Travis gives this an astounding "Must Play" on the Ghost Scale
This achieves something special, and it would be a shame to miss it.
Travis gives this a "Must Play" on the Ghost Scale
This achieves something special, and it would be a shame to miss it.
Note: tinyBuild provided us with a copy of this game for review because they're awesome. Thanks tinyBuild!

I'm having withdrawal from Graveyard Keeper. It's the kind of game that gets under your skin and has you thinking about game logic when doing day-to-day things. The grocery store is a nightmare: "No, I don't need apples, I have about 50 of those in my trunk. Wait... that's not real life, Travis." According to Steam, it took 45 hours for me to beat the game but I could have happily gone another 45. I didn't intend to wait until I beat it to write this review, it's just that I couldn't stop playing it.

If you've played a farming sim, Graveyard Keeper will feel familiar. The most obvious comparison is Stardew Valley, but comparing the two is a little unfair to both games. In short, you die, and you wake up in this medieval town where you are tasked with managing a graveyard. You don't know why, and you're just trying to get home, but you go along with hit. In order to manage your graveyard you have to saw lumber to make simple grave plots at first, then stone and marble. In order to keep getting bodies you have to keep the delivery donkey happy with carrots. In order to use the garden you have to make a deal with a merchant to sell crates of veggies... and so on. There are 6 main NPC quest lines that all interact in some way, and these will require you to use skills from a bunch of different skill trees. Things can get complicated.

You upgrade your skill trees based on three types of experience earned from physical, natural, and mindful tasks. Toward the mid-game, you'll start to need faith and science, which are somewhere between experience points and currency. Also toward the mid-game, what might seem like a simple craft gets complex. You need to make Craft A at your anvil, but that requires Craft B from your Furnace, which requires Craft C from a pottery wheel which you don't even have, and Craft D from Alchemy and... yeah, have a wiki open when you play this.

The graphics are well-done in charming pixel art reminiscent of the late 16-bit era. I had to check to see if the music was done by the same composer as Terraria, and that's a compliment. Some of it sounds like the same style, but more importantly it's pleasant and unobtrusive. You're going to be hearing the same few tracks over and over again. Much like Terraria, the music is fantastic for setting the mood and doesn't get old after the 200th time you hear it.

So yes, I loved Graveyard Keeper as you can tell. It's a chill, relaxing game like Stardew Valley, and has the same pros and cons of the genre. However, it held my interest way more because it has a tighter focus with the quests and a more complex and deep crafting system. Whereas with some games like this you can specialize in one or two crafts, in Graveyard Keeper you have to at least use all of them. Once you get a good income moving there are options to skip crafts by just buying stuff, but you'll at least have to get your feet wet with all the tech trees, and I like that about it.

A few minor issues though.

Some stuff feels like it's trying to pad out the grind. You can only carry one log/slab at a time so you spend a lot of time going back and forth to transport stuff. And in general, energy is drained really fast. There are times where you're sleeping 2/3 of the day or more because you need to craft some stuff that drains you fast. There's always a bed nearby so nothing is really lost, and you can craft food to restore energy as well. It's just a little taxing and feels like things take about twice as much energy as they should sometimes. From what I've read, this seems to be the big sticking point for a lot of people who love Stardew Valley but don't care for this. It wasn't enough to put me off by any means but it's noticeable and I'd prefer some balancing on the grind.

There are fighting mechanics that are somewhat rudimentary. There's a dungeon you must traverse for some quest items, but other than that you can mostly ignore the fighting, and that's a good thing because those are not the strongest. Everything about fighting feels clunky, and the same energy system that you use for most actions in the game gets drained super fast in the dungeon.

Then there's the fishing system which I did almost nothing with, because it isn't very fun and the window to start reeling in the fish is punishingly small.

Plus, there are some skills/recipes that you can unlock which do absolutely nothing. The highest level woodworking unlock is a piece that isn't used in anything. Maybe it's a tease for things to come in DLC, or maybe it's something that got cut but they missed this? Not sure.

The biggest issue for me, though, was a game-breaking bug. I was able to fix it with a save editor, but it's a problem. One NPC, Snake, will just stop showing up once his quests are done. I was under the (admittedly mistaken) impression that I couldn't progress in the Astrologer's quest until I was fully done with Snake's. But then when I continued the Astrologer's quest I needed to get something from Snake and he was just gone from the game. I had a save backup but it would have meant losing 12ish hours of progress, so luckily the save editor worked. I just hope it doesn't break anything in the future if there's DLC. But this is a warning to you: try not to ignore any of the six main quests or things might get broken like this. I love Fallout, Elder Scrolls, and No Man's Sky so I'm used to some crazy bugs in my games, but this one hurt a bit. It's not a common issue (since I guess most people do the quest earlier) but I've seen a few other people who ran into the same problem when researching it.

To their credit, Lazy Bear Games have been updating the game a lot post-launch to fix things, so hopefully this gets addressed. I think with a bit more polish and some rebalancing of the grind this could be even better.

But overall the issues don't pull it down. This is a game that won't be for everyone, not by a long shot. If you don't like the idea of grinding for resources, skip this. Seriously, that's most of the game, just figuring out what resources you need to grind and then doing it. But for me, it hit the perfect gameplay loop to keep me tied to it during basically all of my free hours. I had frustrations but I constantly wanted more.

If you like the farm sim games and want one that's a little more taxing, humorous, and full of corpses, you'll have a blast with Graveyard Keeper!

jdodson   Admin wrote on 09/08/2018 at 05:24am

Yeah, this game looks really cool.

One thing I’ve heard from a few other that have played Graveyard Keeper is that they like it more than Stardew Valley because of the style and gameplay. Apparently the game is pretty funny too which is why some seem to prefer it.

What do you think?

Travis   Admin   Post Author wrote on 09/09/2018 at 05:51am

It really is funny. And just bizarre. I loved the tone.

I am well aware that the gameplay loops are very similar but I just can't get into Stardew Valley even though I put hours upon hours into Graveyard Keeper. The tone is definitely part of it, but there's some undefinable quality about it. I wish I knew what it was, because I want to enjoy Stardew Valley as well!

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