If you thought Stardew Valley was a bit too cheery, then your search for a Life Sim may be over. Graveyard Keeper comes at you with all of the things you could imagine you would be doing while managing a graveyard… and then some things that really come out of left field. It’s a bit strange and dark, but juggling all of the aspects of the graveyard and relationships with the village is an interesting trip. From watching witches burn to keeping brains in a box because they don’t have refrigerators, Graveyard Keeper is a good twist on the genre. Let me break it down for you.
So you start off the game by dying. However, you don’t stay dead for too long as you are soon awakened and learn that you now are in charge of a graveyard in some Podunk town and no one knows where you came from, but they are all more than willing to accept you as the keeper of the town’s graveyard. You do try to tell some of the people that you came from an alternate world, but that gets you no where with some and on a path to possibly finding a way home from others and the realization that you were not the first in the line of graveyard keepers to be there. As would any industrious person, you obviously need to make the best of your situation so you start to make the small house and graveyard your home all the while trying to get back to your real home and your love.
In the line of things you will be doing there is plenty to keep you busy. You can start-up a farm with the help of a local farmer that will sell you seeds and purchase the grown produce back from you. You can mine ore and smelt it and sell the ingots back to the local blacksmith for a decent chunk of change. Keep in mind though, while you’re doing all of this, you’ll need to keep the graveyard in your mind. A talking, communist donkey will be bringing you bodies to take care of. What does that entail? Well, you could just bury them. After all, that is what one does with bodies and a graveyard. However, in Graveyard Keeper, you also have the ability to harvest parts of the body including meat, bones, brains and skin (and more!). It’s not pretty, but some of these parts are crafting materials soooo… there you go.
The bodies play a big roll in your graveyard, not just taking up space. Each body has a ranking based on a “skull meter”. Red skulls are bad and white skulls are good. There are certain things you can do to increase the number of white skulls and decrease red. This, in concert with the decorations you put around the headstones and frames you put on the graves, increase the … “value” (?) to your graveyard. The higher the better because: quest demands. Embalming, taking out blood and other bits will adjust the skull meter and make your graveyard a higher grade. If you happen to make a mistake and increase the red skulls, you can always take everything you need and burn the body. Cremation is just as accepted here. Filling out your skill tree can decrease your likelihood of making mistakes while poking around inside the bodies. (Oh, and you can also chuck the bodies into the nearby river. That works too.)
While we’re talking about the skill tree, I have to say I’m impressed. There’s a decent progression system in Graveyard Keeper once you get a hang of what’s going on, where to obtain specific items and how to craft things. There are red, green and blue points to attain via everything you’ll be doing. Breaking, chopping, crafting and researching will all give you points that you can then spend on the skill tree. (The stamina bar is your worst enemy in Graveyard Keeper. It drains super fast!) When you want something though, you will have to really work for it. The grind is strong here (admittedly it’s a lot more forgiving than Punch Club). (Blue points are mainly obtained researching things in the church in case you got stuck like myself.) Everything seems to take a lot of every other thing in this game and I found myself running around grabbing extra crafting materials and crafted parts because I forgot the one thing I needed for the current recipe. I still haven’t managed to create an optimal work environment… and I don’t believe I could make one with Graveyard Keeper. At least the red, green and blue points will stay on the ground until you pick them up without a chance of losing them.
All of this is very nice, but there is one really funky mechanic in Graveyard Keeper. That is the fact that there is no real push to do… anything. Now, I’ve not stood there until I’ve run out of energy, but you don’t starve. There is no, “you need to beat the game in X amount of days”. Crops don’t need to be watered. If you pick up a quest, people don’t care if you come back 30 days later and drop off the wanted item. While one could view it as aimless and poorly planned, I almost welcome it. It’s rather inviting. You can literally do whatever whenever you want to (if you’ve got the skill.) It makes all of the options feel more open to me. Did you miss doing a service on Sunday? Well, nobody really cares in the long run. Did you miss X character on Y day of the week? Just wait until next week. You know… if it weren’t for the weird culty-creepy church, dissecting bodies for crafting parts and to possibility of building columns out of skulls, I may have appreciated this game a bit more even if it is a bit weird.