PC/Mac Reviews

Graveyard Keeper Review – Stardew Cemetery

From the name alone, you can probably figure out what Graveyard Keeper is about – you are the keeper of a graveyard and everything that entails. You collect bodies, bury bodies, decorate graves and even “collect” various goods from the bodies for use in other parts of your business. If you think this means it’s a sad or dour game, you are in for a surprise. The game is filled with dark humor, mostly coming from the game’s commoditization of dead bodies but also extending to things like dark rituals and witch burnings.

Graveyard Keeper immediately drops any sense of seriousness in the opening moments of the game. On your walk home from work, you are texting a loved one when suddenly the sound of screeching tires fills your ears. Next thing you know, you find yourself in a strange land with a talking skull named Gerry telling you that you’re the new keeper of the local graveyard. Soon after, you meet the odd cast of characters that fill this land: a bishop who basically worships himself, an inquisitor obsessed with stamping out magic, a barkeep who doesn’t really seem to mind where his meat supply comes from, etc.

Despite the title of the game, there is actually a lot more going on in this game than simple grave keeping. You quickly find yourself inheriting a garden to grow crops, becoming the head of a church, discovering a dungeon filled with monsters and much more. In fact, for much of the game the task of burying bodies takes a significant backseat to most of the other aspects of the game, which certainly came as a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.

Graveyard Keeper, in fact, is just so entertaining in how much there simply is to do in the game. It is very much a game about mechanics and procedures. Crafting items is 100% the name of the game and unlike many other games, there are few shortcuts to be found here. Start by chopping down a tree. Then take that tree and cut it into smaller pieces of flitch. Refine that flitch into usable wooden planks at a carpenter bench. Then mine some ore, melt it into iron bars at a furnace and hammer it out on an anvil to get nails. Boom, now you can create a bench for your church. There are dozens of different items in the game and all are crafted from the ground up in a system that is both deep and incredibly rewarding.

One slight criticism of this system is that it takes several hours of play before this system really takes hold and you see the depth and creativity of building everything. There are six different tech trees at work here, each covering a different aspect of the game. It’s not until you get a couple blocks down each tech tree that you really start to get a feel for what makes Graveyard Keeper so special. The tech tree is also designed in such a way that it’s easy to see where the thing you need is, although getting the right amount of experience points (of which there are three different kinds) can sometimes result in some grinding.

As I said before, the sheer addictiveness of Graveyard Keeper comes from the incredible number of things you eventually end up doing in the game. As you start playing, your main quest involves trying to unlock a mysterious portal in hopes of returning to your world. You also end up with quest lines for six different people, each with their own story and requirements. As things progress you slowly discover that your main quest is directly tied to these six people. Where most games would give you a main quest and a bunch of other optional side quests, Graveyard Keeper instead requires you to finish every person’s storyline in order to complete the main quest.

While this might sound like a bit of a drag to some people, I found it perfectly enjoyable because each persons’ tasks are so different and usually fairly entertaining to complete. The Bishop tasks you with making your graveyard and church as appealing as possible, working within a complicated system where certain bodies give you different point bonuses, giving you ample opportunity to min-max your way to the perfect graveyard. Another questline has you starting a business with the Merchant, who wants you to box up high quality crops to sell. Yet another has you working with Snake, a rogue who is planning a dark ritual, which lets you stretch your Halloween decoration skills, but not before exploring a dungeon filled with monsters.

The only downside to this approach is that Graveyard Keeper is a surprising long game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it took me upwards of 40 hours to complete) but there were definitely sections where I was just grinding out to get to my next big event. One such section tasked me with accumulating a large sum of money before I could advance in any of my current story quests, which took weeks and weeks of in-game time to gather, due to there not really being a great way to make easy money in the game. Another time, right before the end game, I had all but one questline wrapped up but the events required me to wait an in-game week in between each step, as each character only shows up on a certain day, which resulted in me just wasting time waiting for the next step several times.

The other major criticism I have with Graveyard Keeper is that, despite the incredible depths found within the mechanics and gameplay, the world itself never comes together, oftentimes feeling unfinished. Early on the characters talk about “The Town” and how it’s so big compared to the measly village you reside in. Despite a questline that directs you to head to the town, the game plays bait and switch and never lets you visit it. There are several other sections that look like you should be able to visit but the game blocks you from doing so. There are also end-game technologies and items that seemingly have no use. The game even has some tongue-in-cheek comments before the credits about the missing Town with a quip about how the greedy developers will probably just put it in an expensive DLC. Considering I find it to be a pretty serious complaint, I’m not sure how to take this self-referential treatment at the end.

The same feeling of incompleteness holds true for a lot of the lore referred to in this game. The world is interesting, with a lot of interesting politics and turmoil throughout. There are constant references to “The Great Blast” which spiraled this world into chaos. Characters talk about a ship of the dead that supplies your seemingly endless bodies to bury and a dwindling water supply plaguing the Town. None of this, however, is actually experienced by the player or even fully explained.

There are also tons of underlying metaphors going on in the game: each of the six main quest characters represent one of the seven deadly sins (with the Merchant possibly standing in for both gluttony and greed). As everyone’s story progresses there is also constant discussion of family and reacquainting with loved ones. I was fully prepared for the end to make some commentary on the afterlife, or how you were stuck in some sort of limbo or purgatory, trapped in a coma, struggling with personal demons or, I don’t know just something. Instead the game ends on a simple, yet touching note. While it might be meant to leave things open to interpretation, I instead found it unfulfilling, especially considering the time it took to get there.

Overall Graveyard Keeper is a game that I will remember fondly for the time I spent with it, while at the same time one I am glad to be finished with due to the grind it took at times to get to the end. Unfortunately, that grind was made all the more disappointing by the game’s lack of wrapping things up. There is a ton of interesting lore and ideas present in the game that I would have loved to see be explored more. That being said, the mechanics present in the game feature some of the most fun crafting and building I’ve ever played. While I will always think of it as a good game, it was just some solid world building away from being a truly great game.

SCORE: 7.5 out of 10

A code for Graveyard Keeper was provided to Pixel Related for review.

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