Death’s Door Review: Bringing Life to a Dark, Dead World
“Death’s Door is a must-have Metroidvania game that combines intense combat with bright, hilarious characters.”
Hilarious cast of characters
Exciting boss fights
Simple but complex fight
A world that wants to be explored
Some unforgiving checkpoints
Dark, riddled with wit and adrenaline – Death’s Door is the Metroidvania that has finally got me hooked.
Metroidvanias has long escaped me as a genre. I’ve never been able to bother with the backtracking aspect of them; their maps have never fascinated me enough and their stories have always lost me. That all changed when the little crow of the death door took control. Where other large, expansive maps had disinterested me, this one had my full attention. Where other stories have lost me, I was completely absorbed here.
Death’s Door presents players with an endlessly interlocking fantastic world full of secrets, exciting boss fights and a dark story that managed to get more than just a few laughs out of me. In between there is a simple but exciting combat system that proves once again that the right developer can achieve a lot with a few simple tools.
At its base, Death’s Door isn’t complicated. It’s not an emotional show of strength; It’s not a blockbuster title with massive hype behind it. But it’s a rarity, an indie title that surpasses its AAA counterparts in almost every way.
Death’s Door’s premise is macabre. They fill the … claws, I suppose, of a reaper who isn’t a grim skeleton but a feathered crow. In the game world, death is a red tape and if you can’t finish your job, you’re out of luck. On a mission to find a stolen soul, the Reaper sends it on a goose hunt through a meaninglessly hopeless world to harvest even more souls just to get to yours.
As I said, it’s not exactly sunshine and lollipops.
But through its grim haze, light shines through the door of death. Despite all of the monster kills that leave blood and corpses behind to finish the job, the game gives players endless reasons to smile.
Every character in Death’s Door has a certain charm, from bosses to friendly NPCs. While the underlying story is undoubtedly obscure, there is a warmth to every character, even if tragic themselves. Take, for example, my favorite character in the game, Pothead. Its head was turned into a pot by the magic of the urn witch, hence the name. But if you ask him, he doesn’t see it as a disadvantage. Instead, he uses his pot head to store soup that he gives to passers-by.
No matter what I did, whether it was fighting my way through enemies or chatting with NPCs, Death’s Door always left a smile on my face.
Most of the characters have that kind of depth, even the NPCs that don’t seem that important. They all have their own lives, interests, and passions. No matter what I did, whether it was fighting my way through enemies or chatting with NPCs, Death’s Door always left a smile on my face.
The remains of a world
While Death’s Door’s funniest moments come from talking to NPCs, its most exciting moments come from combat and exploration. None of these functions are overly complicated. In fact, they are both extremely simple. Once you’ve explored the game’s first area and defeated its first boss, you’ve pretty much seen what to expect in the rest of the game.
However, it’s the little tweaks in Death’s Door that make everything more useful. Enemies are largely the same throughout the game, but there are a new villain or two in each area. Likewise, the exploration is pretty much the same everywhere until you unlock the game’s four power-ups that can be used outside of combat to uncover new areas. Death’s Door starts with basic forms of these ideas and slowly builds on them, integrating every facet of its gameplay into one another.
Death’s Door starts with basic forms of these ideas and slowly builds on them, integrating every facet of its gameplay into one another.
Of course, exploration isn’t always positive. Each death sets you back, of course, and some of the game’s shortcuts aren’t that far apart. I just walked through some areas that I found too difficult, trying to get to the nearest ladder to lower or the path to uncover.
The more I’ve played Death’s Door, the more the design choices, especially the structure of the world, reminded me of entries in the Zelda franchise. While Death’s Door encourages more traceability, it shares some DNA with the earliest Legend of Zelda games. Players slowly unlock new power-ups and access new parts of the map from areas they’ve already been to. Even the top-down perspective of the game is reminiscent of Nintendo’s classic franchise. The game’s dark world is even offset by bright characters, a constant in most Legend of Zelda titles. Death’s Door has some distinct influences, but it uses them to create something completely original.
Death’s Door worldbuilding is best when it comes to a boss fight. Each boss is first given context by the area you go through to get them there. Maybe you speak to an NPC who says the boss killed his wife, or in the case of the urn witch, you’re traveling through a mansion that was clearly a happy family home at one point or another.
The approach to each boss follows the same structure: explore an area, gain a new power, and then take on a boss. While this pattern repeats itself three times and eventually becomes predictable, the context for each keeps it fresh. Functionally, you do the same thing every time you build yourself into a boss fight. But each experience feels different because of the landscape, the enemies, and the boss’s own interjections as you explore.
The game’s boss fights are some of the most exciting I’ve ever fought thanks to the emphasis on evolution. Like the rest of the game, bosses build on themselves with different phases and become more difficult when damaged. You also don’t know exactly how much damage you’ve done because Death’s Door thoughtfully left health bars out of the equation. Instead, enemies will be damaged and their skin torn when you lament them.
I haven’t jumped out after beating a lot of bosses. Sure, there might be a punch here or there, but actually cheering after I’ve won? Before facing the urn witch in Death’s Door, the last time was against Ornstein & Smough in Dark Souls.
Of course, normal enemies aren’t nearly as addicting, and provide the same experience as punching bags, once you get used to the combat of the game. Even the game’s mini-bosses aren’t much of a challenge, especially if you face the same one multiple times. Enemies have simple attack patterns, and once you’ve learned to move and weave between them, defeating an enemy is less of an art than a science.
The game’s boss fights are some of the most exciting I’ve ever fought thanks to the emphasis on evolution.
Other than that, Death’s Door allows players to approach combat in a wonderfully open way. The game has multiple weapons, each with their own unique movesets and bonuses. The game’s standard sword does solid damage, but you can swap it out for a pair of knives or a massive hammer. Simply switching your weapon will even affect how much you can use your skills, as you can use four charges that can only be replenished by hitting enemies. Once again, not a single part of Death’s Door is isolated; they all interlock.
With a world that practically begs you to explore all the rough edges and a cast of characters that will make you grin from the beginning to the end of the story, Death’s Door is one of those rare games I’ve tried To find bugs. It’s engaging from start to finish (a journey that took me about 10 hours) and leaves players with even more content to explore after the story is complete. Death’s Door is more than extraordinary and has firmly established itself on my list of games of the year.
Is there a better alternative?
If you don’t want to wait for Metroid Dread, there probably isn’t a better Metroidvania right now.
How long it will take?
Death’s Door takes anywhere from 10-14 hours, depending on how much of the game’s additional content you want to complete. It also has a significant amount of post-game content that can add three or four hours to the total playing time.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Death’s Door is one of the best games released this year and it is sure to be a contender for Game of the Year when 2021 finishes.