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Graveyard Keeper Retrospective

Back before my first child was born, I realized I had to make a choice: write fiction or write games. I didn't have time for both but I had a passion for both. For the last ten years, I've focused on the writing side but that didn't mean I stopped playing games.

It also doesn't mean I stopped analyzing games while I was playing. It is part of the entertainment for me, enjoying the plot and trying to figure out how they coded it. I do the same with movies, books, and almost everything else.

This week, I finished Graveyard Keeper, a casual slice-of-life game about managing a graveyard, creating zombies, and meeting a lovely village of personalities.

Overall, I found this enjoyable enough to play it for just shy of seventy hours, bought all the DLCs, and finished every plot I could find. I also went through all three endings for one of the DLCs.

The Controls

Thankfully, this game had a nice keyboard scheme. The primary action buttons were E and F. Unlike Stardew Valley, I found that I missed performing actions a lot less and it was clear what I was doing (most of the time). Having a bit “E” or “F” above an action item really helped.

Quests

Like many casual games in this genre, there is no real pressure to finish things in a hurry. If you miss a date, the worst that happened is you have to wait a week game time before you try again. Also, the order of actions isn't that important (baring two major plot pinches) so I found myself spending a day making wine and then another day just collecting honey.

That is the appeal for me lately. Casual games are nice being able to play for an hour or so before walking away to deal with family, food, or cleaning.

Graveyard Keeper had a somewhat nice quest reminder system. This is also something I missed from Stardew Valley, but having a screen where I can go and remind myself I needed to get a bucket of blood to a vampire or rustle up a gold-star burger. Part of the indicator also showed the person the quest was related and the game helpfully pops up with the list when you approach them.

Where it didn't work for me was I couldn't remember where I saw said characters. More than once, I randomly walked through every location in the map trying to remember who in the world this figure was. Having a “currently located” (since many characters have a schedule) or “sleeping” would have made it a lot easier.

Sadly, almost every quest in the game is “get X of Y” or “go talk to X” which quite a few things intended just to slow you down. Again, this is an artifact of this style of game but it started to get tedious in the last few days when I started just buying/plowing through plots.

Crafting

Crafting, like Stardew Valley and Crashlands, is a critical part of the game. There are a wide variety of different devices along the way ranging from a wood pile to a printing press. A number of them have upgrade and most (but not all) can be upgraded in place.

I like how most of the crafting devices have use even to the end of the game. Crashlands had the opposite, a bunch of devices that would be used for a short period of time and then abandoned for the next set.

Improvement wide, having a consistent ability to upgrade in place would have been nice for quality of life. Also, once an object is placed, it cannot be moved. It can only be destroyed (with recovering most but not all of the ingredients) and rebuilt in a new location.

One of the fun parts is that you can place the devices wherever you want… sort of. The game gives build spots that ensure there is room for the plot critical ones.

I'll admit, the places where the devices can be built had to be specifically shaped and designed to annoy someone with a touch of OCD like me. There is no way to fill every spot, no optimum arrangement. Also, there are some good chances where you can build two devices that prevents you from getting to the third.

Still, build and arranging is definitely my thing so it was nice to build.

Of course, having dozens of different devices spread out across multiple locations also meant a lot of time walking from place to place. Go to the dissection table, get some flesh from a corpse, go to the church table, make some paper, then over to the writing desk to create a chapter and then a book and then a prayer.

Thankfully, crafting devices can use every container in the area but with stack and space limits, I spent too much time arranging shelves because I couldn't just grab something from any shelf in the area. However, the game at least showed the contents of every container in the area which made it easier to know one of the twelve bookshelves had what you want.

This is probably one aspect that most of these games have. I have to lug stuff from one place to another. Arrange in boxes, try to remember where in the world I left the skulls. Or, in some of the later quests in the game, try to figure out which device had the mystical recipe that I needed to complete the plot.

In terms of casual games, it would be fantastic if there was some way to search all the recipes for all the devices and let me know which one I need to head over to (and ideally what I needed before I got there). In this regard, I think Satisfactory has a great pattern for this.

Another thing Satisfactory and Crashlands have is a build like, where you can say “I want to build a confession booth” and the HUD gives a list of ingredients. Satisfactory was just a tad nicer though.

Also, I'd love if there was a way to access all the craft benches and devices from the area. So instead of threading my way to a desk, I could just open up and see a control for the workbenches, mixer, and study table in one place.

Zombies

I loved that you can raise the dead to be zombies to do the tedious work. Apparently this came from a DLC, but it was at a point where making one more ceramic bowl was annoying. Being able to toss a zombie in front of the pottery wheel with a build list made things a lot more enjoyable for mid- to late-game actions.

Zombies also had zombie-specific crafting devices. So, you could install a zombie to make wine. You couldn't use it, but if you threw a zombie into it, they would build forever.

This is probably one of my favorite parts of the game by far.

Base-Building

I first encountered a game with base-building in Suikoden IV and fell in love. The ability to customize an area and see it grow just brings so much joy to me. Two of the DLCs have the ability with a tavern and a refugee camp. Both of them drew most of my attention (beyond the zombies and a desire to automate as much as possible). If that was the only part of the game, I would have played it without question.

Those two DLCs also provided supplies and money which made the rest of the game easier too. I'm glad I started them early in the game instead of finishing the main game first before starting them.

Plot

Overall, ignoring the quests to slow them down, the plots were enjoyable. The main one was the least emotionally engaging, but hearing the stories of everyone else really help make the game enjoyable.

I did not like the witch-burning plot though. That was detestable and non-skippable. On the other hand, the donkey plots were all entertaining.

Representation

This game had little in terms of representation. There were no queer characters, everyone was some shade of white, and no plots related to any of those. It was more of a Roman but there were still the Euro-centric social structures (king and church).

The game also had a depressing lack of female representation also and most of it was not positive. Every woman in the game was firmly in stereotypes while the men had more variance: the witch was ugly and old, the wives deferred to the husbands, the daughter was owned by the father, the singer was desired and beautiful.

(There was one nice bit related to the singer and her eventual romance which was a pleasant surprise.)

There were no children in the game. One of the DLCs explains why, so I'm actually okay with this.

With the DLCs, there was some nice displays of romance and loving relationships but… it was just a flash during Ms Charm's dance and a cut scene.

Replayability

To be honest, I don't see myself playing the game though. While the plot and nature really drew me in, once I lost a goal to keep going, I quickly lost interest. I need to work toward something and I don't have the time to try discovering every alchemy recipes or try to get all the achievements.

Baring a new DLC, I going to hang this game up while still recommending it. It caught my attention and gave me a lot of joy for seventy hours and that isn't something I'm just going to ignore.

If you like slice-of-life games like Stardew Valley, I think this is a solid, polished entry in that genre. There are some Inquisition plots that have to be experience, but I feel that was the only really major turn-offs being representation.

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