Death’s Door made the best kind of appearance at this year’s E3. A standout among the interesting lineup that publisher Devolver Digital had to offer, Death’s Door takes the disarming charm and simplicity of a Zelda title but carefully blends it with the melancholic difficulty of a Souls-like. With an added dash of irreverent animal humour for good measure. It’s the kind of game that is destined to be noticed at tradeshows, a mishmash of inspirations that media and players alike find irresistible.
But in calling upon beloved franchises for familiarity you also find yourself courting growing expectations. After all, what good is making me fondly recall the best games of the past decade if the one I’m currently playing is anything less than? Fortunately, Death’s Door rather successfully stakes its own claim, elevating its inspirations through deceptively simple combat loops and a world that begs to be pried apart. We got to play through the opening hours of the game and have come away from it crowing for more (sorry).
Death’s Door Preview
Death’s Door emerges as part of a wider trend in media to take something profound or mystical and bend it to fit a tongue-in-cheek bureaucratic setting. Disney Plus’ Loki, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy, and now Death’s Door all adapt larger than life concepts into banal office jobs and paperwork. It’s a charming concept and one that Death’s Door expertly improves upon by having the run of the mill operations fall to adorable crows, pottering about their black and white magical realm, The Hall of Doors, with a rapidly declining sense of purpose.
Your lot in life, or the afterlife I suppose, is to reap souls from a land where death has been unnaturally stopped in its tracks. As such, your job is increasingly unnecessary and the apathy that has settled over the office you share with your crow buddies is palpable. The Hall of Doors is in its flop era, basically. So when a relatively big contract comes your way, you set out with zeal to collect the soul of a rather testy botanical abomination. This is life though and the best-laid plans of crows and men go astray, propelling you on a journey to topple cosmic power structures and, hopefully, get that bread.
It’s as compelling a start to a journey as you could ask for in the genre, dropping the typical hero affair in favour of more human concerns, ironically. How it plays out remains to be seen of course and I’d be remiss to spoil some of the story beats and hints laid out in the first couple of hours of the game I had access to but Death’s Door has a steady hand with its narrative, an apparent focus for the developers who are using a relatively linear progression to guide you through the tale.
Along the way, you’ll be whisked away through magical doors to a variety of locations that feel appropriately fairytale-like. The run to the first boss of the game, a larger than life Ghibli-Esque witch whose design is just *chef kiss*, sees your crow waddle their way through a ceramics themed mansion and its surrounding gardens. Here you’ll meet an NPC who felt like a personal love letter to FromSoftware fans but with a distinct Death’s Door twist. Pothead, a lost knight cursed to have a pot for a head, guides you through the gardens, offering the kind of comfort one might expect from a man with a constant supply of warm soup for a face.
He was just one of the many characters, both friend and foe, I encountered in the opening hours of the game, all of whom were delightful and somewhat intriguing. Death’s Door‘s art direction is stellar too, a factor that brings both its minimalist settings and quirky characters to life. There are dashes of those iconic series mentioned earlier, some especially deep cuts that I personally found thrilling, but Death’s Door still manages to strike its own impression.
Perhaps most startling about Death’s Door is the size of its core development team. Acid Nerve consists of just two guys from across the pond, Mark Foster and David Fenn, who have handled the game’s design work, music and more. The art, and some modelling, has been outsourced to some truly talented individuals you can find here in this handy Twitter thread but for the most part, Death’s Door emerges from a very specific vision. Its inspirations are varied and clear but before all else, Acid Nerve has made a game far more accessible than its predecessor, Titan Souls.
For one, Death’s Door won’t kill you in a single hit, though that isn’t to say it doesn’t have its fun cutting you down to size from time to time. Combat is a fairly standard affair, giving you light and heavy swings, along with a swift dodge and a satisfying bow that is charged up to four times by hitting enemies. The frequency and reach of your moves can be altered by switching weapons or spending your soul currency at The Hall of Doors in a linear skill tree. Death’s Door doesn’t boast anything unique here but it is exceptionally tight to play, all systems locked into place firmly.
The bow in particular offers a satisfying thump on impact and the constant need to replenish its ammo with melee attacks makes for a smooth gameplay loop I never grew tired of during my few hours with the preview build. Dodging is also deeply satisfying when deployed at just the right moment, knowing that you were one or two frames away from losing one of your precious hit points. Death’s Door isn’t as hard as its Souls-like aesthetic might have you believe but it is deliberate, offering few and far between options to recover lost health but balancing it out with reasonably placed checkpoints and swift load times.
Between its endearing aesthetic touches and the rewarding core combat loop, it’s difficult to not be excited to see how Death’s Door eventually plays out. Its story is lite in the opening hours but full of promise and the way my little crow finds his way out of the situation he has landed in should prove to be interesting. Keep an eye on PowerUp! for our full review of the game launching July 20th.
Death’s Door was previewed on PC using a digital code provided by the publisher.