Describing Graveyard Keeper as “The most inaccurate medieval cemetery management sim of all time” doesn’t quite seem right to me. It’s not as if the sentence isn’t an adequate descriptor of what this game is about, it just seems kind of misleading, too tame if you will. The game is more unrestrained and over-the-top than I initially perceived it to be, and I’m utterly hooked on it.
It starts off slow, getting you acquainted with your new life as the caretaker of a cemetery with little in the way of context, that comes later. You’re introduced to your Graveyard, all broken down and overgrown as it is, and given a list of basic duties that you are in charge of. You learn to preform autopsies on freshly delivered corpses, harvest their Flesh, and bury them within the limited confines of your cemetery. And then the game really opens up.
Within the first 30 minutes of your playthrough, most of the world is opened up to you and a goal to work towards is established. You work hard repairing your Graveyard, gaining new resources and unlocking new items to craft and new methods of gathering materials.
You do this by collecting Technology points, which you receive from performing most actions in the game, from cutting down trees to baking bread, and then spend them in the Skill Tree to unlock the dozens upon dozens of different tools, upgrades and other craftables items from within 7 different categories. And trust me when I say that you’ll need a lot of these points.
There’s just so much to see and do in Graveyard Keeper. You can farm, fish, build decorations for your cemetery, give sermons for cash, explore the dungeons and so much more. The variety of activities is honestly astounding, and I never felt swamped for things to see or do.
Almost every interactable NPC that you encounter in the game has some sort of task for you to perform in order to earn favor with them, both to move the plot forward and to further improve your Graveyard. And more often than not, this leads you on a long journey of exploring and crafting that sometimes eats up hours of your time.
One such example takes place during your very first week in the game, when a character asks you to do them a small favor. They just need you to collect some firewood and make some flyers for their next witch burning, a festive event no doubt, and then you get something in return for your efforts. Simple trade, right?
Well the firewood was easy enough to get, but making the flyers was a long complicated task that required unlocking and building multiple different workstations, collecting loads of different materials, opening up passages to new areas on the map and even conducting extensive research, which itself requires a unique resource that can only be collected on a specific day once a week.
It was a long, disorganized journey that took upwards of 6 hours to complete. And you know what, even though it got a tad bit repetitive towards the end, it was definitely worth it. Afterwards, I wasn’t exactly aching to jump into a new task immediately, but I was optimistic to see what other challenges the game would throw at me.
Everything is just so much fun in this game. At one point I actually spent over two hours gathering wood and stone from my home’s immediate vicinity, storing up materials I knew I would eventually need for crafting, while at the same time making it look more neat and tidy. I’d stop every now and then to harvest the occasional brain and to sharpen my tools, but mostly to sleep, and then I’d return right back to my chores like a good caretaker who knew exactly what truly took priority when running a graveyard: that everything looked aesthetically pleasing.
This endeavor was also massively helped by the fact that although the game features a full day and night cycle, you aren’t forced to go to sleep at a certain time of night or because you’ve exhausted your stamina. You can keep going for as long as you need, and only sleep when you really need to replenish yourself.
Also I think most people already expect me to say this, but don’t go into Graveyard Keeper looking for much of a story. A narrative definitely exists, and as mentioned above, it gives you a goal to work towards, but it mostly just exists to provide context to your journey. There are some really colorful characters you encounter, such as a sentient alcoholic Skull, a corrupt Inquisitor and a talking donkey who’s tired of capitalist oppression among others.
But there’s also a minor issue that I’ve had with the game since I played the Alpha build back in May that still persists, and that’s the writing. It’s not great, and just makes me want to engage in dialogue with the NPCs as little as possible. I chuckled a few times when it was warranted, but for the most part it really needs some work.
For the most part my experience was also relatively bug free, except for a few instances of repeating dialogue and one encounter where a large chunk of the dialogue was missing, replaced only by the name of a text file. There’s also one area next to the Graveyard where I consistently saw my frame-rate drop to below 30 due to what I guess is a fog effect. Other than that, there were no hiccups that I encountered.
In conclusion, Graveyard Keeper is a labor of love, and it really shows. I have my issues with the game, but I’m glad developer Lazy Bear Games decided to aim high and make a game so unique, and one that so morbidly inspires curiosity in it’s players. I’ve spent close to 40 hours with the game at this point and I know I’m going to dive right back in as soon as I’m done writing this review.
Graveyard Keeper is set for release on the Xbox One and the PC on 15th August 2018. It is developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by tinyBuild Games. This review covers the PC version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
With Graveyard Keeper, developer Lazy Bear Games have created something truly unique. You might be inclined to label it as a dark twist on the Stardew Valley formula, but it’s just so much more than that.