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Death's Door

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Acid Nerve
Release Date: July 20, 2021

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XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Death's Door'

by Andreas Salmen on June 30, 2021 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Death's Door is an offbeat fantasy action-adventure that thrusts players into a quirky and curious world where Crows are in charge of collecting the souls of the dead.

Death's Door is an indie action-adventure game by Acid Nerve and one of Xbox's exclusive indie releases this year. Based on trailers with a few gameplay clips, the title looks enjoyable, but that's always difficult to judge without playing it. Luckily, we had the chance to play the first three hours of a preview build on PC, and we were very impressed by this first segment. Here's what you can look forward to when Death's Door releases on July 20, 2021, for the PC, Xbox One and Xbox One Series X|S.

Death's Door wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The isometric viewpoint, dungeons, and items make an inevitable comparison to classic Zelda games. Thankfully, it isn't a mere clone with a reskin or bland ideas cobbled together to resemble a classic gameplay formula. Death's Door is firmly its own and even dabbles with creating its lore and interconnected world that doesn't pale in comparison to similar recent indie titles.

We control a crow that's working for the Lord of Doors and reaps souls for their final journey. It's evidently not a dream job, and there doesn't seem to be enough work for everyone, but it's a job. We clock in, get our assignment, take the elevator, and walk through one of the many doors to another world where the souls await. Unfortunately — and I'll get a bit vague here to not give too much away — a soul goes missing. This world seems filled with beings that should have died a while ago, so we must compensate for a lost soul.

In these early gameplay hours, Death's Door suggests that some beings in the region may be powerful enough to steal a soul, starting with a Witch who has prolonged her life by unnatural means. Throughout the first dungeon, which ends with a final battle against the Witch, we uncover information about how she extends her life, and we get a few hints that not everything is as simple as it seems. With its ample humor and interesting ideas in the world and narrative, the game had its hooks in me by the end of the demo.

Death's Door is equally strong in its gameplay. Acid Nerve previously developed Titan Souls, a tough and unforgiving experience that was great on its own but very limited in scope. Our crow protagonist is much more versatile and much less punishing to control in comparison. The crow is armed with a glowing red sword, and our skillset is initially limited to two types of slash attacks, a dodge roll, and a magic spell that shoots arrows. Combat relies heavily on learning enemies' attacks and dodging to find an opening. That is relatively simple early on, when you're only contending with a few enemies. As the game progresses, more miniboss fights and elite foes are introduced to the mix. Eventually, you'll prioritize enemies, and you may even be able to exploit a few of them to get through a battle.

The game will also add environmental factors to the combat, such as moving platforms, to keep you on your toes. The variety keeps building and layering on top of previous encounters, and I enjoyed that the most. The controls and dodging feel great and responsive, and spells are powerful and precise to cast. Eventually, everything on your screen either dies, explodes, or shatters. In our short time with Death's Door, we've seen about four boss fights, and they all felt satisfying to overcome. The game is balanced; it isn't afraid to challenge you a little, but it also won't pull any punches.

Thus far, Death's Door is relatively linear, not an open-world title or even a semi-open-world title. From losing our assigned soul to confronting the witch, there were no real deviations we could have taken, but it doesn't feel restrictive. The game usually places you in an area that you have to figure out before advancing, such as finding all of the hidden souls to open a door or, as expected from a game inspired by Zelda, finding the correct item to advance.

Death's Door quickly added new mechanics to the mix, like lighting certain braziers to open doors, freeing souls from pots to open gates, and finding ways to destroy crumbling walls. Soon enough, mechanical elements and platforms joined the fray, and throughout the short experience, I rarely got bored since new elements were introduced at a good clip. The level design is also clever, with every area eventually looping back on itself in a few ways so backtracking is kept to a minimum. There were a few instances when I had to backtrack a longer distance, and since enemies respawn, it was mostly an act of avoiding damage. There were also a few great hidden areas to find, such as a door that could only be seen in the floor's reflection. That granted us a shard; once we find four shards, we can upgrade health or magic. That brings us to character progression.

Death's Door has an interesting checkpoint system. You'll come across floating looks that resemble doors back to the Hall of Doors, where our adventure began. We can exchange souls that we've collected to improve either Haste, Magic, Stamina or Strength, effectively increasing the speed and strength of our abilities over time. In our playthrough, we spent five improvement points with a focus on Haste, since dodging is an essential part of combat.

Apart from the little checkpoints, there is potted soil throughout the game world. Finding life seeds and planting them in pots ensures that you can heal yourself going forward. They are single-use but blossom anew every time you respawn. There were plenty of them, so I never had to bypass any pots due to a lack of seeds. I think I would have enjoyed more scarcity here to make the decision to heal a bit trickier, but that is truly a minor gripe.

The presentation shouldn't be left out. Death's Door has a distinct look that is noticeably lower in its polygon count but not low on colorful creativity. Boss designs are varied and interesting, as are the characters. From a gravedigger who yearns for his death to a strange character with a pot of soup for a head, it's wacky but never loses sight of advancing the story. The color schemes in a level can range from muted but colorful to full-on black and white with a touch of red, and it worked well to sell this fantasy world and story. There may be no voice acting, but the music is good. It's no orchestral soundtrack, but it again reminded me of the music I'd expect from a Zelda game. It's muted and in the background but very much in tune with the stage and on-screen action, escalating when it needs to, and then falling back into more somber tunes.

There are only about three weeks until Death's Door releases, and I am excited to see how this story continues. Based on the first three hours of the game, I think that Acid Nerve has done a masterful job in creating a memorable and fun-to-play action adventure with a small team. It feels a lot like Zelda, but it is a tad harder and its combat is much more satisfying to pull off. If Titan Souls is anything to go by, I am sure there'll be plenty of interesting bosses to fight further along the way. If my first impressions are anything to go by, Death's Door is shaping up to become one of the best indie games I have played in quite some time.

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