Death's Door nails the action but leaves me hungry for more bird lore

Death's Door nails the action but leaves me hungry for more bird lore

Where's all my crow bureaucracy?


I wᴀɴt Deᴀᴛh's Doᴏʀ ᴛᴏ wᴀste a lɪᴛtle ᴍᴏʀᴇ ᴏꜰ ᴍʏ tiᴍᴇ. I ᴋɴᴏᴡ thᴀᴛ's a ᴡᴇird ᴀsk, ᴀɴd I cᴀɴ't reᴍᴇmʙᴇr ɪꜰ I've ᴇᴠᴇʀ ꜰᴇʟᴛ tʜɪs ᴡᴀʏ ᴀʙᴏᴜᴛ ᴀɴ ᴀᴄᴛiᴏɴ ɢᴀᴍᴇ ʙᴇꜰᴏʀe. But tʜᴇ premɪse ᴏꜰ Deᴀᴛh's Doᴏʀ grabʙᴇd ᴍᴇ ꜰʀᴏᴍ tʜᴇ ꜰɪʀsᴛ secᴏɴds ᴏꜰ ɪᴛs reveal tʀᴀɪʟer ᴇᴀʀʟɪᴇr tʜɪs yᴇᴀʀ. Cʀᴏᴡs ᴀs grim reapers, livɪɴg mundᴀɴe ᴏꜰfɪᴄᴇ wᴏʀker ʟɪᴠᴇs ᴡʜɪʟᴇ ᴛʀᴀᴠᴇʟɪɴg ᴛᴏ fᴀɴtᴀsy wᴏʀlds ᴛᴏ ᴄᴏʟʟᴇᴄᴛ tʜᴇ sᴏuls ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ ᴅᴇᴀᴅ? I wᴀɴted ᴛᴏ bᴀᴛʜᴇ ɪɴ thᴀᴛ sᴇᴛtɪɴg imᴍᴇdiᴀᴛely. After pʟᴀʏɪɴg a preᴠɪᴇᴡ ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ ꜰɪʀsᴛ coᴜᴘle ʜᴏᴜʀs ᴏꜰ Deᴀᴛh's Doᴏʀ, I ꜰᴇᴇʟ ʟɪᴋᴇ I'm sᴛɪʟʟ waɪᴛɪɴg ꜰᴏʀ ɪᴛ ᴛᴏ ᴀᴄᴛuᴀʟʟy deʟɪᴠᴇr ᴏɴ ɪᴛs premɪse.

As soon as the game begins a bus drops me off outside the Reaping Commission and I guide my crow up to a desk where my first assignment awaits, the red sword on his back the only sign of color in a grayscale world. Unlike the reveal trailer, full of wordless cutscenes brimming with personality, the camera here mostly hangs back in its zoomed out isometric perspective. There's barely anyone to chat with.

Within three minutes I'm through a door to another world, off to collect the soul a bureaucrat has charged me with in just a few lines of dialogue. The Reaping Commission is all but deserted—a wasted opportunity for bird lore if ever there was one.

Coming off a recent obsession with Hades, where every return to the hub greets me with half a dozen characters to talk to and stories to advance, I'm sad to find the Reaping Commission so empty. Where my crowmies at? Death's Door is as quiet as Hades is talky, though it's hardly somber.

The few crows I can talk to crack jokes about their nightmare paperwork, and one of the first characters I meet on my quest has been cursed with a soup pot for a head. Soup splashes on the ground when he takes off his lid to bow deeply in greeting.

Later he offers me some with a spoon. My crow politely declines.

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Most of the time Death's Door is quiet, letting a strong symphonic score set the mood. You know this mood: lonesome wanderer, mysterious ruins, majestic windswept peaks. Puzzles that ask you to shoot an arrow through a brazier to light another on fire, passages hidden out of sight around an isometric camera-obscured corner. When I run into enemies, like fuzzy fluttering bats and dunce cap-wearing zombies, action is fast and punchy. On a controller I can tap out a three-hit combo with the X button or hold a trigger to charge up a heavier hit. With a health bar with only four pips and no block, I need to precisely dodge roll away from enemy hits at just the right moment.

It feels exactly as it should. Death's Door will likely be a game I recommend in the same breath as Hyper Light Drifter, which also executes straightforward sword combat and dodging with a confidence that just feels great to control. Also like Hyper Light Drifter, the world I explore in Death's Door is a joy just to move through, with 3D art that feels so painstakingly handcrafted it takes on an almost claylike quality. Stone banisters and pedestals have wobbly edges instead of being quite square. A subtle depth of field effect blurs out the background like a camera panning across a miniature film set. It's lusciously designed without ever feeling flashy.

Death's Door is one of those games made of very familiar parts that I'll happily play to see exactly how they're being put together. I just wish it had the budget or aspiration to feel more like its trailer, bringing me in closer to its characters and the delightful drudgery of being a soul debt collector in an avian afterlife accounting firm.

Maybe beyond my first couple hours the Reaping Commission gradually becomes more populated, but I suspect it's not going to give me the lore dumps and more animated cutscenes I so crave. But I can live with another stoic, Zeda-lite adventure, especially if the few NPCs I do run into are introduced with this much charm.

Death's Door is out on Steam in just a few weeks—July 20th.

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