Initially revealed during an ID@Showcase, Death’s Door jumped right to the top of my list of most anticipated games for 2021. The promise of a Zelda-inspired action-adventure game where you play as a crow who collects souls was impossible not to get excited about. Well, after going hands-on with the game for nearly three hours, I’m pleased to report it’s everything I’d wanted and is a game that deserves your full attention.
The world of Death’s Door is a macabre, dark comedy that feels inspired by the works of Tim Burton and Hayao Miyazaki. From the world design to the characters, their inspirations are the ones felt most prominently. The Urn Witch herself feels like she was ripped straight out of something like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.
You play as the fledgling crow whose job is to collect souls. At the beginning of Death’s Door, you arrive at work, a monochrome location that expands as you get further into the game. The crow clocks in and travels to collect the soul of a creature. However, as you defeat it, another crow swoops in to steal your prize, and it’s now up to get that back; if you don’t, the crow will begin to age and eventually die. That’s bad.
Travelling through a grim cemetery to the Urn Witch castle grounds, you learn the basics of Death’s Door. The crow begins the game with a rudimentary sword which they can either slash or use a charge attack, and they also have access to a bow. By the time I had finished playing my preview build, I’d also got access to a pair of daggers and a fireball spell. The crow can dodge roll quite quickly, but there are no parry or intense combat mechanics to remember here. It’s all about mastering the simplicity, which is in line with developer Acid Nerve’s previous game, Titan Souls, which featured just a bow and one arrow.
As you play, you’ll collect souls from enemies you defeat, which you can take back to a merchant in the HUB world to upgrade the strength of the crow’s attacks and the speed at which they can attack and dodge roll. It is important to note that although there is a character who seems to be inspired by the Dark Souls games, this is not a soulslike or a roguelike. Death’s Door has checkpoints in the form of doors that lead you back to the HUB world; it adds a Metroidvania aspect of interweaving locations and the ability to take new skills back to previously visited areas with ease. These doors act as checkpoints, so if you die, you’ll spawn back there with everything you’d done still intact and the souls you’ve collected still in your pocket.
Death’s Door may not have a deep combat system, but it is still a difficult game requiring quick reactions and asking players to learn enemy attack patterns. This is especially true when it comes to the boss fights, of which the opening hour featured a couple as the game threw you right into the mix and tested your skills. If you’ve played an isometric Zelda game before, you’ll feel right at home here.