Thousands of indie games release every year, but only a handful achieve mainstream success.
Halfway through 2021, Loop Hero and Valheim have achieved that status. Back in 2020, the undisputed champion of the indie darling mantle was Supergiant Games’ Hades, an isometric action roguelike that satisfied with its gameplay art and story that topped many gaming outlets’ Game of the Year lists. (Including ours!) Now there’s a new contender in the running to be 2021’s next big indie hit.
Reaping the benefits
Death’s Door was in development long before Hades made a splash in the indie scene last year, but its narrative also deals with the afterlife. In this upcoming release from Acid Nerve and Devolver Digital, players control a crow who reaps the souls of some of the monstrous creatures that inhabit the game’s Burton-esque world.
The game starts with what’s supposed to be a regular soul collection, but once you defeat the game’s first boss, you are ambushed by another larger crow who steals the soul you were trying to collect. That means our avian hero will start to age — and eventually die.
As the soul you’re looking for is now behind the titular Death’s Door, you must defeat several other monsters to obtain their souls and open the door for yourself. The build Inverse played certainly sets the stakes of the full adventure, but don’t let the dreary premise fool you; Death’s Door is remarkably endearing.
From the heroic Crow to the angry Urn Witch, many of the designs are cute and memorable. The game has a sharp wit about it too. The standout character from the demo was Pothead, a man eternally cursed to have a soup pot on his head. He helps the player take down the Urn Witch while lamenting his current situation and occasionally offering the player soup from his noggin.
Death’s Door is packed to the brim with memorable characters and atmospheric locations. It’s also surprisingly easy to pick up and play, despite its difficulty.
Like Hades, Death’s Door is an isometric action game where players must lay waste to lots of enemies in order to traverse game’s world. There are quite a few key differences between the games, though. Players use a sword in Death’s Door but can upgrade its power, reach, and speed over time.
The biggest difference is that Death’s Door is not a roguelike. Games like Hades have players repeat the same adventure multiple times, slowly getting more powerful over time. Hades innovated by telling a compelling narrative within that framework, but Death’s Door forgoes that approach to craft a more linear adventure.
When you die, you can quickly try again and don’t have to worry about losing all of your progress or upgrades. Combat is immediately engaging — you’ll need to learn enemy patterns, dodge their attacks, and respond with a flurry of blows from using a sword, bow, or magic.
The best parts of the early hours of Death’s Door were the massive bosses, who are tough to take down but can be overcome with an attentive eye and careful strategy. A giant castle creature that came to life and attacked the crow was a particular highlight, and we can only wait and see what other macabre designs await us in the full game.
While the combat isn’t especially innovative, Acid Nerve has proven with Titan Souls and now Death’s Door that they know how to design satisfying enemy encounters and keep an adventure interesting. Hopefully, the combat will stay just as lively as new upgrades and abilities are introduced over the course of the full adventure.
If you weren’t a fan of Hades’ structure but enjoyed its intense combat, you may prefer Death’s Door, thanks to its more approachable ground rules. Thanks to its rewarding combat, endearing world, and striking visuals, keep your eye on Death’s Door — this is a game a lot of people will be talking about.
Death’s Door will be released for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on July 20, 2021.