Death's Door Hands-On - A Zelda-Inspired Surprise Package for 2021
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:41pm 10/07/21 | Comments
We had more than a few hours to sink into Death's Door from developer Acid Nerve. If you're a fan of The Legend of Zelda... well, a little bird told us you should probably pay attention to this. Read on to learn why...
Quoth the Raven: “Death’s Door”
Why Poe-Inspired? To be honest, while the crow and raven offer up a link, and even novel of the same name starring Poe can be drawn in, I landed on the reference because I imagine this is the sort of game old Edgar would make if he traveled to the future and learnt game design. That's it.
Acid Nerves’ Poe-inspired version of the afterlife, Death’s Door, presents us with a black-humour take on the proceedings of the beyond . A fun look at the black and white drudgery of a post-mortal workplace, white-sheet blanketed in bureaucratic process for the ever-after, where you, a Crow (and not a Raven), are tasked with reaping souls for the “Reaping Commission” -- a collection agency with a desk jockey shelf-life you’d rather not think about.
Today, on this particular work-a-day clock-in, your targeted soul is stolen before you can reap the rewards of your deathly labour, an act seemingly uncommon in your line of work, and certainly a risk unmitigated for that very reason.
Your only option lest you face an eternity of paperwork then?
Watch a five-minute video preview of Death’s Door embedded above
Why to track down your stolen wares yourself, of course, but this opens your black and white eyes to numerous worlds beyond the deathly hallows you know, where it turns out things that should be dead, aren’t.
And so an unexpected journey into places filled with colours unknown and life that has lived beyond its intended (read: natural) span begins, and an intriguing adventure with our little crow takes flight.
"What is largely a Zelda-inspired action-adventure title you could thoroughly have been forgiven for thinking is actually a roguelike or lite...”
Except you won’t take flight, as our little crow whom we’ll come to know as Beakface later, instead walks, runs and rolls about the meticulously-crafted game-world, swinging their sword, and firing off their arrows in what is largely a Zelda-inspired action-adventure title you could thoroughly have been forgiven for thinking is actually a roguelike or lite. Thankfully, however, it isn’t and harkens back to a more tried and tested genre in the aforementioned Nintendo favourite.
And I say “thankfully”, because while that genre is full of fantastic entrants, from the outset Death’s Door -- absolutely a game of character progression -- feels like something less grindy and random, and more permanent; artfully-designed worlds that belie the need for modular, procedural levels and random monster placements. There’s also no permadeath loop here given the contextual nature of the narrative, which in turn keeps the game on an ever-moving arc, albeit one fixed in place.
So Death’s Door simply steers clear of the rogue’s gallery on title alone.
What grabs you with Death’s Door right away is the game’s pacing stacked against its pick up and play nature. There’s a challenging combat component here, that tends to raise the bar with more and more mobs and variant enemy attacks in swarm or horde encounters, but as soon as you lay your mits on the controller, or across the keyboard if that’s your jam, you’ll pretty much know how to play the game.
"You’ll need to charge arrows to release them, which is another small window for the baddies. But on the whole, especially in the early game, I found combat fairly easy to grasp...”
Roll-slash-evade and power attacks have a slight recovery period that will definitely catch you out in those swarm sequences. And you’ll need to charge arrows to release them, which is another small window for the baddies. But on the whole, especially in the early game, I found combat fairly easy to grasp. Though in saying that, this was preview code I played ahead of review code proper (so stay tuned), which could mean adjustments in challenge are waiting in the wings.
I mentioned earlier that there’s a character progression setup here, and in keeping with the Zelda analogy, the game doesn’t go overly deep on this -- what’s here is all you need, but it’s deep enough (and required) that you’ll spend your nonlinear walking hours seeking the peripheral paths to get stronger. It’s also sidled up nicely alongside the game’s practical use items and item management.
Your inventory, which includes economy collectibles such as Crystal Shards, Magic Crystal Shards and Giant Souls isn’t remotely intimidating. And you’ve also got your requisite weapons tab which features swords and other items, like the maybe not so strange given the overall tone of Death’s Door, umbrella, with more offensive-based items to be discovered and equipped as you progress.
And what crow could live without Shiny Things; collectible items you’ll find in your travels that become display items on a desk in the Reaper Commission offices. They’re not as random as the sub-menu title suggests, but it’s all very cute, nonetheless.
"You can talk with Darwin the Vault Keeper who helps you spend your hard-earned souls on upgrades to your Combat Abilities...”
Getting back to gameplay. In escaping the permadeath death loop, Death’s Door presents an escape door in all areas, that will take you back to the Hall of Doors and the Reaper Commission (the Hall of Doors being access points to previously-visited worlds), where you can talk with Darwin the Vault Keeper who helps you spend your hard-earned souls on upgrades to your Combat Abilities. These include: Strength -- pretty self-explanatory, Dexterity or “precision” attacks, Haste which is your movement speed and lastly, your Magic, which is your effectiveness with certain magics, but mostly with your ranged abilities.
All of this is more than enough to get you going on your journey. And at the close of preview play, I’d invested roughly four hours at less than 30% completion, which should give you an idea of the adventure that awaits -- one with a black-humoured narrative full of interesting characters and quests built subtly around the absurd.
It should be said in preview conclusion that Death’s Door is stunning and wonderfully presented, despite its dark tone. I played on PC with all settings at their highest, but there’s not a lot the game needs to do, so most setups won’t break a sweat -- this is also more a console title, if I’m being honest. A couch-intended hours-long affair of exploration and puzzle-solving ala those Link adventures I’ve referenced more than once. But if the Desktop is your preferred gaming station, I don’t see the obvious console lean being an issue.
This is definitely a game no self-respecting action-adventure lover should be missing out on, and it’s not far off, either. Death’s Door hits PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X this July 20. Stay tuned for an in-depth review ahead of release, right here on AusGamers.