Death is one of the few things we all have in common. We all experience death sooner or later, and that can be terrifying because we don’t really know what to expect on the other side. Salvation? Oblivion? Death’s Door offers an amusing take on death by portraying it as a boring, crow-run day-to-day business. While some of the Crows don’t get much pleasure from their jobs, playing Death’s Door couldn’t be further from their boring reality. It is a fun and addicting action adventure game that is best enjoyed before your time is up.
As a young crow and rookie reaper who work for this morbid organization, it is your job to rescue a particularly big soul. However, once you do, it is promptly stolen by a mysterious character. Soul recovery is of paramount importance because while the crows are immortal in their home dimension, travel to the realm of the living makes them prone to aging and death, and they cannot return home forever until the job is done. While this recovery mission of why your soul was abducted is a good catch on its own, the story quickly expands into a larger, more compelling mystery that revolves around characters who cheated on death for ages and the real meaning of your work .
Liberating bad guys from their souls is a fun, strategic dance of simple melee combos and dodging roles as you wreck their health from afar with your bow and ranged spells like a fireball. When it comes to long-range attacks, you have a limited number of shots, but ammo is replenished with every successful melee attack. I love this system because it kept me from using ranged attacks as a crutch and forced me to get my hands dirty. It also rewards that aggression by renewing your chances of withdrawing. Tight controls allow attacks to be dodged smoothly in a split second after dodging, and that maneuverability gets faster as you improve your skills.
This sense of risk versus reward extends to replenishing health. You can collect flower seeds all around the area, and planting them in scattered pots will make them bloom into permanent health posts. However, you have a limited number of seeds depending on how thoroughly you research. Choosing to heal now or to wait until I visit a pot that I visit more often adds a fun element of risk and improvisation to the design as I am effectively creating my own safe zones.
You can mix up combat by finding hidden weapons like daggers, trading the power for slightly faster combos, or a powerful hammer that channels electricity. While these alternatives feel great in combat, the differences between them and your standard sword are negligible. I have remained happy with the sword for much of my adventure. Thankfully, that can’t be said for your arsenal of spells, all of which feel useful. A chain hook attaches to enemies so you can quickly zip them in their faces and close the gap. I smiled every time I fired a bomb-like fireball and watched it obliterate multiple targets in a short amount of time.
Combat encounters are often challenging, especially when you have a cluster of bad guys swarming around you, forcing you to use every trick you can to survive. This also includes using your own abilities and the environment against them. Many projectiles can be diverted back to the transmitter or to his buddies. Arenas sometimes contain hazards like laser towers or plants that fire mortar-like exploding gas bubbles that, with proper positioning, can easily dispose of entire mobs. Death’s Door does a great job encouraging players to work smarter, not harder, to overcome the sometimes overwhelming combat challenges.
The handful of big boss fights against beings that have lived well beyond their natural lifecycle are awesome and my favorite confrontations in the game. Those epic battles got me to use my full range of skills and the huge armored frog that gradually destroys your little platform with every jump was a particular highlight. The final boss fight, in particular, plays out as a neat amalgamation of all the obstacles you’ve encountered before, and offers a fun final exam on everything you’ve learned. In one great touch, enemy bodies accumulate scratches and cracks to show damage status, which is way cooler than a simple old health bar.
Your journey to regain your wayward soul will include exploring pretty, visually diverse areas like harbor docks, an eerie but opulent mansion, and a forest-covered temple. I also like how the color of the living world contrasts with the noir-esque shades of gray of your otherworldly headquarters. The areas are littered with enemies, myriad secrets, and hidden paths that lead to goodies like new weapons, flower seeds, collectibles, and vital souls that are used to purchase status upgrades. You can even find hidden bosses that will give your spells powerful upgrades.
Many areas are skill dependent; I’m sure you can connect the dots on whatever a cracked wall or an unlit flashlight calls for. Other puzzles and secrets in the area require more observation skills, such as spotting discreet hedge maze entrances or using the reflection of a bathroom floor to find a hidden door. The world of Death’s Door feels like a living puzzle that I always nibbled on to completely solve it. Plus, some of his coolest secrets don’t reveal themselves until after the credits.
Despite their long association with death and the macabre, crows are cunning animals known for their fun behavior; the tone of the game has a similar playfulness. One of your quirky coworkers will include a write-mad data entry clerk who loves creating all of the paperwork your adventure creates. A passionate bard accompanies you for a while in search of inspiration for a crazy song, the quality of which I will leave to you. A jovial knight cursed with a casserole for his head is bluntly but hilariously called Pothead.
Death’s Door is more carefree than it looks, and that benefits it. These amusing moments complement bigger issues like respect for the dead (no matter how terrible they were in life), fear of the inevitability of death, and whether everything we accomplish really matters when our time is limited. Death’s Door isn’t the deepest story, but it does handle these sensitive subjects well. My favorite moments, outside of the action and moment-to-moment exploration, are when it reminds us that death is nothing to fear. Rather, it is just a necessary step in the cycle of life; a cycle that cannot exist without it.