Death’s Door review: dazzling and delightfully weird

Going into Death’s Door (pun totally intended) nearly blind has made it more of a treat than I had imagined. You might argue that as a reviewer I should probably do a little background research before plunging into a new game – but I’d argue that by going in blind, my point of view isn’t colored by hearsay. Still, I did know a couple of things beforehand. I knew that (a) a lot of people liked Death’s Door on other platforms (I’ve been playing the newly released Switch version), and (b) people have made a lot of lazy comparisons to the likes of Zelda and Dark Souls, as if either holds enough clout to be meaningful. That’s not to say it’s not an apt observation, just an obvious one. What is important to note about Death’s Door is that even though it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, they feel like accoutrements to a dazzling yet cozy experience.

In the game you play as a crow whose job is to be what amounts to a ridiculously cute Grim Reaper. His role is to hop into new areas via a door, retrieving souls and bring them back to the quirky floating isle/business office that serves as your hub. While on assignment, our little friend has had a large soul stolen from him by a co-worker who had become trapped when the soul he was sent to harvest became got stuck behind an ominous door. Push comes to shove, and you’re suddenly aiding the thief by gathering three large souls that he can use to open the titular Death’s Door, thus helping both crows out.

Rather than focus on the plot itself, I wanted to note the way Death’s Door adds to its world-building in subtle ways. I love that the game is content with its identity so much that it allows players to make their own assumptions with a few tidbits of information instead of giving you a huge lore dump or, heaven forbid, journals and audio logs. It’s a delightfully weird place to visit and traverse that follows its own logic, which makes for a much more mesmerizing experience. Add to this a satisfying gameplay loop, and I can see why so many folks were smitten.

Our little crow works his way across the land inch by inch, doing some light puzzle solving as well as taking part in some simple combat, where the majority of the challenge comes not from mastery of your move set but in how you use it against the variety of enemies that show up. Nothing about either element of the game feels particularly noteworthy, but it is well designed and very satisfying. While there are upgrades to gear and stuff, the sense of progression in Death’s Door is more about understanding patterns and realizing how to bob and weave your way to your goals. Progress is further marked by finding doors that act as shortcuts to later areas that you can hop through should you die and get sent back to the office. Everything feels earned, and that trumps any kind of bauble or level up that you’d usually earn.

Death’s Door isn’t a great game because it expands our understanding of what a video game can be, it’s a fantastic game because it does what it sets out to do so well that it has become a new benchmark for a lot of people’s expectations. Not too shabby for a game starring a beady-eyed black bird that tilts its head confusedly while wielding a sword.

Death’s Door was developed by Acid Nerve, and it’s available on PC, PS4, PS5 and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Death’s Door was provided by Indigo Pearl. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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