At first glance you may be fooled into thinking that this medieval pixel farming game is akin to the cutesy Stardew Valley. Although the base mechanics such as building, questing, farming and playstyle are indeed very similar, Graveyard Keeper, by Lazy Bear, is altogether very different and has much intriguing darker undertone. You start out the game as a seemingly normal man who is unfortunate enough to be hit by a car, upon your (assumed) death you find yourself teleported to a different world with the ultimate goal of finding a way to get back regular world and to your love.
On your arrival in the strange medieval land you are bestowed the unsought title of Graveyard Keeper for the local cemetery and church. Your first task is to dig up your new pal talking skull Gerry. Gerry can give you a few initial pointers to get you on your way although this may be in trade for an alcoholic beverage or two. For once, it is nice to see a game that does not bombard you with tutorials or continually state the obvious, the only issue with this is that at times it is easy to miss vital information for completing relatively simple tasks. The lack of hand holding is great for gamers who are accustom to this game style but for less experienced players this could be an issue.
The game has its own Wiki for anyone that needs any extra guidance and I did find this extremely useful to refer to at times. Part of your duties as Graveyard Keeper require you to prepare and dispose of corpses that are delivered to the morgue by a talking donkey (strange, I know, but somehow it works). Corpses arrive to you fresh but decay over time and can be further diminished by your lack of butchering skills. The freshness of bodies is represented by a skull rating (white, red or green). Whilst you are striving for graveyard perfection, less fresh bodies can really put a spanner in the works due to them bringing down your overall graveyard rating.
Rather than bury these tainted bodies, you may find yourself resorting to some less ethical methods of disposal, it just so happens that there is a fast flowing river right next door! Although there is a farming element to this game, it is much less of a focus than you might think. How much time you spend farming is left mostly up to you as it is not essential for progression. There is no requirement to keep your seedlings watered and only really require tending when they are ready to be harvest. The same can mostly be said for the fishing mechanic, and although satisfying, is not absolutely essential.
As would also be expected, there are clear day and night cycles and some nice weather effects. The day cycles seem very short and can pass in a blink of an eye. It would be nice to have more hours in the day, however it is not essential for gameplay as you are not forced to sleep during the night time. You could feasibly stay awake limitlessly provided that you have enough food and drink items to sustain your energy. The only benefit to sleeping at night is that the energy regeneration is slightly increased compared with sleeping in the day.
Graveyard Keeper also has an extensive skill tree system that allows you to unlock new skills and building blueprints through the spending of accrued colored skill points. At first glance the tree system can appear quite complex but it doesn’t take long to get used to once you start spending points and unlocking skills. The points that you must accrue in order to branch out your skill tree are:
Red – Crafting points – Earned through activities such as operating machines, cutting down trees and mining
Green – Nature points – Earned through activities such as farming, managing weeds and collecting organic items.
Blue – Spiritual points – Earned through tasks carried out at the morgue, graveyard and experimenting with alchemy.
Some tasks and NPCs are only available on certain days of the week, it’s extremely easy to lose track of time while carrying out your ‘keeper’ duties. The week progresses relatively quickly so it’s not long until you get another window of interaction with these characters. The days when these NPCs appear are listed on the character relationships tab, so you are not left to wait around without knowing when and where they are going to be.
One of my minor frustrations was with the location of the quest log, it was not immediately obvious. After clicking around you will find that the quest information is located under the NPC / character tab and the information about which NPC wants what becomes apparent when looking under each of their names. I think that it may have been more effective to have the information broken out into a separate tab or outlined on HUD. The quest lines are not very linear and for the most part you have free will of what to complete and when. With no shortage of things to do in this game. I found myself not only working to some of the longer term goals, but just simply spending time gathering resources.
At first it is a challenge to accrue currency, but this becomes easier over time. Money can be made in a shorter time-frame, however, you may need to decide if you are willing to compromise your moral standing to do so. Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures and the less moral options tend to be the most lucrative. If you are a fan of the more pixelated art style you will absolutely love the visuals of this game. I was stunned at the overall attention to detail and the enchanting world that Lazy Bear have masterfully created. Sometimes the little things make all the difference and I found myself amused by my character leaving tiny little footprints everywhere he goes.
I did experience some FPS slowdown and I am hoping that this will be addressed in a later patch, although it was a little bit of an annoyance, it didn’t take away from the overall game experience. Often in these types of games the audio can seem to be much of an afterthought, however Graveyard Keeper is an exception to this. The game has a surprisingly nice and relaxing backing score and although there is a little repetitiveness issue, I didn’t find that it became annoying. The backing audio changes with different map locations which prevents too much of an annoyance with repetition.
No detail has been missed when it comes to the ambient sound and this attention to detail makes for an overall immersive and rich audio experience. The beautiful pixelated visuals are likely to stand the test of time and with so much to do in the game it’s likely that players will keep coming back for more. The map contains new areas to unlock and this should keep players striving to reach these inaccessible places when not sinking hours into beautifying both church and graveyard. After playing the game for many hours I feel like I have still only scratched the surface. I am a big fan of the genre and this game did not fail to fulfill my expectations.
Although many comparisons can be drawn from such games as Stardew Valley, Graveyard Keeper very much stands on its own two feet. This game will not be for everyone due to the play-style, however, if you are partial to the pixelated farming sim genre and have a curiosity for something a little darker, I fully recommend that you consider adding this game to your collection.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.