Graveyard Keeper is a top-down management simulator developed by Lazy Bear Games, the creators of the critically-acclaimed Punch Club, and published by tinyBuild. It tells the tale of our nameless, bearded protagonist on his way to meet his lover. Suddenly, a terrible series of events unfold as he is struck by an oncoming vehicle and transported to a mysterious world. Met by a strange voice, our hero asks for a swift return and is provided with the offer of a lifetime, succeed as the new graveyard keeper and you will find his way home. Confused by this second chance, The Keeper starts his bizarre journey to reunite with his old life. However, all is not what it seems, even for this peculiar new land that we have stumbled into. Tread lightly, strange things happen in every nook and cranny.
Our story begins when we regain consciousness to a ghostly figure informing you to dig up Gerry and that he will explain everything. Gerry, a disembodied talking skull with a severe amnesia and a serious drinking problem, serves as your guide on your journey and shows you the ropes to become the best graveyard keeper this side of Camelot. That is until he gets thirsty and sends you on fetch quests to fulfill his alcoholic needs. This tutorial presents you with the basics before exposing you to a plethora of characters scattered around the landscape.
The gameplay mechanics in Graveyard Keeper are very similar to Stardew Valley but exposing you to a few more, complex attributes. Your main goal as the Keeper is to be a productive member of society while researching the town and its inhabitants in your efforts to escape this mysterious purgatory. Keeping up with the graveyard and holding church sessions for The Bishop is help in the highest order and will devote most of your time early on. Whether you are fixing gravesites, exhuming distasteful bodies, or performing autopsies for some extra gold (don’t tell anyone), you will find your calling sooner or later. If being Ye’ Ole Mortician doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then don’t worry. Maybe you were meant to be a farmer, a scholar, or the village idiot, telling everyone you were from the future probably wasn’t the best idea. Friends are everywhere and trust me when I say it, they will not hesitate with getting what they want at your expense. There is always something to do, even if you do not want to talk to a soul. I really enjoyed the graveyard management section at the beginning, but as I played I found myself shifting towards fishing and tending the crops. I still did what was needed of me to progress, but I played the game the way I wanted to from beginning to end. The level of freedom present here is non-existent in a lot of titles today, so I am glad the title doesn’t restrict the player from doing what they actually prefer to do.
The best, yet most confusing section of Graveyard Keeper comes in the form of its multi-tiered skill trees. It begins rather simplistic and lulls you into satisfaction by providing you with simple tasks to achieve colorful tokens known as skill points. You down a tree, skill points…dig up a grave, skill points…bake a delicious cake, skill points. Sounds easy, right? However, this is where they pull the rug out from underneath your feet and throw you to the wolves. I should preface that the skill tree is not the confusing and challenging part of this equations. It is getting those dastardly points you need to activate any of those attributes, and more importantly the blue ones that need to be damned for all eternity. The skill points are divided into three colors: red, green, and blue, with blue being the rarest one to achieve. Normally, I would not have a problem with this, I was contempt at the beginning with the mass amount of red and greens that filled my screen mixed with the few blues I obtained. However, I quickly hit a wall when all the skills began to require these pesky blue dots. I understand making things difficult to attain, but I could not get behind the level that was taken for this. Not only were the actions few and far in-between, but once completed, you would only receive one or two points. Pair this with the fact that most attributes would require ten or even more and you put yourself in an annoying, grindy situation.
Graveyard Keeper’s visuals and soundtracks were high-class and done very well. The 8-bit top-down aesthetic chosen pairs well with games of this genre, I mean look at Stardew Valley. In addition, I enjoyed the medieval setting used, which provided amazing context for why you were managing a graveyard. Providing a sense of mysticism helped keep this game from getting stale and prevented it from falling into a category and being forgotten as a simple clone. The music felt right at home with its eerie vibes. The combination of the atmosphere, the visuals, and the soundtrack put the nail in the coffin for the spooky overtones that resonate throughout the entire game.
I felt a mixed bag of emotions when I started playing Graveyard Keeper and those feeling changed frequently. I never fell victim to the Stardew Valley craze that struck the internet a few years back and I did not know how I would enjoy this game, but really wanted to give it a shot. Immediately, my initial expectations changed for the good, I was sucked in from the get-go and did not want to put the game down. I even contemplated going back and giving Stardew another try once I completed my playthrough. It was rather peaceful going at my own pace, just sitting back and relaxing while harvesting some beets for the local dealer. However, I did run into some big issues after a while. Various crashes plagued my game throughout, causing me to lose progress and repeat days. Not a huge deal, but definitely something that would need to be addressed. Constant crashing caused a game that I couldn’t put down to a game I didn’t even want to pick back up. It is devastating in any game, but I really hope that a patch will come out to fix these issues in such a solid game.
In the end, Graveyard Keeper is an amazing title that does a lot of things right but unfortunately fell victim to an excessive amount of technical issues. The game is priced at $20 USD, which I feel is worth the price, once they fix the crashing. Luckily for individuals playing on Xbox, this game is part of the Xbox Game Pass. While it would still require a purchase of the Game Pass membership, it will allow you to try the game out for a discounted price. Even with all the issues, I would recommend trying this game out, it has some nice quirks and is worth it overall.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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