POSTS

Graveyard Keeper Buried My Free Time But I Have No Regrets

Corpse feng shui

This is the first time in my life where corpse quality is my #1 priority.

Graveyard Keeper was a good experience overall. It hooked me in all of the right ways and the trickles of progress were enough of a dopamine hit to make me lose sleep and cause my family undue stress with my general unavailability.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Real moral ambiguity without any real consequence

Harvest corpse meat. Make a corpse burger. Harvest more corpse meat while eating your corpse burger over the corpse you’re harvesting more corpse meat from.

Throw corpses in the river. Nobody cares.

Let them pile up and rot. Nobody cares.

Fill your church or the tavern with rotting corpses. Nobody cares.

Make an endless circuit of the town harvesting and eating flowers.

Eat cake and drink wine all day. Who’s going to stop you? You’re an adult. And immune to diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.

The game doesn’t really help you much, and that’s a good thing

You, too, can have the joy of blundering into walls and eventually unlocking the path forward.

Have the blacksmith ask you to kill a couple slimes, wander off in the wrong direction, come back game-weeks later after getting distracted making flitches and planks for days, realize the slimes were right above the blacksmith’s house. Feel smart.

Take game-weeks to figure out where to buy seeds and how to plant them while that ass of an ass sits there waiting for carrots. Build a garden with sticks; wonder why you can’t plant carrots; fail to realize that “empty garden plot” doesn’t mean the verb, but the noun; finally plant carrots. Feel smart.

Discover the quarry. Realize you can’t do anything without stuff. Make several trips because you keep forgetting one or two materials and your memory sucks. Get stuff to build a stoneyard and lumberyard. Realize you can’t build a lumberyard. Curse the devs but shrug and say you see the atmospheric reasons for limiting the purpose of the quarry/cottage. Finally start producing iron slabs and actually start to feel good about things since this is a really nice source of materials! Break your pickaxe after three slabs. Walk all the way back to sharpen your pickaxe. Come back and build a furnace and start using the quarry as an outpost to pump out iron bars. Get the Breaking Dead update and realize you can’t build furnaces there anymore either. Be sad for a while until you realize how awesome the zombie workers are.

High quality of life storage system

I absolutely loved that materials in all storage containers in each work zone were available from the crafting stations in that zone.

Normally in games like this I spend hours organically organizing and reorganizing my storage chests as I discover more items and item purposes. Ore goes next to the furnace. Simple. The perceived efficiency gains make me feel pretty good.

With simple crafting games like Stardew Valley, this works fine. With games that have more complex chains of crafting, having to remember where everything is becomes a pain.

Minecraft and Terraria handle this pretty well with signs and the ability to customize the environment. In Terraria I’d put several blocks above the chest to indicate what was in it (wood for wood, etc.). In Minecraft, I’d put a picture frame on the chest (crouch and place to prevent opening) and put one of the items in the chest in the frame (seed for seeds, etc.).

But in Graveyard Keeper, these custom systems aren’t really necessary since all stations can access all chests.

The downside is that when an item is needed in a different work zone, you have to dig through all of the chests to find it. There is a nice feature in the inventory screen that shows you all of the storage units in the work zone, but you can’t remove items from them in this menu, and the display order is sort-by-create-time and non-customizable, so you still have to have a general guess about which chest actually has the thing you want.

One adjustment could be a sort of ordering station, where you indicate how many of which items you want at a pickup location. Then the zombie porters could fulfill the order, the way logistics drones do in Factorio.

Work is expensive and carrying stuff is boring

The energy cost of actions is high; I had to force myself to be goal-oriented or risk making no progress at all. This is true until about midway through the game when the flow of wine and cake is endless. Then nothing else matters.

The extra carrying inventory slot for things like stone and logs was an interesting mechanic, but it quickly grew tedious. This meant if I needed sticks, I was chopping down trees and leaving the logs lie, because I didn’t have the patience to run back and forth from whereever I was to the lumber stockpile. This was such a drain on my patience that I started abusing the object pushing mechanic for efficiency gains. I’d chop the trees next to the path from the house to the morgue, line the logs up in the path, and push them in a line up to the gate by the house. The gain wasn’t much, but I felt slightly less bored.

The Breaking Dead update was a welcome change, even if it (I) prompted me to abandon my 300~ game-day progress save to get the full experience. This was really nice for two reasons. First, it eliminated the need for manual hauling of logs and stone/marble/iron slabs. Once the system was set up, it basically eliminated the need for further trips to the quarry. Second, once I realized I could put zombies on the stoneworking and log cutting stations, the bottleneck of overflowing log/slab stockpiles was eliminated and the workyard productivity skyrocketed.

