Review: Grave Keeper

Developer: Baldur Games

Publisher: Ultimate Games

Genre: Hack-and-Slash

Platforms: PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch

Rating: None

Price: $9.99

Grave Keeper is a cartoony, fantasy hack-and-slash game, and the first title from indie developer Baldur Games; according to the game’s credits, only two people were involved in the actual development process. Tiny dev teams may not have the same kind of reach as big AAA companies, but in recent history, they have produced some standout hits that force the industry to take notice. Is Grave Keeper good enough to make that kind of impact, or will it be lost amongst the masses of indie titles flooding the market?

Content Guide

Violence/magic: You use melee weapons like swords and axes, as well as ranged weapons like crossbows, to defeat your enemies; they, in turn, use not only those but also some magical spells to bring you down. There’s no blood or gore, however. Characters simply fall to the ground and disintegrate into thin air when they die.

Sexual Content: Arryn, a busty woman wearing a dress that reveals a ton of cleavage, appears onscreen periodically as a tutorial guide and to announce when you have acquired a new treasure chest. Even though she’s not nearly as scantily clad as some video game characters I’ve seen, and she doesn’t make any suggestive comments, it’s clear that she is designed to serve as eye candy.

Review

Grave Keeper begins with a brief, cheaply-made cutscene showing the player character, referred to as the Bounty Hunter—even though you never collect any bounties in the game—walking into a room filled with treasure. Just as he is about to take some, a Skeleton King shows up, engages the knight in combat, and kicks him out of the dungeon. Your goal in the game is to wander around several different fantastical locales, fight hordes of monsters to grow stronger and earn loot, and then defeat the Skeleton King.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, you never actually defeat the Skeleton King. Here’s how the game’s basic mode, Fight, is structured: every time you enter one of the game’s few locations (graveyard, dungeon, volcano), you fight off several waves—or Stages, as the game calls them—of fifteen enemies each. After completing those, you are faced with a boss battle against a single, stronger opponent. Upon defeating him, you then travel to another random location to repeat the process—although you might just wind up in the same place you were before. Once you have arrived at Stage 31, you are allowed to fight the Skeleton King, though you may choose to continue completing Stages for as long as you want beforehand. Whenever you do attack the Skeleton King, you instantly travel to his throne room and engage him in battle. You don’t kill him though; once his health bar reaches a specific low point, he stops taking damage and runs straight at you. That triggers a cutscene that once again shows him kicking you out of his lair. This brings you back to Stage 1 and resets your loadout down to the starting gear, but you earn rewards that let you permanently upgrade a variety of passive stats that stay with you. The more stages you plow through before engaging the Skeleton King, the more rewards you will receive when you defeat him again…or rather, when he kicks you out again.

Grave Keeper’s combat is pedestrian. You are equipped with a melee weapon, a ranged weapon, and a special ability that will do extra damage either to enemies right in front of you or all around you. The gear you acquire comes with increased stats like base damage, critical damage, attack speed, and the like; rarer gear may occasionally provide bonuses such as elemental damage as well. You can also upgrade your gear using the coins that are dropped by enemies on the battlefield. None of your equipment provides you with altered movesets or any other kind of interesting new ability, either; no matter what melee weapon you pick, you still perform the same animation when you swing it. The same goes for the crossbows.

The game also suffers from being too easy. As long as you periodically upgrade your weapons, you can take down every monster from the waves with one hit. Only the bosses take more than one hit to kill. Eventually, the monsters do start dealing noticeably more damage, but not until you’ve spent a long time hacking through wave after wave of the same generic enemies, in the same limited set of locations, with the same music tracks accompanying each place. Monotony sets in quickly.

Compounding the problem is that, in this standard Fight mode, death essentially means nothing. If you die, you can simply revive at the beginning of that wave—or, if in a boss fight, in the wave prior to the boss—having lost nothing other than real-world time; you keep all your XP, equipment, and currency. You have nothing at stake. If you do happen to die repeatedly to a boss or wave, you can simply elect to fight the Skeleton King, wipe the floor with him in a matter of seconds, get kicked back to Stage 1 and pick up whatever reward you will have earned for making it as far as you did before attacking him. The game indicated that your reward for “defeating” the Skeleton King would continue to grow through 600 Stages; given how time consuming—and mind-numbingly boring—such a task would be, why someone would bother to play that long is beyond me.

In addition to the Fight game mode, Grave Keeper offers two other modes. Versus mode pits you against an AI knight with whom you compete to be the first to reach 30 kills; success nets you a reward and moves you up a ladder, with subsequent victories against other AI yielding greater winnings. Losing doesn’t drop your place in the ladder, so you can keep trying with no penalty.

Royal Fight mode is the only one in which death makes a difference. Here, you are joined with three AI knights to fight off enemies and earn as many points as you can before dying. Once you die, you receive whatever rewards your point total has earned you. In this mode, you actually have some incentive to use the pile of health potions you acquire during the main Fight mode, and to tread carefully so as not to get killed. This mode even mixes in the boss enemies with the standard, one-hit kill monsters, adding a tiny amount of much-needed variety to the gameplay formula. Unfortunately, the game’s boring combat mechanics keep Royal Fight from being much better than either of the other two modes.

It saddens me that the nicest thing I can say about Grave Keeper is that it is not as bad as it could be. The cartoony, fantasy artstyle is generic, but cute. The arenas repeat far too often, but there’s a decent amount of detail present in each one. The basic character movement feels okay. And while I encountered a few minor glitches, I never had to deal with any major, game-breaking bugs. Alas, these backhanded compliments serve as the only praise this game earns.

I can sum up my experience of playing Grave Keeper with one word: boring. It is far too easy to be engaging, and even when the enemies do technically become more dangerous, the game’s monotonous, simplistic combat maintains the overall tedium. If you are looking for a fun new hack-and-slash title to add to your library, look elsewhere.

Review copy generously provided by Mateusz Pietrzyk.

The Bottom Line

 

 

Michael Mendis

Michael Mendis loves to discuss gaming, Christian faith, and how the two interact. In addition to his main hobby of playing video games, he also enjoys watching movies, anime, and baseball.

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