Graveyard Keeper is like Stardew Valley … but with 100 percent more skeletons. It’s a farming-slash-mortuary simulator where players must run a cemetery while planting cabbages, fighting slime monsters, fishing, and figuring out how they ended up in the situation in the first place. It’s Lazy Bear Games’ second title, and it teamed up with publisher Tiny Build to launch it later this year on PC and Xbox One on August 15. However, people who buy the game in advance can play an alpha demo.
After getting hit by a car, you wake up in a strange, pseudo-medieval village that seems to exist on another plane of reality or, at the very least, outside of time. It’s a world where inquisitors burn witches and astrologers know about inter-dimensional portals. Your trusted companion is a talking skull with a drinking problem. And, for some reason, everyone calls you the Graveyard Keeper. It’s implied that every so often, a stranger appears out of nowhere and assumes responsibility for the upkeep of the local cemetery. That’s now the role that you must fill.
As I played the alpha demo on PC, I immediately fell into the familiar rhythms of this type of simulator game. Like Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon, you have a stamina bar and a day/night cycle to contend with, so I began setting weekly goals for myself. The first order of business was to gather enough resources — wood, stone, small sticks — so I could build workstations and advance up the tech tree. Every time I chopped down a tree or shattered a rock, I got skill points to spend on learning new technology.
Whenever I ran out of stamina, I explored the map and got to know the townspeople. It doesn’t seem like romance is a very big part of this game — back in the “real world,” your character already has a girlfriend. Plus, it’s hard to imagine the sparks flying between the hapless protagonist and oppressed peasants. However, business deals can be struck. For instance, whenever you prepare a body for burial in your cemetery, you can harvest parts from it — meat, skin, and bones. The FDA doesn’t exist in Graveyard Keeper, so you can get a black-market stamp to mark the meat as fit for human consumption and sell it for money.
This gruesome aspect sets Graveyard Keeper apart from other simulation games. Though it has a familiar user interface and mechanics, it’s solidly centered on your responsibility to the cemetery. A few times each week, a talking donkey appears with a new corpse for you to deal with. You must process it, dig a new grave in the cemetery, and bury it. And afterward, you must fix it up with a nice headstone and maintain the graveyard so that it’s not in disarray. Between this and exploring the map, I didn’t actually end up doing much farming even though I had a plot of land conveniently located next to the graveyard.
Lazy Bear Games fixes one of the end-of-life issues that I have with games like Stardew Valley. Even though I love running a farm, once I get married and finish all the quests, I often fall off those types of games. But Graveyard Keeper puts those quests at the top, and straight away, your goal is clear: It’s not to become the best at running a cemetery or farm but to get home. This game urges you to search for secrets and uncover new areas. There’s a whole dungeon complex underneath your house and a mysterious sign next to the cemetery church that warns of a curse. However, if you really just want to become the best graveyard keeper ever, then you can have at that as well.
The alpha is a little buggy, as to be expected, and I hope the developer will also adjust some of the balancing before the final launch. For instance, it takes a really long time to go from the cemetery to town — a round trip will take up nearly half the day — which often made me feel like the week was zooming by, and I wasn’t making as much progress as I’d like. It also doesn’t have a file-save system implemented yet. But Lazy Bear has already pushed out various patches, and the game is proving itself to be fun and addictive.