17th Aug2018

‘Graveyard Keeper’ Review (PC/Steam)

by Britt Roberts

grave-keep-screen

Moving on from their previous game, Punch Club which was an enjoyable (for a while, until you ground your teeth into dust) 16-bit styled stat-balancing grind-a-thon set in the world of prize-fighting, Lazy Bear Games have come up with a new game that takes a lot of inspiration from Stardew Valley but adds enough of their own spin and character to give it a life of its own and making it an oddly addictive and enjoyable experience which I’m pleased to report leave my teeth sparkling and whole.

In Graveyard Keeper, you play a man who, in the present day is walking home whilst looking at a picture of his loved ones on his mobile phone, only to get hit by a car…and wake up in a cabin in a medieval town, natch. It transpires that as far as everyone is concerned, you are the local Graveyard Keeper so stop messing around with all this time travel nonsense and get that church back in working order!

There’s a dry sense of humour that really worked for me that runs through Graveyard Keeper, whether it’s how casually you can just chuck bodies away to make room for more, have conversations with striking, English-speaking donkeys and floating skulls with booze problems or how the local tavern doesn’t care what ‘fresh meat’ you bring them ‘as long as it has the royal stamp’. There’s a sense of bemusement and acceptance that your character voices so dryly that as I walked around fixing tombstones and crafting better tools, it made the grinding element of the game (the far larger portion) a lot of fun to work through.

Presented in pretty much the same viewpoint as Stardew Valley with a similar graphical approach, the main difference in the game mechanics of collecting items in order to raise skills and the ability to design more complicated contraptions is a focus on moving forwards as opposed to constant maintenance due to deterioration of existing items / foodstuffs in the game (beyond your main three tools of a shovel, pickaxe and axe) which removes some of the repetition that can permeate the genre. The over-arching story of a man thrust through time and desperate to return home is also more interesting than just maintaining a farm and involving yourself in the local community. There is some crop-growing here but at a basic level and it appears as more of a side-line to the main bulk of upgrading your graveyard-home and exploring the surrounding areas as well as interacting with the local group of witch-burners (the little sausages).

Considering the amount of time I’ve already put into the game, it’s a testament to the sound design that I still get a kick out of the lilting music and creak of falling trees as well as the various grumbles and squeaks that accompany each characters’ in-game conversations. The usual trappings still appear in constantly needing to eat and sleep in order to regain energy for tasks throughout the day and waiting for certain people being in certain places at certain times but pottering around and building towards your goal is just fun and doesn’t feel like a chore. Each character has a distinct personality which, combined with the solid writing and immersive atmosphere can really suck you in.

I was surprised by how taken I was by Graveyard Keeper, especially as with Stardew Valley (and Lazy Gears’ previous title, Punch Club) I enjoyed them but then gradually just stopped playing as the grinding wore me down. I’ve pumped a good few hours into Graveyard Keeper already and I feel like I may actually see the end of this one and that’s purely down to its charm, humour and clever design. There have been a lot of similar games over the last couple of years but Graveyard Keeper shows that there’s life in the genre if you add a personal spin.

Right, I’m off to get some wine for my floating skull.

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