Preview: Death's Door

30 Jun 2021

You get to run around as an adorable crow slaying monsters ten times your size with a glowing red sword, do I REALLY need to say anymore? But if that sentence failed to convince you, allow me to regale you with the my full experience for Death’s Door, releasing July 20, 2021 for Xbox systems and PC. The Steam version was played for this preview.

There’s a certain genre of indie game I’ve seen floating around lately, common enough to really be its own genre but I’ve yet to really see a name for it, and it’s often lumped in with the overbloated “Similar to Soulslike” crowd. Hyper Light Drifter is perhaps the most well known game in the genre, but Fallen Angel (reviewed here last year) also fits, as does the Demon Tower minigame in Night in the Woods.

Regardless, it’s a style of top-down action with melee combos as the primary attack, often with a limited ranged option, and an emphasis on learning difficult boss patterns and using a quick and snappy dodge to survive. It’s a genre I love, and Death’s Door is the latest fine addition.

Combat feels extremely satisfying, difficult enough to be engaging but with a gentle difficulty curve. When I did get hit, it always felt like I had ample warning and could avoid it better next time. It’s the kind of game where going through without taking any damage feels like a reasonable challenge, but it still feels punishing as the gap between flawless victory and utter defeat is just a few hits away.

The level design is also phenomenal, with each area making frequent use of unlockable shortcuts to make traversal a snap after your first trip. There’s also plenty of secrets you can open with puzzles, new abilities, or keeping a careful eye on your surroundings. Whenever I gained a new ability or found out some new way to use my existing ones, I actually looked forward to going back through old areas to find what I had missed rather than considering it a chore like most games along this vein.

What really sold me is the writing. You play as a reaper, charged with going out into the world and collecting souls when it’s your time… and it is quite literally your job, office and corporate culture included. When your target gets stolen from under your nose you find yourself on an epic quest to get it back and fulfill your quota.

Rather than go for the grimdark kind of setting one would expect from being a reaper of souls, however, Death’s Door has a fairly lighthearted, even whimsical approach to everything. I mean, for starters you’re playing as a crow. Not some anthro-furry crow or anything, just a straight up crow able to hold stuff in their wing.

A lot of the characters are puns of some kind, and there’s a certain levity to their interactions with you. Death is brought up of course, but it tries to lean for a more neutral tone most of the time, or even some occasional dark humor with it. I’m looking forward to seeing who everyone’s favorite characters are; mine is definitely Jefferson, the completely normal human proprietor of the Stranded Sailor.

Sadly the build ended after the second major area and left me hungry for more. I’d barely gotten a peek of the other places to come, and found so many suspicious areas just begging me to come back with some new toy to crack them open. Now I find the hardest part of the game may be waiting for the July 20th release date.

Preview build provided by Devolver Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by writer.