Have you ever wondered about the many possibilities that can happen in the afterlife? There are those who believe that there is a Heaven and/or Hell awaiting us after a “final judgement.” Alternatively, there is the theory of reincarnation, which suggests that (based upon your karma) you will come back as a different being. Still, there exists a theory that we will be trapped forever in limbo, or, worse yet, simply rot in the ground. Well, a tiny indie studio in Russia (Lazy Bear Games) has their own theory and they’ve presented it in the form of a game: Graveyard Keeper. The premise is quite simple: you’ve died, you’ve been given a new job as the “Graveyard Keeper,” and you’re trying to get back to the world of the living, where you will reunite with your beloved. The job you’re given is to build, maintain and (when needed) exhume graves for different forms of currency at the local church. Your boss, The Bishop, will show up regularly to examine your progress and, if he feels it necessary, promote you based on your efforts. The better your graveyard looks, the more people you bring into your church and the higher your promotion/reward.
Throughout the game, you will meet many different NPCs who will aid you in some way or another during your journey. One of the main characters, Gerry, is a foul-mouthed talking skull who gives you advice after consuming alcohol. Though he has amnesia, he’s one of the most helpful characters in the game… the trick is to get him exactly what he wants, which can often be a difficult and daunting task. During the course of the game, you will trade, barter and silver-tongue your way through a slew of different main/side quests. The main quests are what you need to complete your journey and, potentially, hang up your shovel. The side quests will give you different rewards, such as money, food, or building materials. The difficulty in this game lies in the fact that it doesn’t hold your hand. Once you’ve been given a task, you may get some minute details on how to complete it but, outside of that, it’s up to you to put the pieces together and make it happen. A huge example would be the quest of gathering moths for the lighthouse keeper, where you’re simply told to “look for them at night” but not told that something else has to be achieved before you even have the ability to make the moths appear.
The most disappointing thing about the game lies in the fact that there isn’t much of a story. In the beginning, you see what happens and you’re cast into your new position… but not much else. I would have loved to see what caused the character’s death or even a back story behind Gerry. You’re given a warning “not to run around saying you’re from another world” and that he “can’t really recall exactly what, but it was for something like that which he lost his body,” but not much else. Only pure speculation can bring you any closure in that field- even that is not enough. However, what it lacks in story, it makes up for in interesting and addictive gameplay.
Through a combination of trading skills, choice/consequence decisions, and your overall reputation with the locals, you will find that it’s really not as easy as it may sound. In fact, you may find yourself feeling sorry for those who tend to graveyards in the real world. Albeit, there are no ghosts who will pop out and tempt you to make questionable decisions. Witches, corrupt officials and less-than-reputable characters all await you in this wonderful callback to games like early Runescape and the ORIGINAL Sims. Do you have what it takes to complete your tasks, build your portal and get back to your beloved? If this intrigues you, be sure to pick up your shovel and “dig in” to Graveyard Keeper! (Barrett Stephens; Game Reviewer)
Review copy provided by tinyBuild; reviewed on PC/Steam.