Have you ever dreamt of running your own graveyard? Keeping those graves nice and presentable, keeping those bushes nice and trim and harvesting meat from dead bodies to sell… Wait, what? Graveyard Keeper is a graveyard management sim from developers Lazy Bear Games that could be everything that you dreamt of in a graveyard sim, well, maybe except the harvesting of body parts part. What sets this apart from other similar simulation games such as Stardew Valley, the darker visuals and tone aside, is the accompanying story that drives the game. Get ready to delve into a strange world and don’t forget you have a graveyard to upkeep!
Graveyard Keeper begins after your character, longing to get home to his love after a hard day’s work, is hit by a car while staring at his phone (if nothing else, it’s a good advert for road safety). He is awoken in a medieval era village and is appointed the role of graveyard keeper, with a little help from a talking skull head. The confused head acts as our tutorial but is unsure why he knows these things or why he’s telling you to do them. What follows are many absurd fetch quests that plod the story along. Many of these quests are easy as straightforward, while others may require a lot of aimlessly exploring until the right conditions are met to complete them.
Let’s not forget the graveyard that needs your attention, and you can easily forget all about it during the story. Bodies will be dropped off occasionally and you will have to create graves for them. At the start this will mean digging new holes, chopping down bushes and trees to makes space and upkeeping all the graves already in place. Creating specific tools to complete different types of work can be complicated and this is where the game begins to become a little arduous. For someone new to sim style games, the crafting can be overly complicated as even to craft the simplest of tools require you to craft many more before it. It could take the enjoyment out of tidying up your own little corner of a strange world or you may revel in the crafting mechanics there certainly seems to be no in between.
Crafting isn’t the only tedious part of this game. Apart from sometimes wandering aimlessly to find out what you actually need to be doing, there are many relationship mechanics that need to be built on to receive player bonuses and doing pretty much any sort of work gives you skill points in specific areas. Not to mention that you can only access certain places and people on certain days and you only have a certain amount of energy to complete tasks before you must rest. It can be difficult to remember when you can actually do things if they are restricted by days and it’s another complication on top of an already complicated system.
The world and its inhabitants are quite wonderful, and the visuals are like a grittier Stardew Valley. Exploring can take time but there’s quite a lot to see with many interesting twists and turns on the way. The story takes you through peaceful villages to then fighting through dungeons. And after all the exploring you will have your little cabin to come back to and rest. It’s little comforts like this that make the game feel warm and familiar. The tone is very tongue in cheek but can take dark turns when you least expect. It is about a graveyard after all!
What really gives this game life isn’t the management sim aspect, it’s the unravelling of stories from the characters you meet, it’s the investigation into what the hell is going on and the journey to get back to whence you came. It’s just a shame that it is so heavy on complication and riddled with bugs that could stop your progress dead in its tracks. To explain every mechanic the game offers would be a long and arduous task yet some of them seem utterly unnecessary. Management sims are known for a lot of options and research but here it seems less could have been much more and made way for an enlightening narrative.
Graveyard Keeper could have been a brilliant unravelling of a dark place, a tale of man doing everything he could to get home to his love. Instead, the mechanics of a farm simulator bares down heavily on what could have been. The simulation aspect is well thought out, if not a little arduous in places and it can be quite comforting plodding along with it, but the real shine comes from the narrative which seems to have taken a slight back seat to a complicated sim.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- Visually quite lovely and gritty
- The real charm is peeling away the layers of a strange place
- Managing your graveyard, once you get over the initial complexities, can be quite relaxing
- Overly complicated mechanics
- Bugs galore
- A fantastic narrative is overshadowed by complexity