Review: Graveyard Keeper (PC)
Graveyard Keeper is the most inaccurate medieval cemetery management sim of all time. Build and manage your own graveyard, and expand into other ventures, while finding shortcuts to cut costs. Use all the resources you can find. After all, this is a game about the spirit of capitalism, and doing whatever it takes to build a thriving business. And it’s also a love story.
- Face ethical dilemmas. Do you really want to spend money on that proper burger meat for the witch-burning festival, when you have so many resources lying around?
- Gather valuable materials and craft new items. Expand your Graveyard into a thriving business. Help yourself -- gather the valuable resources scattered across the surrounding areas, and explore what this land has to offer.
- Quests and corpses. These dead bodies don't need all those organs, do they? Why not grind them up and sell them to the local butcher? Or you can go on proper quests, you roleplayer.
- Explore mysterious dungeons. No medieval game would be complete without those! Take a trip into the unknown, and find discover new alchemy ingredients -- which may or may not poison a whole bunch of nearby villagers.
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel core i5, 1.5 GHz and up
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: 1 Gb dedicated video card, shader model 3.0+
DirectX: Version 10
Storage: 1 GB available space
40+ hours for the main story, upwards of 60 hours for completionists
August 15th, 2018
PC, Xbox One
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Genre: Management sim
Rating: T for Teen
Video games allow people to perform all sorts of activities that they will never have the opportunity to do in real life: gunning down alien hordes, commanding massive armies, or uncovering magical mysteries are some of the most common roles that gamers take on. Now, with developer Lazy Bear Games’ new title Graveyard Keeper, maintaining a church cemetery can now be added to that list. It’s a unique concept…but how does it translate into an actual game?
Violence: You attack bats, slime creatures, and other monsters with swords; when you die, you simply collapse to the ground, although in specific circumstances you may be incinerated and left as a pile of bones. In the process of preparing dead bodies for burial, you can extract certain body parts for later use. Blood appears on the autopsy table, as well as on certain walls and floors of the underground dungeon.
Spiritual Content: In addition to acting as the church’s graveyard keeper, you also serve as a member of the clergy, responsible for giving a sermon once a week and asking for God’s blessing. Congregants who are pleased with your service provide faith, which acts as a form of currency and crafting resource. Other church leaders make an appearance and are shown in an unfavorable light, including a self-righteous and self-centered bishop, as well as an inquisitor with a penchant for burning witches.
On the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum, you can decorate the dungeon under the church with the skulls of your cadavers in order to prepare for a pagan summoning ritual. The skull isn’t the only part of the corpse that you can find uses for, either: the flesh can be cooked in your kitchen and consumed for an energy boost, or sold to the village tavern. The tavern owner, as well as any other villagers to whom you provide human meat, never know what kind of meat they are receiving, in their defense.
You also engage in the pseudo-science of alchemy, breaking down items into their material and spiritual essences and combining them into new substances, such as embalming fluids for your corpses.
Language: At least one character uses the word b*****d.
Drugs/Alcohol: You can purchase beer and wine, or craft it for yourself.
The story begins with a brief cutscene: your character is walking home from work late one night, eager to return home to his love. Suddenly, he is hit by a car and loses consciousness; he wakes up in an unfamiliar home, somehow transported to medieval times. To complicate matters further, everyone in the local village already assumes that he is the new graveyard keeper, the one responsible for burying bodies in the church graveyard. Your goal is to find a way back to the present day and escape this bizarre predicament.
During your quest, you must interact with the townsfolk, gleaning information about how to return home. They are a bizarre and quirky bunch: a donkey who spouts communist rhetoric and demands improved pay and working conditions; an inquisitor who revels in the burning of witches; a talking skull that teaches you the basics of gravekeeping; and so on. The citizens don’t understand your situation, though, and won’t help you for free; everyone is focused on their own problems, and you have little choice but to become the local gopher, running errands and finding items that people need. The self-centered residents aren’t particularly likeable, but the dark humor that stems from their actions and dialogue keep the tone light-hearted and amusing.
The paper-thin premise serves little purpose in the game, however, other than to provide a reason for why your character is running a graveyard and to give you an overarching goal to achieve. To the extent that it matters, it actually undermines the gameplay; while the premise suggests that the main character should be working as fast as possible to get home, the slow-paced, experimental nature of the gameplay encourages the player to take his or her time in completing tasks.
