Saturday, January 15, 2022

Death's Door Review

Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC, NS, XBSX, PS4, PS5
Price: $20
Version Played: PC

"Souls-like" is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days. It's a tag on Steam. That makes it official gaming jargon. I've heard people call Death's Door a Souls-like, but I've never played much Dark Souls, so I couldn't tell you if it is or not. I have played a lot of Zelda, though, and I can tell you that Death's Door is a lot like Zelda. I don’t think the game is trying to hide it either. I mean, one of the main combat mechanics is the magic spell reflection from the Agahnim fight in LttP.
Death's Door is an action adventure game in which you explore an interconnected world, get items which help you solve puzzles and overcome obstacles, and battle through dungeons with bosses that drop a thing you need at the end. That's the Zelda formula alright. There is an order in which you're supposed to tackle each dungeon, since you need specific items to progress, but you're free to go wherever you can get to at any point in the game.
The Hyrule Field of Death's Door is a big cemetery that connects everything in the game. In it you'll find hidden items, lots of enemies, a couple of NPCs, and paths leading to every major area in the game. Every one of those areas has its own dungeon and some sequence of puzzles and battles you have to go through before entering that dungeon. Every area in the world, including the dungeons, is connected to a Limbo style dimension, called the Hall of Doors, through portal doors. The Hall of Doors is, of course, full of portal doors, so you can quickly travel anywhere through the Hall of Doors. These doors also serve as convenient checkpoints throughout the game.
Puzzles and items in Death's Door are straight up Zelda. I can't look at any of them without being reminded of their Zelda equivalent. You get a bow and arrows, a fire spell, bombs, and a hookshot. Puzzles have you shooting switches, blowing up walls, burning spiderwebs to clear paths, and grappling across chasms, just like in Zelda games. There's also environment pieces you can use as makeshift items before getting them, just like in Zelda. For example, you can shoot arrows through torches to light other torches before you get the fire spell and break explosive vases to break walls before getting the bombs. Not that copying from Zelda is a bad thing. The puzzles in Death's Door are a lot of fun, even if they're not very original.
I think one of the biggest differences between Death's Door and Zelda is the way you open paths through the world. The general flow of the game is a bit more linear. There isn't as much backtracking in Death's Door because everything is designed around opening shortcuts to skip past the long way around you took the first time. So when you die, you just run right back to where you were instead of having to run through the whole dungeon again. This usually involves dropping down a ladder from higher ground or opening a door from the other side. It's a lot like Astalon and Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order. I've also heard Dark Souls works like that, but I can’t confirm that.
Dungeon design is also, for the most part, more straightforward than in a Zelda game. Dungeons are usually split up into 4 sections you have to go through in order to open a door to the boss. Each section usually only leads you in one direction too. It's not like every room has 4 exits. There also isn't a lot going up and down between the floors of a dungeon, like in some Zelda games.
Combat in Death's Door is all about timing, pattern recognition, and animation priority. When using the default sword, you get a 3 hit sword slash combo with a small cooldown after the final swing, so you can't just mash the attack button. You also have a more powerful swipe slash you do by holding down and releasing the R trigger, and an overhead slash you can do when coming out of a roll. Your roll has some invincibility frames and is faster than running, so it's very useful for evading attacks. I thought the combat was one of the best parts of the game. There's a lot of it too. I just thought it was a lot of fun learning how to fight all the enemies with just these few simple tools. The bosses were especially fun to fight because they really force you to think about your timing and positioning.
You can upgrade your Crow by buying upgrades with the souls you collect from enemies, kinda like in Devil May Cry, but you can't buy any moves or anything. The stats you can upgrade are strength, dexterity, haste, and magic. Strength and magic increase attack power with either melee or ranged attacks, dexterity increases attack speed, and haste increases movement speed. I actually never upgraded magic at all, but maxed out the other 3 by the end of the game. I just never found the ranged weapons to be very good for battling since they require you to hold LT to stop and aim, and that sounds like an easy way to get killed in this game.
This is just a little indie game with simple graphics and an isometric perspective, but it sure looks nice. A lot of that has to do with the art style and hand-painted textures. I wouldn't call the style of the game Burtonesque, but it's kind of leaning in that direction. It's very dark and gothic, but cartoony at the same time. The angles and proportions of things, like gravestones and trees, are a bit distorted, but not extremely so, like in The Nightmare Before Christmas or something. I love the look of all the fountains, gargoyles, wrought iron gates, and that sort of thing. It's not all that gothic or Victorian era kind of style, though. There's a good amount of variety in the environments too.
The music really helps everything come together. Every song goes perfectly with each area. Soft piano music for the Hall of Doors, seafaring harmonica music in the rocky sea shore area, and some very gloomy classical sounds in the Lost Cemetery. I think it's very well done and adds a lot to the mood and atmosphere of the game.

Since this game does have the Souls-like tag on it, I guess I should comment on the difficulty. It's really not that hard. Don't let the tag scare you. I beat the game with the same amount of health and magic you start the game with. Yeah, this game also has the equivalent of Zelda's heart pieces, and I didn't get the 4 I needed to get more health until after beating the game. All I upgraded was my stats. I'm kind of salty they didn't give me an achievement for that. I felt like the difficulty was just right. The game is challenging enough to make you think about strategy, but not so hard that you're forced to grind for souls or go looking for heart containers.
It’s not often that I come across a Zelda-like action adventure game that really grabs me. Death's Door is a very good one, though. It has great combat, good dungeon and world designs, and beautiful graphics and music. I love the theme of the reaper crows too. I just wish the game had a map! I hope there's a Death's Door 2 in the works.