Remember that time you were minding your own business, walking home from the store, when you got hit by a car and woke up in a world populated by talking donkeys, disturbingly funny talking skulls, and ran by unrepentant self-serving religious leaders, and the only way back was to work for these and many other folks to help them before they would help you?
In trying to properly describe my feelings for this game from the folks at Lazy Bear Games and tinyBuild I find myself caught up in the strange dichotomy between thorough enjoyment and hair-pulling frustration.
On the “thorough enjoyment” side are the graphics, characters, and story. The graphics are simple yet fun, like what you would expect from a much older game (call me nostalgic). The weather for example is interesting. The rain comes on slowly, some mornings are misty, the dark is darker on the edges of the screen, and it all goes well with the general feel of the game.
The characters, and more specifically the dialog, are also well done. When you first meet someone they are usually pretty rude, begrudgingly agreeing help you, but usually for a price. Some remain that way while others may warm up slightly. Of course, you’re no saint either, often giving as good as you get. Your status as “The New Graveyard Keeper” earns you a modicum of respect, but mostly you’re viewed simply as a tool to be used up. If/when you complete a task, the NPCs are almost always surprised that a simpleton like you was able to accomplish it. In short, they are mostly folks you love to hate. More than once I found myself cursing the fact I had to help someone to progress further into the story, and laughing as I did it.
The story and tasks are also shot through with the kind of grisly dark humor that I love. For example, you have to perform “surgery” on corpses before you bury them in order to remove the sins that the departed had committed in life if you want to get and keep your graveyard rating as respectable as possible. The “sins” are parts of the body (skin, blood, fat, skulls, brains, etc.), all of which can be further used in other tasks or as ingredients. The “meat” you get can be made into Baked Meat that, you guessed it, can be eaten to restore a bit of stamina, or sold to the Tavern Owner for money. Raw meat requires a Royal Stamp before it can be sold though (although a fake stamp can be acquired later in the game from a certain serpentine gentleman). Ugh, gross (while I laugh hysterically inside)!
And now we get to the ugly: the thoroughly frustrating inter-dependencies. During my over 50 hours of gameplay, I would estimate that about 90-95% of my efforts were focused on this mind-numbing-at-times grind. In some instances, there were opportunities to purchase the more rare or high-value items an NPC was demanding in order to progress a particular quest line. Most often though you’d end up building the workstation later or learning the recipe anyway just to make it that much easier to continue in the story. I never felt actually “stuck”, as there were always ways to make some money. But at times it felt so overwhelming to have a goal that was seemingly so far away that I actually had to hang my head and take a breath. The best example I have thus far is the Gold-level Combo Sermon I really wanted that I thought would dramatically increase my weekly faith and money take and allow me to be more efficient (or so I thought). To get this, I had to learn to write better stories (skills and perks), to make into better notes (at the Desk), to make into better chapters. Then I had to make a soft-cover for the book (at the Church Workbench you have to build) to use in crafting a bronze hard-cover, use that to make a silver one, and then use that to make a gold one to hold the Gold Chapters you wrote. To make this book, you have to have the recipe (more research) and build a Jeweler’s Table (another workstation to build) to make gold gilding, a Furnace III (upgraded from Furnace I, then to II) to make the steel parts (for a book?!?), and to make that you have to… and on and on … and on… and all the while, keeping in mind that this does exactly nothing to continue the actual story line. And this is just one example of the many optional things you can pursue.
Anyway, you get the picture.
Do I begrudge the literal days I’ve spent playing this frustratingly enjoyable game? No, I emphatically do not. I always felt that there was probably an alternate, possibly simpler, way to progress, and I was just being bull-headed about experiencing the game as much as possible. I do have a couple of tips for players: Google and time management. Were it not for these, and advice from friends, I would have probably given up. This game is a mile wide and respectably deep, so beware the quagmire that is distraction.
Many folks compare Graveyard Keeper to another management-based game taking place in a certain Valley. If you enjoy these types of games, I would highly recommend this offering. Every session grabs you and pulls you along and through the crafting and story progression. More than once I found myself saying, “I’ll just do this one last thing,” only to find myself spending another two hours to complete it due to not having the requisite workstation, skill, recipe, or material. In the end though, I truly did enjoy the challenge and I look forward to seeing how the story ends. After I get Snake to steal that Salty Fork from The Town, which he’ll only do after the Astrologer gets me the Necronomican, which he’ll only do if I make him … *sigh* … here we go again.