Grave Keeper is a fantasy hack-and-slash action game from developer Baldur Games. Having grown up in an era where clicking for slaying was paramount to an enjoyable PC game, I was excited to give this indie a chance.
And so I did. Although the fun visuals and simple combat were enough to pique my interest, a lack of story and game play content did little to keep it. But let’s take a step back…
Onward to Battle!
In Grave Keeper you play the faceless Bounty Hunter, a knight seeking to gather glory and gold for himself in a land known as the Forbidden Stronghold – under the control of the Skeleton King.
The plot sees you enter and immediately battle the antagonist. With a skeletal boot to your derriere, however, he quickly sends you flying out of the stronghold with your tail between your legs.
This is where the game actually starts. After a tutorial from a woman named Arryn, you’ll proceed to slay enough minions and bosses to acquire gold and loot and earn yourself a rematch with the King.
Hack – Slash – Repeat
The main gameplay mechanic of Grave Keeper is combat, a gloriously simple loop. This system is composed of only three moves – a sword slash, firing an endless supply of arrows from a crossbow, and an ability move that works as an ultimate attack.
All of the fights are also very similar. You’ll find yourself in an arena in which 15 minions randomly spawn with every wave. After five of these mini-hordes, you’ll trigger a boss fight that you’ll need to complete in order to progress.
There are, however, ways to unlock additional content. Although the waves are endless, after 31 levels you can choose to enter another fight with the Skeleton King. And, finally, there is an inherent RPG element to Grave Keeper.
Arryn again pops up after every boss fight to reward you with a chest that contains loot to equip, and the rewards get better the more subsequent levels you complete. As the bad guys get stronger, so do you, creating the enjoyable combat/reward grind mechanic you find in most role-playing games.
The Incomplete Quest
The elements needed to make Grave Keeper are there – the visuals are cartoony and fun, the interface and combat mechanics are intuitive, the villains are numerous, and there’s plenty of loot! Because of this, it’s disappointing to say the game ultimately fails to capture your interest after an hour or so.
Grave Keeper feels incomplete: only providing a simple button mashing mechanic to pass time. Enemies simply try to converge on your location, and the easy boss fights act like a door to the next area you just need to kick in.
After an enjoyable first hour, I settled into the routine of taking advantage of the poor wave AI by simply kiting the horde into a zombie conga line and beating ten of them at a time with a thrust ability. The AI needs reasoning and tactic options to provide a challenge.
Most importantly, a notable issue of the game is its lack of world-building and story. You never get an idea of the layout of the Forbidden Stronghold since the arenas are randomly generated.
The game’s characters also need some work. Arryn and the Bounty Hunter remain mysterious throughout the game and you can’t even actually beat the Skeleton King; which is the main purpose of the game. Every rematch sees him kicking you back to the beginning even if you fully deplete his health bar.
Even after 600 levels (yeah, I checked) – indicated as the highest level progression to get the maximum rewards after a rematch – an ending is an absent. The game would have benefited immensely from the payout of a simple closing cut scene.
Porting a Hero
It’s a fair argument to say hack-and-slash games don’t need endings but, if they don’t, then they need content to encourage coming back to the game. Daily missions and quests exist, but they need more diversity past their existing three categories of “kill bad guys”, “complete levels”, and “break stuff”.
The limitations of this indie title are perhaps better understood by knowing the origins of the game. Grave Keeper is a port of the IOS game of the same name, and it feels exactly like that down to the opening screen that welcomes you back with coins. While there are new additions here, like the challenging survival mode, Royal Fight, it hardly justifies the $10 cost of the PC version.
The Battle So Far
Overall, Grave Keeper exists as a foundation upon which a really great game can be built. While I initially enjoyed the fun world and simple controls, the game failed to continue holding my interest. It soon became apparent that it could offer little to progress past its initial concepts.
If you are looking to make this the next meal you devour on the PC, be aware Grave Keeper lacks that crucial spice of life – variety. Regardless, if you feel like giving it a chance, you can find this indie game on Steam here.