Do we need another top-down farming simulator? If Graveyard Keeper is anything to go by the answer is a resounding yes. Released today, developer Lazy Bear Games describes Graveyard Keeper as a game where players ‘build and manage a medieval graveyard while facing ethical dilemmas and making questionable decisions’, but also embark on an overarching romantic entanglement.
Forget your knight errant and your disillusioned city dwellers on the hunt for a simpler life, here we take on the role of the common man — a menial worker, albeit an enterprising one, well accustomed with the graveyard shift. Oh and there’s a levitating skull named Gerry who acts as a kind of guide.
This little gem excels at injecting a somber, yet comical tone to a genre defined by whimsical narratives and idyllic bucolic settings. Think My Time At Portia or Stardew Valley, both guilty of using charm as a chimerical veneer, to great effect it must be said.
Mixing in a dose of the supernatural, volatile alchemy, and a depiction of medieval living of questionable accuracy, Graveyard Keeper doesn’t sidestep the grittier aspects of the homestead-style survival trope; instead, it embraces them. This morbid tone extends to the graphics as well, which carry a definitive auburn tint.
Of course, farming, harvesting, resource gathering, dungeon crawling, and fishing play a part. However, players also have to perform autopsies, engage in Salem-style burning of witches, and haggle with a host of characters to make sure bodies arrive safe and sound before the performing of funeral rites. Or are disposed of in far seedier fashion, say tossing lifeless remains into the local stream for example.
The local butcher is also open to the idea of flogging human flesh, so there’s that as well. Favoring expediency and profit over morality is a central pillar of the game. Players have to come to terms with how they want to ensure the graveyard survives, cut corners, and complete quests. In many ways, Graveyard Keeper is a microcosm of capitalist fervor and does well to highlight how money-making can be an ethical minefield for those eager to succeed.
RPG elements are also part of the package with an extensive crafting system and ‘technologies’ tree. All these lead to better ways to get work done efficiently and with higher returns. The grind is expected to be all too real with one, so those wary of this would do well to stay clear, but what farming sim doesn’t emphasize repetition for in-game rewards?
As with any gameplay loop gravitating around the farm-gather-upgrade formula, Graveyard Keeper is all about sprucing up your very own cemetery, and there’s something satisfying about seeing a parcel of land dedicated to corpses turn into a profitable enterprise.
We won’t shy away from stating the blindingly obvious; the game is similar to Stardew Valley in more ways than one but seems to offer enough diversity to warrant investigation. The format is unquestionably tried and tested, so there’s no shame in borrowing heavily from what works, especially if done well.
Graveyard Keeper is available from today on Steam for PC, Linux, Mac, and on Xbox One. Lazy Bear has cooked up a launch trailer for the occasion, which you can view below.