Death is one of the few things we all have in common. We all experience death sooner or later, and it can be terrifying because we don’t really know what awaits us on the other side. Rescue? Forgetfulness? Death’s Door offers an amusing interpretation of death by framing it as a boring, everyday affair run by crows. While some crows may not take much pleasure in their work, playing Death’s Door couldn’t be further from their dull reality. It’s an entertaining and engaging action-adventure romp that you’d do well to enjoy before your time runs out.
As a young crow and rookie reaper working for this ailing organization, it’s your job to retrieve one very great soul. However, if you do, it will be promptly stolen by a mysterious figure. The restoration of the soul is paramount, for although the crows are immortal in their home dimension, traveling to the living realm leaves them vulnerable to aging and death, and unable to return home for good until the job is done. While this recovery mission of why your soul was taken is a good hook in its own right, the story quickly becomes a larger, more compelling mystery revolving around figures who have cheated death for centuries and the true meaning behind your work.
Freeing bad guys from their souls is a fun, strategic dance where you perform simple close-range combos and rolls to dodge, while from afar you break down their health with your bow and spells at a distance, such as a fireball. When it comes to ranged attacks, you have a limited number of shots, but ammo is refilled with each successful melee attack. I love this system because it kept me from leaning on ranged attacks like a crutch and forced me to get my hands dirty. It also rewards that aggression by renewing your chances to withdraw. Tight controls make for smooth attacks after dodging a split second, and that maneuverability gets faster as you upgrade your skills.
That sense of risk versus reward extends to health replenishment. Throughout the environment you will collect flower seeds and if you plant them in scattered pots they will bloom in permanent health stations. However, you will have a limited number of seeds depending on how thorough your research is, so deciding which pots to plant should be seriously considered. Choosing to heal now or wait until I visit a pot that I will be visiting more often gives the design a nice element of risk and improvisation as I effectively create my own safe zones.
You can mix up battles by finding hidden weapons, such as daggers that trade power for slightly faster combos or a mighty hammer that channels electricity. While these alternatives feel fine in combat, the differences between them and your standard sword are negligible. I happily stayed with the sword for much of my adventure. Fortunately, the same can’t be said for your arsenal of spells, all of which feel useful. A chain hook can be attached to enemies so you can quickly zip them into their faces and close the gap. I smiled every time I fired a bomb-like fireball and watched it obliterate multiple targets in a short amount of time.
Combat encounters are often challenging, especially when an assortment of bad guys engulf you, forcing you to use every trick you have to survive. That includes using their own abilities and the environment against them. Many projectiles can be bent back to the sender or to their friends. Arenas sometimes contain hazards such as laser domes or plants that fire mortar-like exploding gas bubbles that, with proper positioning, can easily clear entire mobs. Death’s Door does a great job encouraging players to work smarter, not harder, to overcome the sometimes overwhelming combat challenges.
The handful of big boss fights against creatures that have lived way past their natural life cycles are fantastic and are my favorite confrontations in the game. These epic attacks forced me to use my full range of skills, and the giant armored frog that gradually destroys your tiny platform with each jump was a particular highlight. The boss fight in particular is a nice amalgamation of every obstacle you’ve encountered before, offering an entertaining final exam of everything you’ve learned. In a great way, enemy bodies collect scratches and cracks to indicate damage status, which is way cooler than a plain old health bar.
Your journey to rediscover your wayward soul includes exploring beautiful, visually distinctive areas such as seaside docks, an eerie yet opulent mansion, and a forest-covered temple. I also like how the color of the living world contrasts with the noir-esque grays of your alien headquarters. Areas are littered with enemies, tons of secrets, and hidden paths that lead to goodies like new weapons, flower seeds, collectibles, and vital souls used to buy stat upgrades. You can even find hidden bosses that give powerful upgrades to your spells.
Many areas have restricted access; I’m sure you can connect the dots on what needs a cracked wall or an unlit torch. Other environmental puzzles and secrets require more observational skills, such as spotting discreet hedge entrances or using the reflection of a bathroom floor to find a hidden door. The world of Death’s Door feels like a living puzzle that I was always chewing to fully unravel. Plus, some of the coolest mysteries don’t reveal themselves until after the credits roll.
Despite their long association with the death and the macabre, crows are clever animals known for their funny behavior; the tone of the game has a similar playfulness. Your quirky co-workers include a type-obsessed data-entering employee who is thrilled to generate all the paperwork your adventure creates. A passionate bard goes along in search of inspiration for a wacky song, the quality of which I leave to you. A jovial knight cursed with having a stew for his head is bluntly, but hilariously, called Pothead.
Death’s Door is lighter than it looks, and that’s to its advantage. These funny moments complement heavier themes about respect for the dead (however terrible they were in life), the fear of the inevitability of death, and whether something we achieve really matters when our time is limited. Death’s Door isn’t the most profoundly written story, but it covers these sensitive topics well. My favorite moments, outside of the action and moment-to-moment exploration, are when it reminds us that death is not something to be afraid of. Rather, it is a necessary step in the life cycle; a cycle that cannot do without.