The Sticking Power Of Death’s Door
Back in July Player2’s own Jess Zammit issued Death’s Door an A grade, referring to it as “ a dark charming adventure that poses a challenge and encourages persistence. Both whimsical and reverent, this tale of one brave crow draws inspiration from some greats to carve out its own niche”. Meanwhile, the game’s excellence spurred our very first Review Discussion where both myself and my Patched co-host Matt Phillips were unanimously glowing – I even declared it to be my Game of the Year up to that point, amid some serious contenders. Today, as the game arrives on PlayStation platforms and the Nintendo Switch, and I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play it on PS4/PS5, I’m pleased to report that with a repeat playthrough under my belt, nothing has changed – Death’s Door is the finest example of what video games can offer in 2021.
Acid Nerve’s latest is a masterclass of all gaming disciplines. From the combat, to the visual style, musical score, even the storytelling, Death’s Door ticks all of the boxes. It’s challenging yet fair, it’s dark, brooding, and strikingly beautiful, it’s a world full of intriguing characters, items, and points of interest, and it strikes a chord like few other games can. Often a game excels because it’s resonated with the masses in one specific way – but in the case of Death’s Door, it executes in every possible way.
As Jess stated in her review, there’s a clear gameplay thru-line between Death’s Door and classics such as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (to name but one superb example), and while the 2021 title is much more challenging, players are rewarded for, a bit like Zelda games of yore, their patience, and timing. The influence of those old Zelda (and others of its ilk) titles is enormous, and while there are plenty of strands of those older influences present in the Death’s Door DNA, it’s how the game harnesses that, and contemporises those elements that makes the combat so fulfilling. From the wave-based encounters of Avarice (more on that shortly), to the brilliant level design that facilitated spectacular combat sequences, and of course the epic boss encounters, Death’s Door is what every fan of the old-school isometric action-adventure titles should be looking for in these modern takes of their beloved genre.
The game kept giving beyond the core campaign as well. It delivers a devilishly hard trophy/achievement list that encourages players to experiment with various items, to play in certain styles, and to become ultra proficient (so you can beat the game with a damn umbrella that does half damage… curse you Acid Nerve!!!), numerous collectibles that enhance your engagement with the world, and fuels an expanded ending if you can scoop them all up. Death’s Door, for the small, contained, tightly designed adventure that it is, does an extraordinary amount with its 10-12 hours of game-time.
Then there’s the crazy cast of characters. Pothead! It would be impossible to discuss this game and it’s GOTY status without acknowledging the genius that is Pothead, a character who quite literally has had his head turned into a pot, and the poor harmless soul offers you something to drink from it whenever you wish. Are you essentially being offered a brain to drink? Best not think too hard about that! Even the bosses like the Urn Witch, the Frog King and the *spoilers* Grey Crow offer extraordinary depth of character. Everyone you meet, big and small, good or bad has an impact on this world; they’re either so delirious by all they’ve lived through that their sanity is on the brink, they’re bravely holding the fort, or they’re a key figure to be taken down, everyone is fascinating, and the one thing they have in common is a complete, utter unwillingness to die.
Speaking of which, while I’ve already addressed the best way to approach combat, I cannot emphasise enough that you will die often, and that this should not dishearten you, no matter how imposing the impressive death screen may be. The death screen itself is just one beautiful aspect of a dark, gothic world that has no right looking as good as it does. Exceptional world design has been met with striking artistry, and so a world that was already challenging in difficulty, challenges you further due to its dark, moody tone. Piercing the blackness though is the Crow’s sword, the pinky-red flashes emanating from your trusty weapon reflect a candle flickering in the night, the flame burning brightly, inspiring hope, just as the Crow does for the future of the world. Even in more vibrant environments, there is still an uneasiness, that every screen you’re entering instills in you, but with that stunning sword in hand – the world has a chance.
The world and plot of Death’s Door is expansive, but elevating those elements further is one of the greatest musical scores gaming has seen. Though there are touches of Acid Nerve’s last work, Titan Souls, present in the OST, the way those reworked tracks intertwine with the original tunes is a thing of wonder. David Fenn’s music, especially the reworked ‘Avarice’ is truly phenomenal, ensuring that if you weren’t already 100% on board with the game due to the combat, the world, the visuals, or the story, that those tracks would sweep you up and bring you to that point regardless. The musical accompaniment of Death’s Door is something that will remain etched in your mind for a long, long time after you first experience it.
There has been no better time to go out and get Death’s Door. Game design is multi-disciplined, it often takes a small army of people, with big dreams to construct titles of the calibur of Death’s Door, making the achievements of the two-man team of David Fenn and Mark Foster even more inspiring. You can play Death’s Door on Xbox, PC, and now PS4/5 and Nintendo Switch, and if I’ve not yet been definitive enough for you – it’s the game of the year, and is not to be missed, under any circumstance.
Death’s Door was played on PS4/PS5 with a code kindly provided by the Publisher