"Now here's a game right up my alley." I knew it from the first glimpses and mentions that I came across of Death's Door, an action-adventure RPG in the mould of classic Zelda games. When the game released on Game Pass I was quick to download it and launch into its intriguing and quirky world.
You play as a reaper crow, harvesting assigned souls. The game begins with you arriving at the dreary inter-dimensional offices of the organisation. You are sent off on your latest assignment, to harvest a Giant Soul from its owner. In gaming terms it's time for a boss fight! Yes, that's right, your first taste of combat in the game is a boss fight. What else could you expect from a developer whose previous game was only boss fights - Titan Souls? The good news is that, as a result, the boss fights are excellent. And so is the rest of the game...
I was drawn in by the intriguing world with "metroidvania" elements, where the areas are all interconnected and your progression from one area to the next is gated by acquiring new abilities. Backtracking, a staple feature of metroidvania design, is made a whole lot more convenient by the unlocking of shortcuts. These shortcuts are all logically placed, a fine example of the beautiful blend of function and design to be found in the game. The different areas of Death's Door are fun to explore and each have a distinct character and feel to them.
Gameplay consists of exploration involving light puzzle elements, tight and enjoyable combat against the various minions that inhabit the areas you visit and the fantastic set-piece battles against the various bosses to be found in the game. Your character can upgrade his abilities with the souls he collects. Death's Door does borrow from the "soulslike" playbook but is more forgiving. You do not lose gathered souls upon dying and whilst the boss fights can be reasonably challenging in places they are not rage-inducingly so. It helps that there is always a nearby checkpoint before any big fights too.
One of the qualities not so apparent in the screenshots and videos of the game is the delightful sense of humour to be found in it. I've used the word "quirky" before to describe the assortment of characters that you meet in on your journey and that quirkiness extends throughout the game through little jokes in descriptions of items, journal logs and dialog. Death's Door is a game of sombre environments and mystery but thanks to the light touches of humour it does not become too heavy.
One last bit of praise that I would like to offer the game is how well the puzzles and secrets are hinted at in the game. If you aren't able to discover all the upgrade shrines by chance, a helpful "cook" can point you in the right direction with some not-to-cryptic clues. The only thing the game does not explain well - and had me reaching for a wiki to understand - is the use of sewer gates to access some of the secret areas. It doesn't help that these grates look a bit like teleportation gates, which one would assume you activate at a later stage in the game.
Accessing these grates involves falling of the ledge above it and attacking so that you do a downward smash onto the grate. Don't worry, this is not a spoiler, the game never tells you how to do this and I found many other players commenting that they had missed this completely. So consider this a public service announcement.
All in all, this is the one minor criticism that I have for the game. Everything else is so well designed and created that the game is full deserving of the positive reviews and awards it has earned. I loved every moment of playing through it and even went on to unlock all the secrets to 100% the game (which is well worth doing for the extra post-final boss fight content).