Death’s Door is the latest title from UK studio Acid Nerve, best known for their 2D pixel art action game Titan Souls. In a similar vein to Titan Souls, Death’s Door is an isometric action game where you play as a mute (but cute) bird and engage in frenetic combat, simple puzzle-solving, and grandiose boss fights.
Naturally, the move from 2D to 3D is the most significant change, but the production values across the board have grown tremendously. There’s a level of polish here that’s rare among studios with essentially one game to their name. Sporting an art style that evokes Ghibli as much as it does Zelda, Death’s Door happily wears its influences on its sleeve, but does it end up feeling derivative, or does it manage to carve out an experience all of its own?
You play as a Reaper, crow warriors that are sent on assignments by The Commission to collect the souls of beings whose time has come. When the Giant Soul you’ve been assigned to is stolen by a wizened old crow you set out on a journey to track down this mysterious thief in a land untouched by Death.
The formula of Death’s Door becomes apparent rather quickly: you must travel to three different lands that branch off from the main hub area, fight various monsters, solve puzzles, delve into dungeons and defeat the boss. It’s simple at its core but the game absolutely thrives in it. There are so many little delightful diversions to come across as you explore whether it’s a quirky character, collectible item, a new weapon, or a stat boost.
The environments are crisp, minimalist, and simply gorgeous. The lighting adds an enormous amount to the aesthetic too, with dark rooms that are lit up by fire or spells never ceasing to amaze.
The different areas have distinct, intriguing vibes and are peppered with curious friendly faces that err on the side of the absurd, rather than menacing or austere. For example, one such fellow has a big pot of soup for a head and he goes by the name… Pothead. Some of these dollops of humour work better than the others, but overall the tone of Death’s Door manages to convey a wonderfully cozy, borderline spooky world that isn’t afraid to be a little goofy at times.
Overall the narrative Death’s Door tells is serviceable. There are a number of cutscenes, plenty of dialogue, and some lore dumps, especially towards the end but ultimately there’s not a whole lot to write home about here. The strength of Death’s Doors storytelling lies in the journey, not the destination. The world, characters, and vibes are far and away the stars of the show.
Another element of the game that adheres to minimalist design philosophy is the combat. There’s a sword attack that combos into three slices, a ranged attack that uses a meter that you recharge by hitting things with your sword, and rounding out your moveset is a classic dodge roll. The feedback is great, it was always very clear when I’d taken damage and why and I was always able to tell what was going on despite the crazy amount of enemies and effects on screen.
Where things get more complicated is when they ramp up the danger of the arena itself. Sometimes there might be lasers to dodge or multiple weaker enemies to contend with, or part of the arena may collapse if you stay still for too long, that sort of thing. There are a handful of truly tricky encounters but overall you’re not in for a super challenging time. The boss fights do deserve special mention as they are super fun. I won’t go into specifics but Acid Nerve has definitely put in work to ensure that these encounters stand out from regular fights.
There are four upgrade paths to progress through (melee damage, melee combo speed, move speed, and ranged damage) using the souls you collect from defeating enemies. Yes, you upgrade your character by spending the souls you collect from killing enemies, finding hidden soul orbs hidden throughout the world, and from defeating bosses or other tougher enemies, but the tangible Soulsborne comparisons really do end there. Dying does not penalise you in any way other than causing enemies to respawn, but this is rarely an issue because you can easily roll past them and the closest Door (respawn point) is never that far away.
The original score is out of this world. Fully orchestrated, achingly beautiful, and overflowing with character, it adds immeasurably to the experience. Certainly wouldn’t be out of place in discussions about the best original soundtrack of the year. The sound design is fantastic too, with your little Reaper’s footsteps echoing off cavern walls, the crackle of spells, or the way all sound including the music fades away for a moment when you take damage.
Death’s Door doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, I hit credits at around 7 hours and 100% completion in roughly 10 hours. The post-game was a delight, Death’s Door is one of those rare games that alters its world when you beat the last boss, rather than just loading the save you made right outside the final boss’ front door.
Acid Nerve has risen to the challenge of developing with a bigger budget and broader scope, crafting a game that, while simple at its core, features striking visuals, punchy, responsive combat, a spectacular orchestrated soundtrack, an intriguing world full of wonderful characters, and a level of polish usually reserved for the likes of Nintendo. The main narrative isn’t anything special and some of the humour may feel out of place, but in the end Death’s Door has a lot to love and is well worth checking out.
Death’s Door was reviewed on PC with a review code provided by the publisher.