Birds are neat. They get a bit of a bum rap in interactive media, often being relegated to environmental flavour or set design – they rarely get a true spotlight. I guess Falco from Starfox is a standout, but still not really a star.
When asked about my interest in Death’s Door, I took a little time to prime myself with an array of articles and trailers. I was invested from the moment I saw I got to play as the cutest sword-wielding crow I had ever seen.
From developer Acid Nerve, Death’s Door resembles one of their earlier fantastic games – a sorta 3D pixel-based third-person indie action game titled Titan Souls. Within minutes it was apparent that Death’s Door represents a refinement of their craft, showcasing a gorgeous evolution of the ideas present in Titan Souls, but dialled up and sexified in true 3D. And, did I mention that Acid Nerve is a studio of two people? Clever buggers.
What are two birds on a cliff worth?
This weekend just gone, I got my filthy human hands on a joyous little preview of Death’s Door – so I could righteously immerse myself in the feathered fray of professional soul collection, playing as an adorable crow that helps maintain the afterlife and the curious denizens that inhabit it.
The preview opens with the mundane office world that represents the souls collection department, with business drones clacking away at their desks as you are handed your reaper assignment: head into one of Death’s Doors (woah, that’s the name of the game) and retrieve not just any soul, but a GIANT soul. See, when beings persist beyond their pre-determined expiry date, they tend to grow far beyond what nature intended – and I assume, become a bit of a hazard.
That oppressive work atmosphere is captured pretty well here
The dreariness of this office environment does a lot to mask the far more exciting nature of soul collection, painting the vocation as a very drab affair. As I approach my particular Death’s Door (which appears to lead nowhere), I wonder how the game itself will differ from this oppressive grayscale workplace.
Emerging into the game world proper, I was greeted with a clean, muted aesthetic that works to make sure that anything of interest will stand out in a big way. While they aren’t rare, more dynamic colours are employed to great effect to direct your eye to an objective or a danger that you’d rather not discover incidentally. They say with food, the first bite is taken with the eyes – and this was a great start.
Controls are perfectly responsive to make sure that any spectacular failures or deaths are squarely due to your actions; there is no blaming clunkiness. Rapid combos are (as their name would suggest) quick, with a heavier charge attack sprinkled in for more telegraphed baddies, and this is all coupled with a forgiving evade manoeuvre dodge roll. When I did perish, I entirely understood that I was probably getting too greedy with sneaking in more hits than an enemy might tolerate, or that I perhaps was neglecting ranged hazards that really should have taken priority. That, and I would laugh every time the comically laid out death screen came up, especially when one particular boss continued to slam my unfortunate feathered frame with his absurdly large mace.
Notice the enemy still actively pummelling my poor feathered form
Even in these beginning stages of the game, I was enjoying the combat a great deal. A cursory glance at the UI clued me in to more things to come, and while my preview only awarded me another weapon option and a fireball spell before it came to a close, I was deeply enjoying my little combat crow. I found myself wondering what kind of builds might be available in the full product, and whether I would enjoy playing through the game multiple times simply to experience drastically different playstyles.
I particularly got a kick out of the relatively simple, but devilishly clever puzzles. Fairly rote offerings like get the flame to its destination still felt rewarding and fun thanks to tight aiming controls, while also serving as a great training tool for nailing a ranged shot on exploding pots that are strategically placed right next to some unfortunate chump. And if you are astute, there are secrets to be found – often hidden in ways that actually had me fist pumping when I discovered one that was only accessible via a reflective floor tile. Genuinely had me feeling like Indiana Jones on that one.
What could I possible write here that would garner more interest than perhaps the greatest character in gaming history
While the preview only afforded me the experience of killing one actual boss, I still came across many a big honking mamma jamma that slapped me around like I owed them rent. There were at least three different occasions where a door would slam behind me, and a large menacing opponent loomed over my petite beaked form, and I would say, “Oh, this must be the boss that ends the preview,” only to vanquish said menacing opponent and gleefully march onward (I have omitted the many deaths from this part of my preview for the sake of the narrative).
Once I did finally track down the actual boss, I was presented with a fiendishly fun, multi-phased boss battle on a generous arena platform. And after each untimely demise, I would return to the fight and discover some new opportunity to deal damage. Those damaging orbs I was dodging? I could actually strike them and knock them back at my foe. Suddenly my self preservation could take on a far more sinister turn.
Can we not simply discuss this, Mr. Laser-Castle-Man
Victory was bittersweet however, because I knew that it heralded the end of my time with Death’s Door. While traversing its curious (but gorgeous) world I had met a handful of truly unique individuals that all promised an engaging story, and completing this first chapter had left me very hungry for more. Suffice to say, I was now deeply invested in the apparently mundane task of soul collection, and I felt that me and my little crow buddy had only just scratched the surface.
July is only a short flutter away thankfully, so I am eternally grateful for that. Besides, I’m sure I’ll be a shoe-in for employee of the month once I get my true soul-reaping groove on.
Death’s Door comes to roost on Xbox Series X&S, Xbox One and PC July 20, 2021.
Previewed on PC // Preview code supplied by publisher