Stardew Valley is very popular. It’s bright, colourful, and very pleasant. People enjoy the simple farming life, the interactions with interesting characters, the world to open up and explore. They revel in the growing of things, the fishing, the dungeon delving. It’s a really charming game that’s rightly loved.
Graveyard Keeper is Stardew Valley’s edgy cousin who listens to only the most brutal tunes and pops ants with a magnifying glass in summer. One day it may grow up a bit, learn some empathy and be a cool metal head rather than an edgelord.
The aesthetic of GK is mostly dark, drab, and miserable. Which is appropriate for the theme. You’re dead(?), but somehow in this purgatory where you have a job and everyone wants something from you. The last keeper has gone, no one seems quite sure where, when, or why. As such, the graveyard is overgrown and falling apart. It’s your job to smarten things up and take care of the bodies that are dropped off periodically by a talking, socialist donkey.
The bodies are given a rating in red and white skulls. The more white skulls, the better and this will help the overall rating of your graveyard once they’re interred. By undertaking certain tasks on the autopsy table, you can change the number of skulls of either type. Removing fat and blood will reduce one red skull each, whereas removing the heart could replace a red with white or add an additional point to red.
All this has to be done quickly as the body is decomposing at a startling rate, and if you want to get your graveyard score up enough to impress the bishop, you’ll want only the best corpses in your hallowed grounds.
Graves aren’t just holes in the ground, you’ll want to smarten them up some. While you can initially only fashion wooden crosses, you’ll soon be making much nicer markers and frames and even upgrading to stone or even marble (though that’s a way off).
At the start of the game you’re mostly struggling for resources such as sticks, wood, stone, food and iron ore. It can take quite a while to build up enough of this that you feel you can move on with the plot or properly explore the world. There’s an almost overwhelming amount to do. Corridors need repairing so you can get through to other areas, bridges need repairing, almost everyone you meet will have a task for you, the donkey has a new body for you to deal with every day (which needs immediate attention if you want it to stay in a good state), and your early wooden grave stones/frames will need regular repairs. It’s a lot and you’re not really told what to prioritise.
Having enough to do is fine, but the stamina system can make each day feel ridiculously short, especially before you upgrade your tools and equipment, and get your farm working so you can produce bread.
Luckily, after a while, the donkey decides that they won’t deliver you bodies unless you can grease their wheels (literally and metaphorically). This means that you can just ignore the request until you’re ready for another corpse. It’s also around this time that you have everything that you need to start upgrading your graveyard items to stone, which will also provide you more food. Time to take a breath.
There’s a lot to do and around now you’ll have access to most of it. There’s multiple tech trees to unlock, bridges to repair, blockages to clear, resource gathering, fishing, holding weekly mass, extensive farming, upgrading all your workstations, work space, tools, equipment, graveyard, church, doing a scientific study of just about every item in the game, alchemy, embalming, fetch quests, raising the dead to serve you, dungeon crawling, trading to unlock additional items for sale, oh, and there’s all the story stuff.
You might say that all that sounds more dark/goth than edgy, and you’d be right. What creeps into edgy for me was that the local inquisitor insists on burning people as witches. Furthermore, they set up a whole quest for you to grow grapes and make your own wine, so you can get their soldiers drunk because they’ll find more witches that way. Not only that but you have to print up fliers for the latest witch burning because attendances are down. It doesn’t feel a million miles from historical accuracy, but it’s gross nonetheless. I’m all about death, science, and exploration, but the religious aspects of this game squick me mightily. That and the unnecessary use of a slur for one of the character names. They don’t have a name just a title and [current year argument] devs should know better.
Graveyard Keeper piles a huge number of tasks (and generally just stuff) on you in the hope of eventually getting your character reunited with their love. And while that goal may be achievable, it’s done in such a half-assed way that the ending of the game feels like the dev is just flipping you off before rolling credits. Making a quick joke about making loads of DLC to fill out the ending really doesn’t help it’s case in the least.
- A very engaging gameplay loop
- Interesting setting
- Lots to do
- Piss weak ending
- Unnecessary use of a slur in a character title
- Gross religious BS
Final Score: 5/10