Death’s Door (Switch) Review
Since its release, there’s been no shortage of praise for Death’s Door. Thankfully it wasn’t a long wait for the leap over to the Switch. It’s time to see if Death’s Door lives up to the hype or if its time is up.
You are but a small crow, a reaper working for the department of death, going out and reaping designated souls to return to headquarters. But a job gets messed up, and your work isn’t complete. The only way to fix it is to reap some large powerful souls. These souls aren’t willing to go and will make you work for everything. As you progress, you’ll learn about the bosses you need to extinguish while also getting glimpses into something not quite right in the department.
There’s no escaping the main inspirations to Death’s Door, being Dark Souls and The Legend of Zelda series. This isometric adventure sends you through the houses/lairs of the big bosses or your traditional ‘dungeons’. While DD isn’t as gruelling as Dark Souls, it will make you work for every victory. A mistimed hit or dodge leaves you with one less bit of precious health. You’ll gather seeds and, when planted, will restore your health; once the seed is used, it’s gone. However, when you die and respawn, the plants will return where you left them. It was always a comfort to know that health is close by for a boost before a tough fight in the particularly difficult areas.
When you die, you don’t lose all your collected souls, and you don’t even lose much progress depending on if you’ve been opening up shortcuts as you go. The game is pretty good with making them frequent enough and in your path. Given that souls are used to pay for upgrades to your strength, mobility and magic, it helps that you aren’t punished with losing or forced to recover them. Death’s Door is around 10 hours, more if you wring everything out of the game. There isn’t the space in this game to slow your momentum that much. Even when it’s punishing, and it makes me swear, DD at least respects the time you’re putting into it.
Initially, I was slow to warm to Death’s Door. It looked and sounded like it did everything right, but learning your crow’s capabilities and working out the timing of the dodge helps. You also have to get used to the game being more linear than it appears, so exploring the hub can be a little overwhelming initially. The more I played, it all clicked. It is partly down to familiarity and repetition. Which I guess is what draws people to ‘Souls-like’ games, being able to rely on enemy attack patterns, overcoming and learning from your defeats to improve. DD draws on all of that while streamlining it and making it its own. For the influences developer Acid Nerve are inspired by, they make it all their own. You’ll recognise elements, but it’s all Death’s Door.
As with games of this ilk, there are collectables to help expand your health and magic further, although don’t expect a shiny, full new heart when you take out the boss. Hell, don’t even expect the pieces required to form one expansion to be easy to come across. On the one hand, it’s a testament to how much the game encourages you to go off the beaten track. On the other hand, if you’re doing all the extra exploring, you might not be the audience that will benefit from the extra health and magic the most.
Puzzles are never too troubling; as you go, the items/abilities you gain open up the game further. Often it’s clearing out the room of enemies or using one of the few magic abilities you gain. What can be more difficult is finding the lore-expanding collectibles hidden around the world. If you want to get the most out of the game and see all there is, then it’s worth spending the time.
There is a lot to like about Death’s Door, the art style and the music. The music outside of combat is gentle. It feels like a Studio Ghibli score in a quiet moment. The department is drained of colour, but the different areas of the world are all distinct from one another. Even the dungeon’s designs change as you get closer to your bounty, keeping from getting too complacent in your surroundings.
For all Death Door’s charm and how much you want to uncover the truth of what’s occurring in the land of death. The difficulty might get in the way for some. Even difficulty settings would go a long way; the game wouldn’t lose anything for those prepared to tackle it and open it up to even more players. For those who are looking precisely for that kind of challenge, you’ll enjoy DD. There’s a lot I don’t enjoy about playing Dark Souls, so I tend to be wary of games that draw inspiration from it.
One thing the game would really have benefitted from is a map. Make the mistake of walking away from that game for a day or so, and good luck remembering where you needed to go from the door you last saved at. Especially given that the different dungeon areas are connected to the same hub, it would be helpful to see the different areas for later backtracking with new abilities. Having a map for even just getting around the dungeons would save on needless wandering, trying to find where you stumbled upon and got your ass kicked last. I understand why a map wouldn’t be included, it fits with the minimalistic way the game doles out information. Like with combat, you’re expected to learn, but as I said, not everyone will play this game every day and remember the layout.
Having not played the original versions on the PlayStation, I’m not aware if there were any performance issues. However, on the Switch, the game struggled at times with fights against multiple enemies while projectiles were going off. Because of the precision expected of you at any moment, this does impact when it happens. That said, it happened only a handful of times, and big battles aren’t always impacted, so it’s hard to know if this is a commonplace issue.
Death’s Door tightly packs a challenging action-adventure into some of the more enjoyable ten hours of 2021. It’s a game deserving of the hype and spots on game of the year lists. Unfortunately, there aren’t any difficulty options to help make the game more accessible. While it is a challenging game, it’s a challenge that you feel you can overcome as you unravel what is going on in the department.
+ Enjoyable to learn and improve
+ Nice to listen to
+ Interesting world that doesn’t overstay its welcome
- No map
- Some slowdown
- Lacks optional difficulty settings