The machinery of death works much like an office, with people hoping for big upcoming quarters and complaining about paperwork. The world of death is black, white, and weirdly relatable. Early on, I lose a soul I was sent to reap, which is a pretty big deal back at HQ. My crow is sent back out into the mortal world, which is colorful, overgrown, and full of monsters.
In Death’s Door, I’m an adorable little bird with a sword, a bow, and a mission to collect as many souls as possible. It’s not easy being a little crow up against enormous beasts, but it’s a living. If I die in the mortal world, I’m sent back to the start — but I get to keep all the goodies I found along the way, making each run a little easier.
I travel with a top-down camera following my little crow protagonist. His bow is super powerful, but has limited ammo. Luckily, each hit with a sword restores one shot, so I can easily dance back and forth between both weapons.
The visual design of the game toes the line between desolate and charming. At one point, I cross a bridge while a massive birdlike creature perches above and watches me. Yes, society crumbled into nothingness here, but the few people left behind are very pleasant and it’s pretty to explore.
The world-building extends beyond just the scenery and into the enemy design as well. Each monster I fight looks like they crawled out of the crumbling walls or emerged from these ancient castles. Some of the enemies, with little scuttling legs or heavy shells, would feel right at home in a Zelda dungeon.
Fighting through waves of beasties with my reaper crow is tough, although not unfair. Everything is telegraphed in advance, and I have to learn timing and mechanics to succeed. Using a keyboard and mouse feels a little rough. The game feels far better with a controller, as the mouse often left me facing in the wrong direction and vulnerable to counterattacks.
Once I was comfortable with a controller, combat clicked into place. The bow is appropriately punchy, and it has stopping power built in. Not only that, but enemy damage is visible via glowing pink cracks, so it’s immediately clear how hard a shot hits for. Add in a great visual effect and sound, and it just feels great to land a perfectly timed shot.
Image: Acid Nerve/Devolver Digital
The crow is quick on his feet, and a well-timed combat roll can get me out of sticky situations. Every fight becomes a stamina check: Can I keep rolling past the boss’ tentacles, or will I slip up? Can I get in to get some quick hits with my sword, so I can charge up my bow’s ammo, or do I need to stay back and play it safe?
While the combat is the flashiest part of Death’s Door, a big chunk of my time in the game was spent on exploration. The individual levels in Death’s Door are sprawling, and full of familiar cues that there’s always more to uncover. While running through some lush gardens, I’d spot a cracked wall, and know I’d probably have to return to blast that sucker open and reap the rewards within.
Sometimes in order to advance, I had to hunt for a lever or glowing rune so that I could activate an elevator or drop a ladder. These are great environments to explore, and developer Acid Nerve (who previously made Titan Souls) has thoughtfully littered power-ups, currencies, and other unlocks through the level. Over time, I can unlock new weapons or skills, or upgrade existing tools.
But the pieces of Death’s Door don’t complement each other. Every time I die in the mortal world, I gotta head back to the start of the level. Since the individual worlds are designed to be sprawling, this means I spend a decent amount of time just jogging back to where I was, my brain kicked out of combat mode. If I die multiple times on the same encounter, I lose momentum on the trek back, especially if I get lost once or twice. The environments are gorgeous, but I don’t want to have to run through them multiple times just to get my ass kicked again.
Overall, exploring the worlds of Death’s Door is a lot of fun, especially since I get to watch my crow’s little jog through a variety of wild and unique environments. The only shame is that once you’re out of the action, it takes a while to get back into it … but at least there’s plenty of nice sights to enjoy along the way.
Death’s Door will be released July 20, 2021 on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed using a PC download code provided by publisher Devolver Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
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