Graveyard Keeper is a management simulator developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by tinyBuild for PC and Xbox One. Graveyard Keeper borrows systems from Punch Club, the previous game by the developer, and Stardew Valley to create something that is not too dissimilar from the latter whilst keeping the developers unique game style. This review is based on the PC version of game within the first week of launch.
Graveyard Keeper begins with the protagonist becoming involved in a car accident and finding himself in a medieval world in which he is the new graveyard keeper. A talking skull by the name of Gerry has his first clue on how to get home, for the price of a beer. Completing quests for NPCs raises their favour with the player and certain amounts of favour will be required to progress in the game. For example, if the player wants to open the village church he must first acquire an amount of favour with the local Bishop by working through his requests to tidy up the church graveyard. These chains of interactions will carry the player from quest-to-quest until the end of the game.
The meat of Graveyard Keeper is derived from the basic actions the player needs to complete to fulfill the requeststhey are given. In the previous example the player would need to fix gravestones and craft additional ones to meet the Bishop’s request. One would go about this by chopping down trees, sawing them into useful parts, and crafting parts into a final product. Players start with a limited knowledge of technology and can buy new tech with points acquired from performing actions in the game. Technology points are broken down into three categories; physical (Red), nature (green), and spiritual (blue). Various amounts are required to unlock new items from one of the seven tabs that divide into the different activities the player will be performing.
Despite its name, players of Graveyard Keeper will do more than tend a graveyard as they progress through the game. There is a garden to grow ingredients for recipes the player will learn, a dungeon in which the majority of the combat will take place, an area to study the pursuit of alchemy, and a morgue in which dead bodies are prepared before their burial in the graveyard. Many of the tasks are interconnected as well, with components produced in one activity being require for a product in another.
Pretty much any activity that the player engages in will expend energy, the main resource the player needs to manage. Keeping a stock of food on hand is a necessity as energy can run out at the most inopportune moments. Restoring energy is primarily done through sleeping. There is a day/night cycle in Graveyard Keeper, but there is little difference in the time at which a player chooses to sleep, and there is no penalty for running out of energy or choosing to forgo sleep and instead favour replenishing energy with food.
Graveyard Keeper includes a day/night cycle because NPCs will move around the map based on the time of day, and some important characters will only visit on a specific day of the six day week. The game does not track months or years like Stardew Valley, but players can see how many in-game days they have played on their saved game file. This means that all crops can be grown in the garden regardless of seasonal or weather constraints that would be found in the other title.
Graveyard Keeper employs some rather pretty 2D graphics, and characters have enough animation frames to make their movements looks rather smooth. It is a shame then that beyond movement and idle animations, the majority of NPCs do rather little in the world. The protagonist has plenty of variety, though some actions do share similar movements. Any actions that a player could perform on objects are obvious though visual clues in the graphics. For example, trees that can be chopped may be thin or thick, but trees with a bee hive can instead be harvested for honey. This may seem minor, but it is a huge help when trying to harvest multiple resources in the late game.
The soundtrack to Graveyard Keeper is largely forgettable. It is not bad per se, it just lacks variety or stand out tracks. Comparisons keep coming back to Stardew Valley which had a different tunes for each of its four seasons that changed depending on the time of day. Graveyard Keeper has none of this, and the same tracks will be on repeat throughout the entire game.
Now, on to the gripes for Graveyard Keeper, of which there are many. Navigating around the map can take a fair amount of time as there is no run button. This is doubly annoying when a NPC who appears once a week asks for something the player has stashed in a chest at home, but they will disappear before the player can retrieve it. The donkey that delivers fresh corpses to the mortuary is unreliable; he can take days to deliver one, then deliver a second fairly quickly or on a day he should not. Despite the game being in full release, patches are still being applied that tweak recipes and quests, which can cause confusion when returning to the game after a nights sleep.
The largest complaint that can be leveled at Graveyard Keeper is that it keeps the player busy with repetitive processes. Massive amounts of resources are required over the course of the game, each requiring energy to harvest or prepare. Players will constantly have to stop and sleep (or consume food) to keep up the actions required for even mundane tasks. In the middle of a task a tool can break which means heading home to repair it again. With the amount of freedom a player has to tackle any of the tasks in front of them, it can become a little overwhelming at times to prioritise what should be worked on first. Again, compare this to Stardew Valley which constrains the players time in a single day thus giving focus to what should be done, whilst giving the player plenty of time and energy to perform the actions.
Despite the negatives that Graveyard Keeper has going against it, there is still enjoyment to be had in the game, and it can eat away a players gaming time in the blink of an eye. The developers seem to be working daily on fixes since the release of the game with the version having iterated six times (as of writing) since launch. The writing for each of the characters is quite humorous and brings out the personality of each NPC. It may appeal to fans of Stardew Valley and similar games, but it may also be a good idea to hold off until the patches start slowing down.
Title: Graveyard Keeper
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Platform Reviewed: Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 15 August 2018