Taking a Quick Peek Through Death’s Door

The initial reveal for Death’s Door, the latest top-down action game from Devolver Digital and developer Acid Nerve, suggested a bleak and dreary world where crows that now act as grim reapers are stuck in monotonous, dead-end jobs in one way or another. But thanks to a demo, we’ve been able to check out first few hours of this adventure, and it has been anything but monotonous so far. It’s an exciting journey through various bits of a bizarre world where death seems to have disappeared, and while the action-packed gameplay seen in the trailers has been a treat, it seems to be all of the stuff in between that might keep players hooked.

After thoroughly exploring the offices that made up the monochrome, void-like hub world, I traveled through the first available door into a grove that basically served as the initial tutorial area, complete with the first major boss that’s been assigned as the latest target for a reaping. It put up an impressive fight for the beginning of things, nicely setting the tone for things to come. But the theft of its soul afterwards by a mysterious figure led our corvid hero to an ominous cemetery, which led to another superb and massive boss battle (Acid Nerve are working their Titan Souls magic here again), and the reveal that this is actually…another hub area?

Yes, after being introduced to what appears to be the titular Death’s Door, the game introduces players to three different areas with three giant souls that need to be reaped, and the reveal that we’re working with some metroidvania elements here, requiring various skills you learn along the way to unlock new locations. Granted, the notable amounts of glowing blocks, ominous anchors with gaps between them, and ornate lanterns found leading up to this (even in the offices) hinted at this, but the biggest hint was in just how open the levels seemed to be and just how much it encouraged exploration. The world of Death’s Door is filled with several notable secret passages, hidden areas and alternate routes that lead to various rewards, which is always welcome.

Even more impressive is that some of these secrets seem to require simple yet nifty puzzles, such as a clue in a building letting you know to look for its identical twin, or having to spot the reflections on a bathroom floor in order to find pots to break. Of course, some of these areas require you to be well-versed in brawn just as much as brains. Straying from paths at times allowed me to discover optional mini-bosses to battle, with a particularly difficult one (difficult for the game’s earlier moments, at least) leading to an entirely new weapon to equip, a pair of daggers that dealt a larger and quicker amount of strikes, which came in handy. Other times, the rewards may just be huge amounts of smaller souls used to purchase upgrades, shrines with shards used for permanent health and magic increases, or “Shinies,” which are collectibles that tell more about that game’s world, but they always felt satisfying to discover no matter what.

It helps that indeed, the world in Death’s Door can be engrossing, thanks to its eye-catching visuals, fun characters and hints at an even greater story through the likes of various journals you find, which made me begin to wonder just why the offices seem to have way less fellow employees in them than expected…but that might be giving too much away for now. The last major story bit in the demo concerned a rather enigmatic figure, and I’m excited to see where that goes. Considering that the first target on my hitlist seemed to have some relevant secrets and even a sympathetic background, I’m intrigued to see any of the other cast members and what they can bring to the table in terms of story.

About the only real complaint about Death’s Door so far is that the game can fall into button-mashing territory at times, depending on the enemy and your approach. Notably, there was one particular teleporting enemy which shoots projectiles that I could prevent from doing either simply by slashing them repeatedly and keeping them stunned. And the charged attack feels a tad useless in a game where a lot of enemies can attack you quickly. Then again, this is arguably my default strategy when it come to similar top-down action games like Hades or UnderMine anyway, so maybe I’m just nitpicking right now. In general, the combat arguably isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s still fun and gets the job done.

There’s a lot more that can be said about Death’s Door, but considering that it comes out relatively soon — July 20 for PC, XSX, and XB1 — it might not be best to spoil too much of the magic on display here. What was on display does point to a rather amazing action game, though, with a world filled with lots of hidden goodies to discover, impressive sights to behold, and a hefty chunk of enemies both big and small that can be disposed of with some satisfying combat. And that’s all just in the first three hours or so, so come back later for our review, where we’ll see if this world can amaze us even more.