Save State Goes Through Bullet Heaven in Death Must Die

Welcome back to Save State, where we’re taking a brief break from the Battle Network retrospective to talk about a recently released game in the so-called bullet heaven genre. This isn’t because Battle Network 4 exhausted me a bit on the formula, and I still haven’t completely made my way through Battle Network 5. Nope, it’s not due to that at all. In any case, I took a brief break from the series to play a game that released last month called Death Must Die. After the runaway success of Vampire Survivors, there have been a lot more bullet heaven-style titles released in the last year or so, but Death Must Die mixes it up a bit by giving players the power of the gods.

The general feel of games like Death Must Die and Vampire Survivors is that you select your character, go into a stage, and cut down swaths of enemies until you reach the end of a time limit. Whereas Vampire Survivors has you select randomized items from a chest to combat hordes of undead and uses a roguelite persistent upgrade system across runs, Death Must Die spins this on its head a bit by using elements from titles like Diablo and Hades. While playing Death Must Die, equipment will drop that can provide a variety of benefits to your character like increasing your armor, health, or giving you fun additional skills like a green parrot that pecks the undead for you. To add onto this, by collecting experience shards you can level up your character using a variety of boons given to you by gods who also wish for the end of Death.

Playing Death Must Die is simple, you move your character towards enemies and can either auto attack or click/move the right stick toward the target you wish to hit. Enemies show red zones on the ground to indicate their attack area, and you can dodge out of the way with a press of a button. Combat isn’t as involved as your standard action game, but it’s definitely much appreciated that more was included in the way of player interactivity compared to other bullet heavens. To add onto this, with the equipment and god blessings systems, there’s a substantial amount of customization you can do with each character in Death Must Die.

You begin playing with a knight named Avoron who can only hit targets near him with his sword, but as you play, you’ll unlock Merris, a mage that can shoot fireballs at far targets. The assassin Nixi has a narrower attack range than Avoron, but stabs twice with her weapon quickly which means she’s excellent for passives and blessings that trigger on hit. The warrior Skadi seems unassuming at first until you unlock one of her signs, and the barbarian Kront swings his axes to cover all sides of him which can make him easier to play for some. Each playable character you unlock has 5 signs that can be unlocked by clearing some specified achievements like having to kill some bosses within 20 seconds or recovering a large amount of health, and each sign provides a powerful perk for the character to take advantage of like additional projectiles for your spells.

Gearing up characters is important in Death Must Die, as additional health and armor will improve your survivability, and added statistics like higher critical attack chance, spell damage, etc., will increase your chances to defeat the bosses that pop up in your 20 minutes of play (at this stage of Early Access, there are only 3 bosses). Every level up will also yield blessings from various gods like Mort, Death’s daughter, who can give you the power to curse enemies and gain permanent damage increases should enemies die of a curse. Other gods may give you the power to spread fire along the battlefield or command a fire-breathing dragon, while another may give you the power to launch saw blades that make your enemies bleed with every step they take. The blessings system is a lot like the boons from Hades, and finding various synergies that work well with your character and their signs will expedite your quest to defeat Death… or at least Dracula, since Death isn’t in the Early Access version of Death Must Die yet.

It’s actually quite addicting to snag a new piece of gear with a fun new ability on it. While I, for example, keep finding gear that gives my character’s parrot summons that peck enemies to death, a friend of mine has found multiple pieces of gear that summons onyx dragons and put them all on the same character. So, he just has one character who can relax when enemies fill the screen since he has three dragons to take care of his light work, which is definitely a different way to play the title.

The visuals of Death Must Die consist of delightfully detailed pixel art, and the music is very reminiscent of Vampire Survivors in the best way possible. Each god has their own voice actor which brings to mind the Hades association very easily. The visual and audio representation of this game has clearly had a lot of effort put into it, and even its menu systems are reminiscent of older Diablo titles. Death Must Die wears its inspiration on its sleeves and that comes through even in the graphics and sound design.

Death Must Die takes the addicting gear collection of Diablo IV, mixes it with the gods from Hades giving you boons, and mashes this all into a Vampire Survivors style of gameplay with great indicators for enemy attacks. If Vampire Survivors is a title that tickles your fancy, then there’s a very real possibility that Death Must Die’s spin on the genre will also occupy you for several hours. Considering that it is in Early Access and only the first tier of adventure and gear has been added, there is a great chance that a lot more is to come. Even if you don’t get Death Must Die now, it would be a great idea to keep an eye on its development as the core systems in place are very addicting and enjoyable.

That being said, it’s time to bring this entry of Save State to a close. As Mr. T always says, “Stay in school, drink your milk, and don’t do drugs.” See you all next time!

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