Death’s Door Review: Worth Crowing About
Devolver Digital has made quite the name for itself in recent years by publishing some of the most distinctive, clever, and fun indie games around. Their bent toward quirky, strange, and darkly humorous has served the company well, and all those qualities are on full display in Death’s Door, developed by Acid Nerve.
An isometric action/adventure in the land of the dead with a crow as its lead, this is a delightful mix of oppressive workplace comedy alongside gorgeous flights of fancy to landscapes that would feel very much at home in a Tim Burton creation.
Death’s Door Review: Worth Crowing About
It's a shame the game is only currently available on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Death’s Door is the kind of indie gem that would have shined during Sony’s grand PS3 era, a time when they still made quirky, inventive indie and experimental-minded games.
Death's Door blends wonderfully the tone and character design found in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice with the gameplay template of the Twinsen’s Odyssey/Little Big Adventures from the height of 90s-era PC gaming (which, if you’re unaware, is a very high compliment indeed).
Players take the role of a soul-reaping crow, employed by the offices of the great beyond to, well, reap souls and enable the departed to pass on to wherever they might go next. As it turns out, this job (while dutifully mystical) is also a bureaucratic hell all its own.
The game opens in the dull gray expanse of the crow’s office grounds. There’s a rigid, depressing nerve laid bare as other agents slave away at desks, strange characters lurk on the outskirts, and almost no one is helpful in the least. In short, it’s just like a real-life government job!
Your immediate task is to capture a large and powerful soul that needs to be brought back for processing. This means going out to locations in the material plane and dealing with a range of obstacles, characters, puzzles, and deadly situations. The contrast between the office and the rest of the universe is immediately striking.
There’s color out there and life, even if much of it wants to end yours. Of course, simple tasks get complicated, and soon our stalwart worker bird is on a grand and grim adventure.
The slanted overhead camera view of the 3D landscapes lets you enjoy the surprisingly detailed, yet fairly simple architecture and character designs. The visual style isn’t quite claymation-like, but it still has that sort of panache. The score works exceptionally well with the game’s visuals, action, and themes, moving from mysterious, moody passages to exciting combat music with soothing exploration tunes in between.
As the crow, you’ll have access to a number of tools for survival. For one thing, this reaper is well-armed for their journey with a sword and bow to start. As the adventure continues, new weapons and spells are discovered, such as speedy dual daggers, a hefty smashing hammer, and, oddly, an umbrella.
The bow can be changed out with other distance attacks like fireballs, and using the right tool for the job is key to solving puzzles.
The crow can roll to dodge, but otherwise can’t jump or fly, which seems odd given its general birdness. There are switches to hit, keys to find, moving platforms to ride, narrow ledges to cross, and other mainstays of platforming and adventure games.
There’s also a heavy focus on combat. Frequently, you’ll have to battle a slew of spawning enemies to unlock gates, and these sequences can be incredibly challenging.
The game will throw cloddish, lunging zombie-like fodder at you, while range-based enemies fire at you beyond them. Some enemies can teleport, others are heavily armored tank-like beings that can crush your limited hit points easily.
Enemies that launch explosive attacks can be used against other baddies if you’re quick enough, and the variety of different monster types ensures you'll always change up attack strategies.
One area of frustration is the game's stingy placement of waypoints. Magical doors will appear at a few spots in each different world, which allow you return to the office to buy ability upgrades (using collected souls as currency). If you die, the game starts you back at the last door you found and there are some passages (especially when moving toward each of the three main end bosses) where dying results in a lot of repeated backtracking.
That aside, boss fights are quirky and entertaining, the overall combat is fun and frantic, and general exploration is made worthwhile with plenty of treasures to find.
One of the best aspects of Death’s Door, however, is the slyly-written story. The farther you go into this world, the more layers are revealed — and things are much more complex than the typical binary morality of most action games.
The characters are fascinating, too, as is the story of how the crow’s own organization helped enable the main bosses to thrive and amass power and immortality. The game’s writing, like the visuals, manages to successfully move between the darkly tragic and the humorously absurd in measured, thoughtful ways.
Death’s Door Review — The Bottom Line
- Lovely visuals and soundtrack create a fascinating world to explore
- Fun and challenging combat is fun and challenging
- Entertaining puzzles and exploration
- Thoughtful, well-written story and characters
- Sometimes stingy with waypoints leading to frustrating back-tracking
- Combat rooms can be a bit overwhelming at times
Taking somewhere around 8-10 hours to finish, Death’s Door is a macabre journey well worth taking. The combat is generally simple but excellent, the world is fascinating, and the characters are memorable.
[Note: Devolver Digital provided the copy of Death's Door used for this review.]