Game: Death's Door
Release Date: November 23, 2021 (Switch release)
Platform: Switch, Xbox, PC
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Death's Door caught my eye when Devolver Digital showcased it during E3, but I never got around to it when it hit Xbox and PC this summer. I was on vacation when it was released, then was busy with other things when I got back. I kept hearing that the isometric action was amazing and that the story was atmospheric and moody. It really sounded exactly up my alley, and exactly like a game that belonged on the Switch.
Last month it finally hit Nintendo's handheld, and I've since played through the main story.
Y'all, Death's Door is fantastic.
A Pervasive, Oppressive Atmosphere
Death's Door is a game that masterfully presents a unified tone, which ends up being the most enduring thing about it. You take on the role of a crow responsible for reaping the souls of the dead in a dreary, bureaucratic afterlife. The hub world where the reaper crows work out of is cast in monotone, and three spoke-worlds you adventure through during the game all maintain that tone. One world is made up like a fancy estate; one sees you exploring a forest; the other is a snowy mountain peak. There's really a nice amount of variety, but everything is awash with this melancholic, desaturated tone.
The atmosphere works really well for this game, but it was also a bit overwhelming for me. Playing this side-by-side with UNSIGHTED has been interesting. Both games' stories are dark and depressing and edge on nihilistic, but Unsighted‘s world is colorful and vibrant and alive compared to Death's Door‘s. I think they both work well enough, but Death's Door felt a bit less inviting, and sometimes the world just wasn't a fun place to be.
Unsighted works as a pretty good basis for a gameplay comparison, too. Just like that game, the moment-to-moment gameplay in Death's Door is focused on fast-paced, brutal action. Things are a little more blunt and straightforward here, though, in a way that feels really good. You start off armed with a sword and a dodge. Other than being able to do a standard or strong attack, that's pretty much all you have to work with. There's no counter in this game, so a lot of the combat is focused on dodging out of the way of an attack, then circling behind your enemies.
As you explore, you'll find weapons you can use in place of your sword without changing the basic mechanics. Each weapon has slightly different stats on things like power, speed, and reach, but there's no one weapon which is obviously superior. This is great, because it really encourages you to try out different weapons for different situations.
The other big shift from Unsighted‘s combat is a much lesser focus on ranged abilities. You do unlock four different magic spells through Death's Door, which give you some ability to inflict damage from a distance. However, mixing range and close up combat is a lot less of a requirement here, which is great since I was terrible at ranged combat in Unsighted.
Big Boss Battles
One of the strongest aspects of Death's Door is its enemy design. As you explore the world, there is a wonderful variety of standard enemy types to fight with. I'm replaying The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past along with the Sacred Realms Podcast right now, and it's reminding me that even though I love the Zelda franchise it's not great at interesting standard level enemies. Death's Door keeps things interesting with a pretty wide variety of art `and mechanic designs throughout the world. Each time you come across a new foe it feels like a miniature boss fight as you learn its mechanics with white knuckles, barely staying alive… then ten minutes later you're taking on three of them at once without breaking a sweat.
The game really shines in its actual boss battles, though. There aren't a lot of these big encounters in the world, but they are each spectacular. The bosses are big and flashy and intense. The fact that you can only take four hits throughout the game means that you will have to fight most bosses a few times to learn their patterns.
The most recent comparison I can pull is Metroid Dread, an absolute masterpiece of a game. I adored my time in that world, but I honestly think that the boss battles in Death's Door outshine Samus battles every time.
The final fight, in particular, is spectacular. I won't give any details to avoid spoilers, but the entire final sequence is some of the most fun and the tensest gameplay I've experienced this year.
Death's Door is outstanding. The atmosphere and story work in concert beautifully, the combat feels absolutely perfect, and the enemy design is spectacular. I loved my time with this game, and it felt perfect to play it on the Switch.
After finishing the story, I realized there were a few weird things in the world that I hadn't found explanations for yet. It turns out that there is a pretty huge amount of post-game content you can play to unlock a true ending. From the bit I read, I think you basically have to 100% the game to get to that point, which is something I never do.
But I had enough fun with Death's Door that if I ever end up not sure what to play next I could easily see myself coming back to it.