Acid Nerve’s latest title is one full of surprises at every turn. It may look like a Zelda-esque adventure on the surface but Death’s Door stands out with its quirky premise, refreshing dungeon design and intense combat. With a world filled with secrets and endearing characters, you won’t want to leave even after the eight hour story wraps up.
The game opens as you, a silent crow wielding a glowing red sword, make your way into an office filled with feathery companions. The security guard, hilariously named Baul Plart, watches TV as other crows type away at their desks. It’s an amusing but intriguing introduction to the world, where crows reap the souls of those who have fled to distant realms in an attempt to live forever. Immortality takes a toll, as seen with the demonic enemies and bosses you’ll face along the way.
Combat is familiar yet has it’s own distinct identity and feel. It essentially boils down to mixing well-timed rolls with melee combat and ranged spells. There’s no stamina bar but a cooldown system instead for your rolls and attacks. I learnt the hard way that you can’t simply throw yourself at enemies and slash to your heart’s content, as the cooldown times will leave you completely vulnerable to devastating attacks. Combat has a satisfying intensity that forces you to learn enemy attacks and figure out which enemies to take out first, all whilst timing your rolls and attacks.
You’ll be fighting waves of enemies and solving puzzles across three different biomes, which each house different areas full of secrets to be uncovered. Exploration is rewarded with hidden collectibles, mini-boss fights, new weapons, upgrades, and the simple joy of spending more time in a rich and fascinating world. Even with a top-down camera, out-of-reach pathways can be seen on the edges of the screen, beckoning you to return when you unlock the tool required for exploring further.
The backtracking and exploration even extends to the game’s dungeons. Each biome has a big boss lurking in their domain – from a hazardous laboratory underneath a manor to a flooded fortress – but also has hidden areas that are only accessible with items found later on in the game. But what is most astounding is how each dungeon is structured. It starts by finding four lost souls within what is first assumed to be the entire dungeon. The souls unlock a door that lead not to a boss, but a gauntlet where you must survive four waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Your reward? A new item to proceed through an entire new section of the dungeon that leads to an intense boss battle. This structure riffs off of classic dungeon design but has enough twists to keep things fresh.
Reaping the giant soul of a fallen boss may reward you with in-game currency (aptly named Souls), but unfortunately they don’t really amount to anything useful. Souls can be saved up to spend on upgrading the combat abilities of your feathery reaper – from improved cooldown times to stronger attacks – but they simply don’t feel like they make a difference in the heat of battle. Even with one attribute fully upgraded, I did not see or feel any difference from when I first started my adventure. It’s especially annoying when some meaningful upgrades would of ironed out a couple of difficulty spikes that are present throughout the game.
It’s worth fighting through the more gruelling combat sections for Death’s Door’s two best elements: the music and the writing. David Fenn’s soundtrack is one of the best I’ve heard from a video game in years. It flits between whimsical, heartache and bombast with aplomb, but is thematically tied together with a catchy musical motif. The track ‘Avarice’ is a particular highlight – building in intensity thanks to epic guitar riffs that creep in and become more prominent as you battle through wave after wave of enemies.
The writing in Death’s Door is what makes the characters so charming, but the story itself perfectly balances witty comedy with some genuinely emotionally beats. Some excellent character design helps make the cast stand out but their dialogue really sells them as individuals with their own unique quirks. Describing any of their traits and particular lines of dialogue would ruin the surprise of getting to know them, and even the villainous bosses have charm and engaging backstories. The third main boss however has a complete lack of character and backstory, which stands out when compared to the excellent writing seen elsewhere.
The overall narrative utilises comedy and tragedy to dig into the themes of death and immortality. A lot of the comedic dialogue comes from witty remarks that reflect the inevitability of death, but there is surprising depth to the more serious side of avoiding that eternal slumber. Characters eventually reveal why they pursue immortality, or choose to reject it, and the results are often heart-wrenching. As I was nearing the end of my adventure and hungry for a further exploration of the subject matter, I was thankfully rewarded with plot twists and character moments that left me satisfied.
Even after the story wrapped up, I immediately dove back in to discover the remaining collectibles and secrets. It was an absolute joy to find that there is actually a sizeable amount of post-story content to enjoy, including a surprising boss fight and a delightful side quest. With a ten hour overall playtime so far, I’m close to finishing off the additional content and unlocking the game’s secret ending.
For a game primarily developed by two people, Death’s Door is an astounding achievement. With all the solid combat mechanics and design decisions, however, it’s the smaller surprises that stick in my mind. A line of dialogue that made me laugh out loud, an enemy attack that wowed me with it’s clever design, the fate of a character that left me devastated. The game’s downsides only stick out so much because of how excellent the rest of it is. Here’s hoping Death’s Door makes its way to Switch and Playstation consoles so more gamers can experience this unforgettable adventure.
Death’s Door is available now on PC and Xbox Series X|S.