Previews

Preview: Graveyard Keeper for PC - A different kind of endgame

Lazy Bear Games
Pixelated graveyard from the game Graveyard Keeper
Graveyard Keeper

Development of Graveyard Keeper has been progressing at a steady pace, with Lazy Bear delivering several updates over the course of our sessions and the "most inaccurate medieval cemetery management" sim has all the makings of a great game.

Much like its pixelated farming sim predecessors, Graveyard Keeper would trick you into thinking it's just a cutesy little game. Nothing could be further from the truth, because Lazy Bear expanded the genre in the most unlikely of directions.

First things first though. Graveyard Keeper is in its Alpha stage of development, with all the implications that word carries. It's not crashing or bugging out mind you, just an occasional bug and stutter here and there.

We've had a few issues where we couldn't pick up our baked goodies from the fireplace, but those have been fixed in the meantime. So, Lazy Bear is obviously anything but lazy, which is great news for Graveyard Keeper, even if it still has a long way to go to the finished product. 

Now, examining an early access game is a bit tricky, because whatever you may find wrong is likely to be fixed, whether actually or declaratively. Such games feature some sort of functionality, while the rest is based on promises.

However, you can purchase it for actual cash so where do you draw the line for a proper preview? We'll try to do our best.

What's it about?

Graveyard Keeper is a juiced up farming simulator, with a pretty big map for this sort of game. In fact, it feels like several instances of Stardew Valley, with enough room left to cram in a Farmville or two.

Graveyard Keeper's main gimmick however, is in the name. After a delightful story, which I'll not be spoiling here, you're stuck taking care of a graveyard, with only a talking skull to keep you company. You can still do your standard farming simulator thing if you want, but the story's focus is elsewhere.

Lazy Bear GamesPlayer's residence in the medieval graveyard simulator Graveyard KeeperGraveyard Keeper

How does it work?

Activities in Graveyard Keeper yield one of three resources, marked in red, green and blue. You get red for industry and crafting, green for cooking and farming, while blue is the spiritual component that's been left out of the alpha.

You use these points to chew through the tech tree, which in turn unlocks new stuff. There are actually six tech trees, one for each of the sciences - Anatomy and Alchemy, Theology, Book Writing, Farming and Nature, Smithing and Building.

Lazy Bear GamesScreenshot of one of the six tech trees in Graveyard KeeperGraveyard Keeper, one of six tech trees

Faith and science are currency as well, although the latter is unavailable in alpha. As you can see, there's faith and science behind getting up to work every day, even though resources may vary from person to person, wink wink.

Lazy Bear GamesGraveyard Keeper's feature for studying of various itemsGraveyard Keeper

There are no limitations on when you need to sleep, nor are you bound by time for the most part, which I honestly preferred to Stardew Valley's forceful methods. In fact, if you can keep yourself fed, you don't have to sleep at all, leaving only specific NPC encounters to plan for.

The gameplay - day to day

You get a body, extract everything you can before it decays, burying what's left of the poor sod in exchange for a certificate, i.e. ka-ching. Presently, Graveyard Keeper doesn't let you do much with organs, but meat is edible and is likely to make up most of your diet for a while. Get off your high horse, you'll be doing it too.

Lazy Bear GamesInterior of players' house in the game Graveyard KeeperGraveyard Keeper, home sweet home

Once you're done tending to the dead though, you can do your standard farming sim stuff like farming, fishing, mining or wood working. This is where Graveyard Keeper explodes into a complex and incredibly engaging game.

Juggling your daily activities while crafting enough food to keep you going is a pretty fun loop, not least for the variety of things and recipes to craft. Progress is clearly trackable and activities are generally less tedious than I'm used to with farming simulators.

Lazy Bear GamesA pixelated farm in medieval farming simulator Graveyard KeeperGraveyard Keeper

Speaking of tedious, Graveyard Keeper seems to have eliminated much of the slog I've come to associate with computer mice and farming sims, even implementing a quick bar for easy keyboard access to snacks. Instead of leaning on the mouse, Lazy Bear went mostly with a keyboardy approach, which again happens to be to my liking. 

The Verdict

As we've said, examining early access games is a thankless task. Everything is subject to change, so devs have a convenient escape route in any conversation, at all times. Players, on the other hand, pay for this with real money, yet are rarely given the same amount of consideration. Therefore, it is only fair to tell you exactly what to expect from Graveyard Keeper at this stage.

Lazy Bear GamesGraveyard Keeper's pixelated depiction of a medieval churchGraveyard Keeper

Graveyard Keeper's pixelated look hides a complex and immersive game, with potential to redefine the genre if done right. Managing such levels of complexity and balancing all the mechanics behind it won't be an easy task but it can be done with enough patience and dedication, both of which Lazy Bear are displaying in abundance. 

Having said that though, Graveyard Keeper is still far from perfect. Not having to tend to crops takes some fun out of farming, while fishing seems like a clunky imitation of fishing in Stardew Valley. The hook-casting screen is already quite a clever addition, making me honestly sad I didn't see another piece of cleverness after it.

Lazy Bear GamesPixelated protagonist of Graveyard Keeper fishing in a marshGraveyard Keeper, the part we liked

Lazy Bear GamesPixelated protagonist of Graveyard Keeper fishing in a marsh, part twoGraveyard Keeper, the fishing part we found somewhat clunky

There are some issues with available space, as your graveyard tends to rapidly run out of room but my main gripe with Graveyard Keeper is the map, or lack thereof. Why the dev thought such a huge playing area doesn't warrant at least a static image for a map is a mystery.

With such an extensive tab-screen, which does an awesome job at centralising all game-relevant information, it's a shame I have to alt-tab every time an NPC mentions a location I don't know or recall.

Lazy Bear GamesScreenshot from inside a medieval tavern in Graveyard KeeperGraveyard Keeper

Graveyard Keeper is a delightful little package that has the potential to breathe some much needed air into the genre. But until it launches properly, when we can review it in full, we'll be quietly tending to our graves and watching. How weird is that?