|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4|
|Release Date||July 18, 2017|
Review code provided
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is an adventure game that shipwrecks players on the lush island of Gemea – a massive environment that houses a series of distinct environments, ranging from snowy mountains to tropical beaches. After washing up on shore you’ll need to establish yourself on the island and team up with Sprites to save the residents from the murk.
Yonder is a very different type of adventure game. It’s probably not completely unique, but it’s different enough to feel very fresh in a genre packed with chosen heroes vanquishing all conquering evils and saving the land. There’s none of that here. Instead, Yonder is a pleasant game that drops you in a living, breathing environment and just kind of lets you get on with whatever you fancy.
There’s farming, there’s secrets to uncover, there’s quests to undertake and there’s an overarching narrative to follow. Yonder features plenty of different moving parts – what sets it apart from its contemporaries is that these parts aren’t intrinsically bound together. If farming isn’t your thing then you can safely ignore it. If you’re not really into the game’s numerous fetch quests then you can settle exclusively into a life of growing crops and rearing animals.
You really can do whatever you want (within the confines of the game’s mechanics) and set aside whatever you find isn’t to your liking. It’s a bold move in a world where games are content to force you to interact with as much of their content as possible. This approach only works if there’s enough variety in the game, of course. Luckily Yonder has plenty of things for you to see and do. Though some of this content does work better than others.
Completing quests for the cheerful island residents pretty much always boils down to fetch quests. Speaking to anyone with an exclamation point over their head will have you scouring the island for X amounts of various crafting materials. While you’ll be initially compelled to help your fellow islanders out because they’re just so nice, it can get on your nerves the 50th time you’re sent into the wilderness to retrieve something they could probably fetch themselves.
It’s lucky that the characters are so delightful to interact with and the quest requirements are fairly simple to actually go and get. Collecting various bits and bobs, whether for crafting, quests or story purposes, can be a little fiddly thanks to the variety of different tools needed to harvest them. Trees can be chopped with an axe, grass cut with a scythe, stones broken with a hammer and so on. But the sometimes goofy setups and simplicity does a lot of offset the mundanity.
This is all wrapped up in a very chilled and zen-like experience. There’s no combat in Yonder. There’s no death, no checkpoints and no slog to recover your progress after getting skewered by wildlife or tumbling off a cliff. The closest you get to an antagonist is the mist-like murk that has begun to spread across Gemea and needs clearing out to save the island (as part of the main story) and to access the entirety of the environment.
You accomplish this not by hitting things with a pointy stick, but rather by finding and recruiting adorable little creatures called Sprites. The more Sprites you ally yourself with the more murk you’ll be able to clean up. It’s supposedly threatening the very existence of the world, not that you’d be able to tell from looking. While I’m sure the sudden appearance of a strange purple mist is alarming, it just sort of sits there minding its own business. Even the islanders just carry on with their normal, cheerful routine.
It’s this lack of a strong narrative thrust that might turn players off from Yonder. This is a peaceful game about exploration, discovering secrets, helping people and transforming the land at your own pace, free from the threat of death or world ending implications. It’s quite refreshing to explore the land at your own pace without worrying that something is going to try and murder your face off when you round every corner.
It helps that exploration is Yonder’s biggest strength. There’s always something unique and worthwhile to find in Yonder. Inside every cave, atop every mountain, hidden just out of sight. Exploring every inch of Gemea is incredibly compelling, not because you’ll get a +5 sword of awesome for finding a way into that cave over there, but because this is a world that you’ll constantly want to see more of.
While farming, crafting and questing all have their own slight niggles in their gameplay mechanics – diving into the world of Gemea and uncovering all of its secrets is massively rewarding. The world itself is beautiful. Gemea is a vibrant island with an art style that really makes the whole place look gorgeous. It’s a beauty that smacks you in the face the moment you emerge from the cave where your adventure starts. “Wow” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
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