Graveyard Keeper’s gameplay is, at its core, organic in nature; collecting basic resources from the wilderness allows you to construct simple tools and workstations, which in turn make it possible to build more complex materials. Many actions also provide you with special red, blue, or green points, which you spend to unlock a wide variety of different skills. It is this variety of skills and activities, in fact, that serves as the game’s strongest element: the various activities available to you helps ensure that the game never feels rote or boring.
One of your most important tasks is, of course, overseeing the local cemetery. Burying the bodies that you can receive regularly throughout the week provides you with burial certificates, which you can then turn in at the local tavern for money. As you bury bodies, construct elaborate tombstones, and add other niceties to the property—such as lawns and flower beds—the quality of your cemetery improves. This plays into another one of Graveyard Keeper’s unique mechanics: leading worship services. One day each week you have the opportunity to speak before a congregation and pray for a blessing. In response, the congregants provide money as well as Faith—another form of currency—and the better you maintain the church and surrounding cemetery, the more money you receive.
Leading a worship service, along with the graveyard maintenance tasks, proves to be most satisfying element of the game and one of the more unique experiences I have had in my years of gaming. Despite its obvious connection to my own faith, however, I found it difficult to glean much spiritual significance from it, thanks to some of the other, less savory activities that the game has to offer, such as assisting an NPC with a pagan summoning ritual, or selling burgers made with human meat to unsuspecting patrons at the weekly witch burning. The irreverent tone and dark humor pervade the game’s numerous spiritual elements, never allowing the player to take anything too seriously.
Spiritual activities are only the tip of the iceberg, though: other gameplay mechanics include farming, fishing, cooking, alchemy, and fighting monsters, just to name a few. If you ever grow tired of one task, there are plenty of others to try out, and as a result, the game is continuously fresh and interesting. These other activities also fit into the game’s organic design, with new and more advanced items becoming available as you build new tools and spend points to unlock skills in these numerous areas.
Unfortunately, the gameplay comes with its own set of flaws, chief among them being the painfully slow progression. Lots of different mechanics play into this problem. For example, most activities in the game,especially the construction work you often perform as part of your graveyard duties, require you to expend energy. While eating food restores some energy, the fastest and most resource-efficient method is going to sleep. Still, these frequent naps break the flow of gameplay and artificially pad the game’s length. Another contributor to Graveyard Keeper’s shortcomings relates to creating alchemical items. When working at an alchemy station, the game records the formula of any combination of ingredients that results in a successful new item; unsuccessful combinations, however, are not recorded, thus forcing you to somehow remember these failed attempts on your own, inevitably leading to wasted resources as you make the same mistakes over and over again. The worst offender, though, is Faith: this currency plays a crucial role in alchemy research, book and sermon writing, and the construction of high-end tombstones. Despite its importance in multiple fields, this resource is difficult to come by; your most consistent way of obtaining it is through successful prayers during the weekly worship services, but even then you don’t receive much of it, especially in the early game before you have enough resources to craft new and improved prayers. As a result of the lack of balance all these things—and others that I haven’t even mentioned here that would substantially extend this review—completing quests for NPCs takes far longer than I feel is necessary to maintain reasonable gameplay progression.
Combat plays a minor role in the game; monsters like bats and slime creatures spawn in the wilderness at night, and a multi-leveled dungeon can be accessed from the underground tunnels that connect the church, morgue, town, and your own home. Swinging your sword and navigating around enemies feels clunky, and most of the monsters have much better mobility than you do. A little extra polish to these mechanics would have gone a long way in making fighting a more enjoyable experience.
Graveyard Keeper’s simple visuals punch above their weight thanks to strong art design and good use of color. Greens and browns dominate the landscape, but small splashes of other colors, such as the blue rooftop of your home, the white marble of the nearby ruins, and the oranges of carrots and pumpkins growing in the garden, make the world feel vibrant. This dovetails nicely with the game’s light-hearted nature, and together provide an upbeat tone in the face of the dark underlying themes.
Graveyard Keeper clearly has some important things going for it: the wide variety of tasks keeps the gameplay fresh, the visual aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, and maintaining a cemetery proves to be both unique and satisfying. Unfortunately, the game’s balance issues, unpolished combat, and uninspired plot mar the otherwise enjoyable experience. Still, I have to applaud Lazy Bear Games for taking such an odd concept and showing that graveyard keeping can be a worthwhile way to spend your gaming time, even if the overall execution missed some marks.
Review copy generously provided by tinyBuild.
+ Graveyard maintenance is unique and satisfying
+ Wide variety of activities keeps gameplay interesting
+ Attractive art design
+ Dark, quirky humor
- Balance issues slow progression and add frustration to the experience
- Unpolished, clunky combat
- Forgettable story