Graveyard Keeper is the perfect example of what not to do when creating a video game. While it is technically a game, that’s about as high of praise I can give it. At every point it seems to make the wrong decision about how the game should work, making for an overall very disappointing and un-fun experience. The gameplay is slow and meaningless, it breaks often even after months of patches, and I get the feeling that these game developers are very confused about what a video game is actually supposed to be.
The gameplay in Graveyard Keeper can be summed up very easily. The developers took the infuriatingly awful energy system from freemium mobile games, put that into a PC game for no discernible reason, and then took out the option to pay to get more energy (not that I think this is a good thing in any game). Everything in the game costs energy. Chopping wood costs energy. Fishing costs energy. Making nails costs energy. Swinging a sword costs energy. Stay up too long? Things start to cost more energy. Your energy bar is abysmally small and even when the player gets the tools to start making food, that too costs energy and it all serves no other purpose than to artificially slow down the player. The player is also barred from doing an incredible amount of things because they’ve yet to research it or even discover a research tree (which the game never really points you in the direction of which means you could just lose out on something you’ve been needing just because you didn’t happen across the right person at the right time). Even being able to research things is a pain, since the player needs different levels of experience in three different colors which are, as you might have guessed, a pain to get. For the ten hours I’ve played, I always felt like I was working on seven different projects at the same time, any one of which I needed to do to either make another project possible or not as brain-numbingly tedious.
Many parts of the game are very unintuitive. To unlock technologies you need to speak to people you wouldn’t imagine would be able to help you with certain things, the path to getting more blue experience (which unlocks some very important technologies) is very stuttered and difficult, and the crafting stations extremely spread out. One issue I took with the game in particular is alchemy. Alchemy, once unlocked, gives you no indication on how to make anything with alchemy. There are no recipes (something that’s not present in the rest of the game), there are no tutorials, there are no NPCs that will teach you how to experiment. I was miffed when I discovered this for myself, but I knew that I could go onto the wiki to look up recipes, something I didn’t feel bad about despite always wanting to figure things out on my own. I became infuriated when I found out that ink, the thing I was making an alchemy workstation for in the first place, requires two ingredients to be made. Why would this anger me? It angered me because I was close enough to being able to make an Alchemy Table II that I figured that I would skip Alchemy Table I altogether so as not to waste resources on it. Alchemy Table I takes two ingredients to make products, and Alchemy Table II, for some unknown reason, takes exactly three ingredients to make something. Not only that, I had no more room in my basement to make another Alchemy Table I. So not only could I not make ink with a workstation that should by all means be strictly superior to the one I needed, I would’ve had to delete another one of my workstations just to make room.
Not even the combat in the game, which you unlock after hours assuming you even go down the required quest line to unlock the dungeon, is satisfying. Enemies are generally easy and eat up your stamina more than your health, your abysmally tiny inventory fills up in an instant, and nothing about the game really screams to me, “Play me!” When you play any other game, Heat Signature for example, there are very clear moments when the game wants to be played and wants you to have fun. Even as far back as the tutorial when the game demands you hit the poor, unsuspecting pilot so hard with your melee weapon he flies out of his seat, into the other room, through a plate glass window, and out into space, the game is telling you, “This is what you can expect. This is what you get out the game.” I find it hard to imagine most gamers wouldn’t find that fun. I did not experience a single moment of that in Graveyard Keeper, not a single second out of 360,000. It was all tedious work for the sake of unlocking more ways to work.
The story, or at least what I’ve seen of it, doesn’t really matter. The game starts off with a cut scene drawn in an art style not scene anywhere else in the game where the main character gets hit by a car. You then talk to Death and get transported to this strange town. At the start of the game, I saw a lot of potential about where they could go with the story and interactions. People were generally untrusting of you and had distinct, if stereotypical personalities. For example, I saw a great opportunity when I rebuilt the underground passage between my home and the town. Perhaps it could trigger some night time event where the player would have to evade guards and sneak out at night for whatever reason, but nothing of the sort ever happened. The passageway was, as everything else in the game, the means to more means, but never to an end. Each NPC, when their dialogue isn’t breaking and giving you repeated or debug lines, demands the player do things for them before they talk to or help the player. A bewildering decision regarding these quests is that the player is never under a time limit, but half of the NPCs show up one day of the week. Even NPCs that speak with a sense of urgency will never pester or punish you for not completing their tasks, which is good in a way because one of the first quests you get require about a dozen hours of work to even get the ability to get the materials to make the things you need for the quest. Why they only show up once a week, however, is the same as any other mechanic in the game: a decision made for seemingly no purpose other than to incentivize the player to not play the game.
The developers did manage to get more songs in their game than they had good ideas, at least. The one song that you hear repeatedly over and over for all of eternity while playing the game becomes a nuisance very early on, but thankfully there are no audio cues throughout so putting on your own music/a podcast is possible. The graphics are similarly mundane, but the only thing that really stands out to me in memory is that when moving horizontally would cause the screen to scroll as expected. The character model would then jitter, I assume because the screen would move so many pixels, then the character model would be pushed back but would immediately move forward again. It was a strange issue that I’ve never seen in a game before and I certainly never thought that smooth scrolling would be something a game would have trouble with.
When looking at the entirety of the game, Graveyard Keeper is what I would imagine would be the result of two aliens coming down to Earth, being told what a video game is, being given the technical ability to create a game, and then being told to make their own game. It’s not what you’d expect from reading the title, it’s not fun, and there really never seemed to be a point to playing it. Some of the information or issues may be outdated, but when I tried to replay the game I encountered a bug on the tutorial that made it impossible to progress, so I didn’t bother trying after that. I would highly recommend not spending money on this game, even down the line. I hold this strong position because there are serious issues with the game down to its very core, and there’s no way it would be worthwhile for the developers to try and fix the game. It’d be better and faster to just make a new game altogether.