Games The O.D. on Games

The O.D. on Games: Graveyard Keeper

The following is the transcript of the official assessment of the game “Graveyard Keeper”. The owls present were Rulerofowls (ROW) who was the head of the assessment committee-that consists of one owl- and the owl answering for the game-the Owltaker.

  • ROW: Before we start the assessment, I will state the process for the transcript: The owl that represents the game in question will have to answer to a minimum of four questions, and after the answers the committee holds the right to ask further questions to clarify or go deeper into the answers provided. Shall we begin?
  • O: Whenever you’re ready.
  • ROW: First question: What did you like about the game?
  • O: There were several things the developers had to nail, in order for the game to be on par with the other excellent games in this subgenre and, thankfully, they did nail some. Firstly, GK is unique in how progression and the gameplay loop work within the game; unlike other “genre-games” like Stardew Valley, GK has no time limit for the main goal, which is a welcome change. Furthermore, XP is received in three categories that can then be spent on six groups of specific skills and perks, which is a neat way of handling progression and gating, as it works similarly to 4x or strategy games-it’s basically a tech tree. The biggest change, however, is the addition of the coroner/grave digger/priest element alongside the other core gameplay elements of the farming/RPG genre (the others being farming, mining, cooking, socializing, foraging, fishing and building) as well as the more recent addition of a simple, combat element. The new coroner element is especially fascinating, as the player is tasked with preparing bodies for burial or cremation, and they are allowed to do some fucked up stuff to earn more profit or have the graves receive better ratings-in order to get on the good side of the church. There are some interesting RNG elements in that process and the option to exhume bodies to harvest more organs from them, which makes this element the most interesting of all the other elements and the best feature of the game. In addition, GK handles exploration and traversal a bit different than other similar games; usually distances are short, but since the day is short as well, the player has to be efficient and smart with how they explore and traverse the map. In GK, distances are long and the days are short, however there are numerous shortcuts you can clear to shorten the distances and use your day more effectively; this isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I at least applaud the attempt to do something different. Lastly, I was mildly amused by the game’s story; it has a very goofy vibe to it, with even goofier writing and characters-from alcoholic, talking skulls to a communist donkey- GK does not deliver a great narrative, but it does provide some likeable and funny moments.
  • ROW: Second Question: What don’t you like about the game?
  • O: Although GK does differentiate itself from other similar games, it gets a lot of the basic elements wrong, like balance and having a satisfying and meaningful progression; similarly to other genre games, GK has an energy bar that dictates how much you can do in a given day. However, everything you do takes up too much energy, so instead of preventing you from doing too many things too quickly and having a bad time, GK’s bar does not allow you to do enough things to make that time feel worthwhile; the only way I found to have a productive day is to cook up meals before you start it, which exemplifies a conscious decision made by the devs: You have to interact with every element, it’s not an option like other similar games, which is a decision I really don’t like, because it drains your energy bar and forces you to deal with elements you may not enjoy. Furthermore, the devs decided to add a “simulation-like” complexity in the game, which makes the energy bar situation worse, but also removes the feeling of meaningful progression in the early/mid-game part; normally, you chop down a tree and get “wood”, but in GK you get logs and sticks, which can then be turned into a half-a-dozen different types of wooden materials, that then can be used to craft items. This slows the pace of progression down to a crawl, makes progression feel lackluster-because progression is now made into being able to craft a different type of wood material or making the same materials more efficiently-and, since every elements has to be interacted with, there are so many progression routes that make small incremental changes that makes the player feel overwhelmed and stagnant. Also, there are too many gameplay elements in GK; you have farming, foraging, mining, combat, coroner, grave digger, priest, alchemy, cooking, wood/stone cutting, fishing, ore collecting and refining, building/crafting, writing. All of these elements need to be interacted with to progress each other and the overall game, and alongside the numerous shortcuts and blocked-off areas that need to be cleared, give the player too many goals at once, which leads to the player feeling lost. Moreover, there’s no way to keep track of required materials for any of these elements or the shortcuts, so you rarely know what you are doing, why, or even what you need to create or clear a path/item. Lastly, I really disliked the music; it’s pretty monotonous, repetitive and necessary because there are critical sound cues, which means that you can’t mute the game and play over your music or a podcast. 
  • ROW: Third Question: Is the experience of playing this game, worthwhile?
  • O: That depends on your previous experiences with the farming/RPG genre; if this is going to be your first foray into the genre, then there are much better games out there, which find a better balance and ultimately create a better experience. However, if you already put in hundreds of hours into the genre, then this is a welcome variation of it. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone, but it focuses on different elements and it’s aiming at delivering a different experience; primarily, GK explores the simulation aspects and asks players to complete extra steps for their short/long term goals, and has a lot of elements that connect to each other, which the player HAS to interact with. Similarly to what Banished did-which was an RTS without the strategy, only the base building and resource management that focused on you creating a better and sustainable life for your people- GK is not another example of the farming/RPG genre, but a game that chooses to focus in on some aspects, ditch core elements and present a different game from the foundations of that genre. As a synopsis of what I feel the game does wrong, I thought of the “overwhelmingly open” description; there’s too many paths to follow, all of them are interconnected so all need to be followed, which leads to too many choices and the “paralysis” of the player. Also, the music complaint is very important for me because it made the routine of the game even more repetitive and boring, while being necessary to be efficient at it, which left me so underwhelmed and annoyed.
  • ROW: Last question: Should I get this game?
  • O: As a monetary “value for money” proposition, then it’s undoubtedly worth the asking price; I’ve put in around 18 hours so far and I’m not even halfway through. That’s good value for the price of 1679 owlians (or 16, 79 euros for humans). However, if there was something similar out, but more akin to farming/RPGs than GK, then I would have put in 10 hours and stop. Most of the changes made for GK have not worked for me, and the changes that do work are not enough to make the frustrations less frustrating. Nonetheless, it is well made, charming, and often fun to play, which is why I don’t think it’s a bad game, but the changes, the unbalanced mechanics and the frustrations that came with that, hold it back from being anything more than “barely good”.
  • ROW: So, not a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down”; something in the middle.
  • O: We don’t have thumbs, we are owls; if you are looking for a closing synopsis then “it’s barely good, but it’s good nonetheless”. How’s that?
  • ROW: That works! Since “Little Dragon’s Café” is releasing in a week, I may just shortlist the game and get it later on with a bit of a discount, but the changes don’t sound that appealing to me.
  • O: Yeah, I feel the same; it’s actually in the Game Pass program for Xbox, so if you plan on getting one, that’s a good opportunity to see if you like it! Regardless, I really do mean it when I say that the game is good and you should check it out, but it’s not for all farming/RPG fans!

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