“We are now at the headquarters of the Reaping Commission. End of the line …” – Sharon the bus driver
Death’s Door is a title that captures the concept of death by feathers and carefully disentangles it with witty dark humor, nuanced character work, and a deceptively complex hack-and-slash combat system that’s as rewarding as punitive.
Acid Nerve’s latest game has been described as “Zelda-like” by some and it’s clear to see why. However, after playing, you must be wondering if Death’s Door has set a new benchmark for the subgenre.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see other indie games in the future called “Death’s Door-like”, although that’s a bit of a mouthful, as it’s hard to think of another title like this. Here are our thoughts …
Death is a job and you are on the clock …
When you start Death’s Door for the first time, you are faced with a dark world. You play as an anonymous employee of the Reaping Commission. Acid nerve turned death into bureaucracy in Death’s Door and it’s perhaps the most accurate depiction of dead-end government work we’ve ever seen.
The Harvest Commission headquarters is decaying, colorless, and completely dull. It spans a number of islands floating in a void of nothingness, and the bus you’ve arrived in seems like the only way to get in or out of this nightmarish experience. If you’ve ever worked in an office job that you don’t enjoy, that sums it up pretty well.
There are a few other Raven employees (your coworkers) scattered around the Hall of Doors and you can chat with them. From the start you realize that Death’s Door is something special. At the very least, the work of the characters is really fantastic.
As an employee of the Reaping Commission headquarters, you are responsible for collecting souls from the living world and bringing them back to the Reaping Commission headquarters. If a soul is a little late, you have a sword to solve that problem.
As Chandler the Handler explains, you need Souls to power the Gates you use to travel to the Land of the Living, and you can only get the Souls you need by using them to Power Gates. It’s a never-ending cycle reminiscent of Monsters Inc. They scare because they care, and you reap because … well, not everyone can live forever, can they ?
While that would be a fun game in itself, Acid Nerve decides to throw a curve ball at your nameless employee-crow and take your first giant soul away from you. Everything in the work seemed mundane and the soul that is stolen is from a demonic forest spirit, so it hardly seems too special. However, it’s stolen and that leaves you stranded – or as Chandler likes to describe it … Deadly.
As long as you are in the living world, you are mortal and it is bad … is not it?
In an effort to find out where your giant soul has gone, you make your way to the Forbidden Region. This is a place where the Harvest Commission does not operate and from there is where you spend the most time in the game.
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After making your way through a maze of goblins, ghouls, and other supernatural creatures … you find the person who stole your giant soul and sentenced you to death – Gray Crow.
Gray Crow stands before Death’s Gate, a place of whispering and legend in the world created by Acid Nerve. It is the end point of all life and you are staring your own mortality in the face.
Gray Crow has lost a soul because of the door and he tries to open it again. What starts off as a mundane day at the office turns into a desperate struggle for survival in the face of your own immortality and it hits a lot harder than you might think. You get attached to your nameless employee-crow and you don’t want to see him waste away and grow old like Gray Crow.
In an effort to power the Death Gate, Gray Crow tasks you with collecting three more giant souls. These are swollen and swollen, with their owners having an unusually long life.
“The creatures here have the potential to live well beyond their age, becoming larger and more powerful. “- Gray crow
Death’s Door takes the concept of death through the feathers and untangles it throughout. As you travel to reclaim these souls, you come across characters who are ready to die and desperately clinging to life.
You meet characters who are tormented by these bloated souls and those who pity the same cursed beings with unnatural life. Acid Nerve explores what mortality means to people in a way that few video games have and you can’t help but think about your own inevitable death in the process.
Even if your little crow employee is out of place in the living world, you are still a part of life and all the characters in Death’s Door know it, even if they don’t want to admit it to themselves.
Trying to sum up the narrative of a game like Death’s Door seems impossible. It is about the very nature of living and of being alive. However, the Lord of the Doors asks your crow employee a question in the later stages of the story that is worth thinking about …
“How would your life be if you knew the exact day you died?” “
Death’s Door teaches you to take time with life …
In Death’s Door, you might not know the exact day you are going to die … But, you do know how your life is going to turn out. The gameplay and combat in Zelda-style Acid Nerve’s hack-and-slash are almost cathartic. Each confrontation has a process, steps, a unique timing that you must follow to be successful.
We admit, however, that it can be a bit of a shock at first. Throughout, you find yourself so drawn into the narrative that you are almost too eager to continue. Just attempting a three-hit combo over a two-hit combo is enough to lose a chunk of your life.
In some cases, there is barely a second between taking a hit and living to fight another day. Death Gate is rarely a one-on-one fight, even against a boss, and you can find yourself punished too often for overly aggressive gameplay.
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While this is a long learning process for someone unfamiliar with Souls-style games with such punitive fights, Death’s Door offers a lesson in patience and caution throughout. his fight. This, when you look at the larger context of why you are fighting, is an eye opener.
You have to take your time with Death’s Door. There’s not always an easy way to speed up a boss battle, and just like in real life, sometimes things take as long as they take.
The attack options in Death’s Door aren’t as extensive as you might imagine, but your Crow employee doesn’t need a wide variety of weapons to get the job done. There are a handful of melee weapons to unlock, a few ranged options, and dodges. It takes the hack-and-slash isometric gameplay made famous by series like The Legend of Zelda and Diablo and almost perfects it with a simplistic take on something that feels familiar, but fresh.
It perfectly balances the complicated and the simplistic …
Acid Nerve’s Death’s Door is one of the best games I’ve played in the last year, if not more. Its fight might seem simpler for an isometric hack-and-slash, but it’s married to a number of pretty unique systems that make it a wonderfully complex title overall.
Scattered checkpoints and fixed healing locations aren’t new, but they’re placed perfectly in Death’s Door. Returning to a boss battle after defeat can easily be deadlier than the boss battle itself if you’re not quick to learn the lessons of patience that combat teaches you.
One misstep on the way home and you are at a disadvantage. It’s easy to let your guard down when your focus is on getting worse and need to make sure you don’t get lost in the path of a loose arrow or a swinging club.
On top of that, the labyrinthine environments you find yourself in offer both rewarding and deadly exploration and puzzles.
There’s almost always a locked door at the edge of your screen, a collector’s item on a higher platform that you can’t quite reach … detrimental to your progress if you mess up.
Death Gate doesn’t offer your little crow employee a map, however, and most of the time you’ll find yourself returning to previously explored places with a new ability that allows you to progress. It’s far from innovative and the capabilities in themselves aren’t mind-blowing, but it does contribute to an overall that’s far from dull. You can use bombs to detonate cracked walls, a fireball to burn thick cobwebs, and a grappling hook to shoot yourself through impassable voids. You’ve seen them all before, but never once thought “blow up cracked walls with a bomb? How original …”
Everything in this game immerses you in the mystery being unraveled and you can’t help but fall in love with the world Acid Nerve has created. You don’t want to close the door of death and that’s all you need to say.
Death’s Door is a game full of surprises; It offers rewarding exploration with punitive combat to create a lighter soul-like experience. The narrative worked out throughout, however, is the real reason you should be playing Death’s Door.
There are lessons to be learned from your time as a Crow employee of the Reaping Commission, and it offers more than one opportunity to reflect on your own life and mortality.
RealSport Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
We played Death’s Door on Xbox One and our code was provided by Acid Nerve.