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2021 in review: Getting lost in Death's Door's final secrets

Knocking off.

Hello! Over the next few days we're going to be going back over some of our favourite games and moments and themes and whatnot from this very strange year. We hope you enjoy looking back with us!

Spoiler warning - this piece goes into how Death's Door's end-game works. It's intentionally light on specifics, but it's highly recommended you experience the moments after the credits yourself first, of course - it's one of the best games of the year, after all, as our Death's Door review explains.

We've all played enough Metroidvanias and Zelda-likes to know what to expect by now. Upon reaching a new area, you'll come across things you can't unlock, reach, or simply fathom there and then - so you continue on your way and put it into the recesses of your mind, safe in the knowledge you'll figure it out later.

This happens over and over, teeing up my favourite part of these games - an excuse to run through each area again with a fine tooth comb, sweeping up everything you missed. It's a victory lap of sorts; breezing through adversaries which easily bested you first time round, using your new abilities to uncover more secrets, all to mop up all those final upgrades and make yourself even more powerful before you take on the final encounter.

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Death's Door has the same delightful trappings, but with a twist. It starts with a key, dropped after the credits roll, and it's used on one of those observations you likely stored away for later - a bell tower, tucked in the corner of the world but almost impossible to miss, overlooking the titular Death's Door. So you unlock the gate, climb the ladder to the top, and strike the bell - and as it rings out, everything goes dark. Literally - day has now turned to night.

What do you do next? Obviously, the game doesn't tell you. So you explore and find some ghosts that follow you. That's new! But what does that mean? You're stumped again - until you realise you can help them find a home. Once you've specced out the spectrals, you realise other areas in the game are also now under the cover of night, and have strange secrets of their own - and so a chain of new discoveries and experimentation begins to unfurl, some of which gives closure to its brilliant, bizarre cast of characters, and others introducing new ones.

What makes Death's Door special is it understands these sorts of endgames are less about finding a new challenge but one of gentle rediscovery, of being strangely nostalgic for the trials, sights and sounds you experienced just hours earlier, and the muted state from striking that bell - with its soundtrack substituted for calming wind, and the world now being bathed in a calm moonlight glow - matches that mood perfectly.

I probably spent more time in the end-game than doing anything else in Death's Door - and it was time well spent.

All those observations you couldn't quite piece together are there too, of course, keeping you busy while you discover and ponder what else the end-game has in store. After discovering the purpose of the bell tower, I spent the next few weekend mornings with a new routine - I would get up, make a coffee, and spend a few hours exploring everything again to see what I missed. I would inevitably fail - some of Death's Door's secrets are extremely well hidden - but I didn't mind. I was happy for things to gradually fall into place, and for it all to play on my mind in the hours and days since, like all the best games do. And what a game Death's Door is.

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