Death’s Door — Tiny Crow, Big Homages

Death’s Door showcases a best-of in the action-adventure genre. As a crow reaper I faced challenges that never felt insurmountable. A ghastly manor tried keeping me away from its basement. I mazed my way through a temple in ruin. A climb to the top of a mountain was a bruise and a breeze. All while a gorgeous soundtrack plays and with beautiful visuals on display. This tiny crow stands tall amongst the soulslike crew.

You begin Death’s Door in a black-and-white setting hub world. You’re part of an organization that employs crows which set out and reap souls. There’s, unsurprisingly, many thoughts and ideas revolving around death. I would say buyer beware if you are sensitive to that topic. The game itself lays out its gameplay loop literally: You reap souls which open doors and repeat. Opening doors lead you to areas that are in contrast to the hub world, they’re full of color and life.

As I explored each new area in Death’s Door I was noticing certain repeating points of interest. For example I kept seeing cracked walls shimmer with blue. I correctly guessed that I would earn some new spell that would grant access to those areas. Something I missed because I was too busy enjoying the main story is that there are big metal disks scattered all over the different areas. Without giving too much away try thinking back to a move you learn that enables you to slam from high up. There are other secrets though in the endgame that are less obvious which I’m enjoying.

A crow looking at a frog peeking through a ground tile.
Froggy is above all a mad lad.

Death’s Door telegraphs big name boss health in a different way than what’s typical of the genre. As you widdle down a boss’ health you’ll see their body start to crackle with a pink hue. Visually this looks great. It does take away from the risk reward factor that seeing an actual bar brings. I was unable to gamble rushing in for that last ten percent of health because I couldn’t gauge how many more attacks it would take to finish a boss.

Alongside the visual tell is there is some great sound design in Death’s Door. Something simple as taking damage will lower all audio. I would snap back and realize I might need to rethink what I’m doing. Area encounters and named bosses have a dedicated track theme. As you progress the music will increase in complexity then a hard cut happens once you reach the end or defeat a boss. This isn’t a new technique but it feels so fresh when everything else is considered.

The final boss in Death’s Door was such a moment for me. I defeated this boss with a combo I still use after the credits rolled. A quick grapple chained into a bonus slash then a quick roll to back away and repeat. This should be somewhat familiar with fans of soulslike games. It feels so good taking down a mini boss or some of the tougher enemies.

A crow stands in a room full of slain enemies.
Slash slash slash. Respawn. Repeat.

As I mentioned earlier there are a ton of references in Death’s Door about death. I’m playing this game at a point in my life where the story takes on a different interpretation for me. As the crow reaper you live infinitely as long as you keep reaping souls. I love the realization through other characters that a life of infinity can lead to madness. This madness is realized through the bosses you face.

Something else I’ll remember from Death’s Door is the idea behind breaking a cycle. I never got a sense of characterization for the crow we play as. This might have made it easier to put myself in the crow’s talons. The moment you realize you’re ready to close a chapter and set course anew is beautiful. Our crow hero was suddenly leading the way to chase down lost giant souls in order to bring back the natural state of things: death.

Every time I booted up Death’s Door I murmured the same thing — map please. There aren’t too many touchstones that help you navigate each area. The art style is beautiful but there’s a sameness to each area that doesn’t help with orienting yourself. Similarly in the after game you’ll need to plant every seed into a pot. A map could’ve helped cut down time with something this tedious.

A crow is bestowed a new magic power by a spirit.
Greed has its rewards.

I’m disappointed with the lack of accessibility and gameplay settings absent from Death’s Door. There’s only one setting in the menu that mildly falls into these categories, a screenshake slider. I personally never had an issue with difficulty or the upgrade currency; but I do believe this was a missed opportunity to be more inclusive of the wide range of soulslike play styles. An invincibility mode would do well in this game as there is plenty to experience both visually and sonically.

Death’s Door is a solid indie package that pays homage to the action-adventure and soulslike genres. It’s fascinating to think one of the best indies of 2021 comes from a team size you can count on both hands. I’m so ready to go back into Death’s Door and open all of its secrets.

Death’s Door is available now on Xbox Series S|X and PC.

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