and bleaker, harsher world is one that I wholeheartedly recommend. Exploration is enjoyable, combat is challenging and rewarding, and the presentation is a sight (and sound) to behold. Prepare yourself for a fantastic adventure, as that's exactly what you'll receive with Death's Door.

[SPC Says: A-]

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