Update (January 2022): Death's Door is now available on Xbox Game Pass, so if you're keen to understand what all the fuss is about, we've republished our 10/10 ("outstanding") review from July 2021 below. Enjoy!
Original review (July 2021): What do you get if you throw Zelda, Dark Souls and Hollow Knight into a cooking pot? The answer: Death's Door. The latest release from publisher Devolver Digital and developer Acid Nerve is a love letter to the adventure game genre, mixing in the magic, beautiful worlds and mystery featured in the aforementioned titles. As an Xbox console exclusive, Death's Door is here to fill a void missing from the brand's library, and not only does it succeed, it makes a case for being one of the best Xbox games to play right now.
Explaining the premise of Death's Door is an odd one. You play as a crow working in a 'Monsters Inc.' type setup where your job is to go through doors and claim souls of the deceased. Unfortunately, one job goes horribly wrong, as the soul escapes and goes beyond something known as Death's Door. What transpires is a quest to venture into the unknown realm by claiming the souls of various inhabitants, each residing in their own corner of the world.
As mentioned, Death's Door is a game that has many inspirations, with Dark Souls resting casually on its sleeve. But perhaps the most notable resemblance stems from the call-backs to Zelda - specifically A Link to the Past. With one giant overworld to explore, packed with secrets and lore to uncover, you'll venture off into distinct zones, each complete with their own bosses to defeat and dungeons to navigate. It not only embodies that classic Zelda formula, but replicates it near-perfectly in regards to its world design.
These dungeons are lengthy as well. Each has a pre-area with nooks and crannies to explore, but once inside for the main event, it really pushes on those influences. You'll go through room after room solving puzzles, finding keys and unlocking new pathways to venture further within. It all ends in a huge boss battle, which pack some of the more visceral moments of Death's Door. You'll learn new abilities within each one, too, such as being able to wield a fire spell, and these will be instrumental in your success at exploiting hidden weaknesses on the end boss. The length of these always ensures you get enough time to play with the new toys you've unlocked, slowly drip feeding more and more as you continue on.
There are also elements of Hollow Knight and Dark Souls in there as well. There's a central mystery around everything, begging no explanation unless you want to delve further. Characters talk in riddles, shortcuts can be found and you can increase your abilities by using souls as currency or finding health and magic shrines hidden throughout the world. The majority of Death's Door's most compelling and challenging moments hide in plain sight, and it's up to you to explore and find them.
It feels perfectly balanced in its combat and has a fantastic pace in terms of exploration and battles. Just when you start to feel the weight of its combat bogging you down, it will quickly switch to some classic Zelda-esque dungeon exploration, complete with keys, secrets and puzzles to solve. It moves forward with such confidence that it's hard not to be wrapped up in its world.
While the game pushes back, it's not outright blood boilingly tough. Combat in particular is where the brunt of it all comes from, quickly forcing you into some challenging scenarios. The first monster you face is a boss, which quickly challenges you to see whether you're up to the test. Despite that, it always feels fair. Enemies have unique attack patterns you can learn and exploit, and the combat itself remains basic enough to never overwhelm you. You can spend souls to upgrade your attack power and more, ensuring you're always one step ahead of the competition.
It's also demanding in what it asks from you. Your character has both a melee and ranged attack, and you can swap between the two instantly. As you progress, you'll unlock more interesting combinations to pull off, but it still remains relatively simple in the best way. Hitting with your sword provides a wonderful amount of feedback, while ranged attacks feel powerful enough to be useful. You don't have an unlimited amount of uses though, and you're quickly taught to get up close and personal, as hitting enemies and other objects around the world recharges your ranged attack. It's subtle, but it encourages you to engage in much more complex encounters through such a simple mechanic.
These tough scenarios are seen no better than in side areas. While you could easily stay on the main path, venturing off is where most of the fun happens. There are optional puzzles, collectibles to find and powerful bosses to face. Much like Hollow Knight, the optional situations you find yourself in often lead to being the most memorable, offering the best rewards in the long run. On the surface it may seem small in scale, but the world's labyrinth design packs a lot into it, with every corner hiding something new to find.
One of the ways Death's Door sets it self apart, however, is through its use of humour. Since you play as a crow in a world where you have to collect souls, it's not exactly the most straight-faced premise. Acid Nerve understands this and instead has created a fairy tale-like world, with inhabitants that carefully judge dark humour with a few dad jokes thrown in there. When you meet a character with a pot for a head and his name happens to be Pothead, you'll understand what we mean.
While Death's Door borrows a lot of elements from many other games, it mashes them all together and refines them into its own thing. Not one single element feels undercooked and the result is a mysterious world you'll instantly be lost within. Outside of the odd frame dip in certain situations, we absolutely loved Death's Door. It's a game filled with surprises, nods, humour, and moves at such a pace we could barely put the controller down. Games this well-crafted don't come along very often, but when they do, they're something to celebrate. Death's Door deserves all the attention it will most likely get, and is a contender for one of 2021's best games.