Alchemy just wasn’t for me

I made 10 goos before I gave up and used a wiki for alchemy recipes. I like what they did in allowing people to experiment to discover recipes - it is alchemy, after all - but the cost was simply too high for me. Collect the thing (takes energy), decompose the thing (takes energy for 2/3s of the types), try the combo (takes energy), and get garbage. That’s very discouraging. All the while the corpse bell is ringing and crops need tended, and I took just slightly too long and the Astrologer walked away right as soon as I teleported to the lighthouse and NPCs can’t walk and talk at the same time for some reason.

Corpse management

At one point, I got tired of managing corpses and wanted to see what happened to them at 0% corpse quality, so piled them all up in the crematorium and waited. I collected about 25 corpses before I had a mega-bonfire. I was hoping at 0% they would reanimate and attack me/the villagers.

For each new corpse, you have to choose between:

  • burying (energy drain for prep and costs associated with quality),
  • burning (prep optional but allows carelessness and harvesting of more difficult materials, cost associated with gathering wood, setting up pyre, but still get burial certificate after the fire dies down (??? there must be a magical burial certificate generating fairy/ghost hanging about (maybe it’s Yorick!))), or
  • dumping them in the river (I really hope there’s some consequence here, like an angry mob from The Town that robs you and kills you and burns your stuff, but I’m betting there isn’t).

For how little effort it is, farming is more tedious than it has to be

Click plot. Open menu. Scroll through list of storage containers. Select fertilizer. Click OK. Click plot. Open menu. Scroll through list of storage containers. Select seed. Click OK.

For how little work gardening is, it takes a crapton of clicking and time. Repeat plantings are slightly better since the plots remember your previous selections, but this is lost if you want to change fertilizers or seeds. I’m surprised at the menu-happy choice when Stardew Valley’s system was so simple. Hold seed and walk while holding a button. I get that farming is not the focus of this game, but turning your players off of it by making it so inaccessible just isn’t necessary.

The upside is the massive output of the garden plots and the recycling of seeds, especially with the use of higher quality fertilizers. Like many things in this game, once you have enough to accomplish X goal, there’s no reason to grow more.

Some upgrades have weird timing

The meat stamp is basically useless by the time you get it. Timing plus energy/materials cost plus low value of wrapped meat makes selling the meat to the tavern a waste of effort for anything other than the situational humor. The humor is worth it, though (meat is scarce, but somehow everyone is OK with the Graveyard Keeper bringing it in by the wagonload, because it has the royal stamp! The innkeep even has an excellent shifty-eyed, shoulder-slumping animation when he tells you about it), but there’s no reason to cost-gate it the way they did.

More could have been done with some elements of the game

The talking skull was basically pointless after the wine quest. I liked it as a device to explain key gameplay elements, but it was obvious that was its only purpose. I even finished the game without ever having given him the wine, then went back to my save and finished the quest and was met with disappointment.

Fishing is completely optional aside from steam achievements. You can buy all fish you need for the questlines from the lighthouse keeper.

There’s no reason to develop the honey bee yard other than having developed the honey bee yard. You get enough honey from the 2 trees right there without having to go through the effort of collecting (or buying) the 20 bees per beehive. (Update after playthrough #3: honeycomb is useful for crafting advanced candles, which help break through the faith gating by increasing church quality and thus faith gain per sermon. But you can also just buy it from the bee keeper.)

Beer/mead are pointless if you’ve already developed your winery. Beer is useful for the questline at Witch Hill, but there’s no reason to keep producing it, since that questline progresses after a few game-weeks and you can no longer sell beer there, and the profits don’t hold a candle to sermons/warehouse sales.

The inn is rundown through the entirety of the game. I kept waiting for the opportunity to fix it up.

Money is a huge progress gate and then suddenly meaningless. Once you can afford the aristrocrat papers, there probably isn’t much else you would need to buy, and you’re probably rolling in 1-2 gold per week with sermons/warehouse/wine sales.

Ending slash burnout

People complain about the ending, and I somewhat agree.

There was no reason to break the fourth wall and talk about DLC and such. They could have left it as it was rolling credits.

For me though, the (mostly) complete lack of sandbox play (very limited customization of layout, etc.), the quest-centric nature of the game (everything you craft/unlock is basically to finish the quests, then there’s nothing else to do), combined with the flat dimensions of those quests and the characters, leads to a gameplay progress/activity curve that starts out low/high (low progress, lots to do, many barriers), skyrockets to high/high after an extended period (high faith/money availability, automated production with zombies), then drops off to low/low (all quests completed, no reason to continue).

I’d possibly replay Graveyard Keeper in an attempt to beat my day count to completion. I think it would be possible to ignore the church altogether past the unlock and examination of necessary alchemy components (since it’s the only source of blue points and the church basement is the only place to write the books needed for the questline, and alchemy is needed to resurrect zombies).