Graveyard Keeper PC Review

Graveyard Keeper is an engaging sim that's a little too cheap with giving out information.

By Woozie, Posted 16 Aug 2018

Over the years, simulators have put us at the helm of hospitals curing wacky patients, inside asteroids managing a colony of 3D printed duplicants or in charge of a farm in an attempt to escape urban life. Graveyard Keeper follows a man unwillingly sent back to a medieval village and charged with caring for the local graveyard. After a brief conversation with an anti-capitalist donkey, the first thing you’re taught – by a talking skull, nonetheless – is how to extract flesh from a recently deceased body. What you then choose to do with the flesh is best not discussed. The appearance of inquisitors and cults not long after add to the darker tone its world takes on, which is one of the things that set it apart from that one farming game it might be compared to. But, just like how things in the village aren’t all fine and dandy when you get there, Graveyard Keeper does have its not so ideal bits.

Graveyard Keeper, PC, Review, Screenshot

Graveyard Keeper puts in a minimal effort when it comes to setting you up. A helpful arrow directs towards the nearby bishop, inn and blacksmith, which offer a few starting mini tutorials, but afterwards you’re mostly left to your own devices. Important details are explained in tutorial messages, some of which cannot be viewed again after closing them. If you don’t choose to explore right away, pestering everyone in the village, you’ll miss out on recipes and tasks that may or may not be the only way to unlock further tech or progress towards new crafting opportunities. Once you open its tech trees, Graveyard Keeper will begin to feel overwhelming but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite its name, there’s a bevy of things to do aside from graveyard keeping. You’ll also hold sermons at the church, dabble into farming, beekeeping and making wine. There’s even a dungeon to delve down into. Several tech trees mark overall progress unlocking new crafting stations, more advanced materials or better equipment, all requiring points you earn as you perform most actions. The blue research points mark a first obstacle in the way towards progressing as they’re hidden behind not just one of the first quests but also currency obtained only once per cycle. While most of the gameplay revolves around gathering materials, building crafting stations, then refining the materials to build different objects like church benches, swords or edibles, each portion is a puzzle unto itself. These moments of discovery and pushing forward through the tech trees are often fulfilling and I found myself absolutely lost in chopping down trees, turning them into billets so I can make firewood, which then fuels the furnace that creates ingots; the ingots are then required for a couple of other items like nails or parts which go on to create even more needed stuff. Despite the fact that you mostly select stuff from menus and hold the “F” key, crafting things, placing new objects and watching areas expand is very satisfying, even if it doesn’t involve large amounts of customization.

Graveyard Keeper, PC, Screenshot, Review

Graveyard Keeper might appear to give you complete freedom as to how you approach things, but that appearance eventually fades away and not in the best fashion. I initially neglected beautifying the graveyard site, overwhelmed and enthused by the sheer amount of info I had to dig through myself, exploring the town and fiddling with the different crafting stations. I then arrived at the point where I needed blue points in order to progress through the tech tree and had no idea how to obtain them. Shortly after, one of the main avenues of obtaining money was cut off, in an attempt to get me to explore farming, something which I hadn’t really cared for until then. All the momentum that I had gained up until that point, alongside a portion of enjoyment, was effectively halted as I had to scramble and make do with the money I had, in hope of getting past these requirements thrown my way so suddenly. I couldn’t help but feel a bit deceived and disappointed.

Relaying information reliably is not something Graveyard Keeper does very well either. You don’t know which parts of tech progression can only be obtained as quest rewards, so there’s no real way of figuring out which quests to prioritize. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you need to purchase items and it’s not clear who sells them, or if they’re only sold at higher, locked tiers. Certain quest-giving NPCs or events are only available at specific times in the game’s cycle, made up of six periods I’ll call seasons. Sermons, a second way of earning cash, can only be held when the calendar is on the purple sun. As you’ll most likely not know the optimal path of upgrading and completing quests from the get go, you may find your entire progress slowed down significantly, relying on such moments that take their sweet time to pop around. There were also cases when I was enjoying taking care of different things that I outright missed the moment when a season came by, as they’re only show on the top left.

Graveyard Keeper, PC, Screenshot, Review

Graveyard Keeper also moves at a fairly slow pace. Even upon unlocking a shortcut through my house’s basement, travelling to the town and back takes a good amount of time. I did end up meeting NPCs as they were on their way back from the location they’re found at, discovering that talking while walking isn’t something they’re particularly fond of. Performing most actions drains your stamina bar which can only be refilled by food, drink, potions or sleeping. In the opening hours, and even well past them, chances are food won’t be readily available. Thus, you’ll do a lot of sleeping which breaks apart and slows things down even more. The silver lining here would be that it also saves the game, but as it took a lot of patience and bumbling from quest to quest before I managed to get a steady amount of food for myself, I began dreading having to look at my character’s stamina bar refilling as he went to bed with the background turning black.  

Looking past these issues, however, there’s a good amount of systems at play within Graveyard Keeper. Aside from the workstations and different areas of creation that range from woodworking to alchemy and beekeeping, each NPC has a reputation meter that fills up as you help them, which opens up new options of dialogue or some that affect gameplay. A cultist, for example, could sell me a counterfeit stamp so I could legally sell meat that totally didn’t come off the corpses whose burial I oversaw. Various vendors in the town sell other needed items and buy specific ones, opening the possibility of earning some money through trade and purchasing materials not readily available to you. You just don’t know which traders want which materials without visiting them individually and/or noting things down. Dungeon crawling’s also a part of the game and, although it features a very basic combat system, it’s a nice break from other tasks.

Graveyard Keeper, PC, Review, Screenshot

Part of the enjoyment of this type of games lies in discovering how various systems work and interact with each other and there’s a large amount of that in Graveyard Keeper. But there’s also a lack of properly relaying needed information and a tendency of stalling one’s ability to progress out of the blue, which can be quite disheartening. Too many times I wanted to head on over to a wiki to find out just where I could buy one damned item I needed for a quest and couldn’t figure out how to build myself. Where moments earlier I was diligently harvesting, crafting and studying things with broad horizons ahead of me, I suddenly found myself pigeonholed into waiting for a specific moment in the cycle to come by in order to progress. Graveyard Keeper manages to frustrate in its attempt at forcing players to explore all of its facets and that might as well turn people away from it. That’s a pity, since with enough patience to weather these unfortunate moments, there’s a pretty vast and often engaging simulator to be discovered. There are loads of activities which feed into others, trading and questing to discover alongside stories that do have a certain, sometimes darker, charm to them. That, in fact, is what kept me returning to Graveyard Keeper after each break caused by the title’s more frustrating design choices.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PC
Publisher(s): Lazy Bear Games
Developer(s): tinyBuild
Genres: Adventure
Themes: Medieval
Release Date: 2018-08-15

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