Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles Review
Yonder is for people who enjoy wandering about from task-to-task. It is easy to lose yourself in the simple, charming, and surprisingly expansive land of Gemea.
When it comes to playing games, we each play for different reasons. Someone might play a first-person shooter for the action-packed, adrenaline-fueled cinematic story, like in Titanfall 2. Someone else may play a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for it’s free-form, itemized control over your experience. Maybe you just really love their respective franchises, the characters therein, etc. Whatever your reason for playing a game is, that reason is yours alone to come up with.
Enter Yonder: the Cloud Catcher Chronicles, the first adventure-RPG developed and published by Australia-based studio Prideful Sloth.
There are a vast number of reasons to love Yonder, but pinning down my reason for enjoying this game so much took me nearly 8 hours before it became crystal clear: Yonder resurfaced my sense of childlike wonder and endearment. This isn’t to say Yonder is a perfect title, no game is after all, but the game is tranquil, uplifting and inspires you to explore its world.
The game begins with a simple character creator and, more importantly, a text crawl denoting that you’re returning home to the land of Gemea, a wonderful place that your parents sent you away from to protect you from “the Murk”. They gave you a celestial compass, which guides you wherever you need to go. Shortly after introducing yourself to a few shipmates, a terrible storm washes you and your companions ashore. Now you must navigate the land of Gemea and restore the downtrodden settlements from the Murk that covers and blocks off much of the explorable areas of the game.
It’s a simple premise that lends itself well to the adventure, role-playing, and farm simulator elements the game provides. I won’t go into spoiler territory, even if it’s a simple main story overall. The main quest line centers around the reconstruction of a massive machine with sails, clockwork and more called “the cloud catcher”. What it does and why you need to repair it aren’t too far out in left field, but what became available after I rebuilt it…that’s what taught me why I enjoy this game so much.
As most of the earliest tasks you’re provided show, the game is most often focused around gathering resources, trading for the resources you can’t gather easily, and restoring the territories, towns and structures you encounter. During this whole endeavor, the NPCs are simple, charming and usually helpful in some fashion. By exploring around each area you visit, you’ll be surprised when someone like Sly Mc’Wiley turns up. If you just stop to chat with him, he’ll give you a sickle and a quest to cut fodder grass for him. Tools are especially important and stay with you throughout the entire game. Because of that, this one quest, which is not standalone, shows that everything is tied to your interactions and exploration.
Throughout most of the game, you will wander throughout the eight provinces of the land of Gemea, each operating under a different biome and accompanied by a variable weather system. You’ll wander through the sunny Dapplewood Forest in clear skies one moment and seamlessly ascend up Numino Peak during a thunderstorm the next. This really gave me a feeling that my travels through the game were far and wide, with resource gathering and detours along the way giving me plenty to do on my way to quest markers.
Exploration is the name of the game here, and you won’t get very far without collecting in-game items called “sprites”. These are small, fairy-like creatures that can purge the Murk from sections of the map for you, but the catch is that you’ll need a certain number collected before you can purge specific spots. At the outset of the game, you can easily rescue a few from simple environmental puzzles; however, eventually you have to find more through quests, as you won’t be able to progress in the story without clearing the Murk from places you try to explore.
I should talk about the quest system here, as it’s rather simple but well handled. Every time you interact with an NPC or location marker for building (an example being a wooden or stone bridge), your quest log gains a new entry with a checklist to complete the quest. Simple enough, but marking that quest as active will let you use that fancy compass of yours to always check the exact direction you need to go in order to progress. This becomes especially helpful with main story quests, which usually have multiple major objectives. To curb this, the game lists each in order and lets you take on each task at your leisure. It’s great to give a straight line to the objective, but sometimes the destination is a considerable distance from you, leading you on an arduous journey to reach it.
These long travel segments were about when the technical holes began to show in this title. Graphically, Yonder is nothing to marvel at compared to most of the triple-A, or even indie titles, being pumped out regularly nowadays, being more comparable to an Xbox 360 arcade title detail-wise. At several points throughout my playtime, I noticed that ground textures were separate from the surfaces I was standing on and it took me out of the experience several times throughout the game. Additionally, some of the elements in the game, such as tool tips about abilities could be made clearer through database reminders. Thankfully, the user interface is non-invasive, but combing over it would remind me of some controls I forgot I had, such as switching tools. Additionally, the innate bloom effect the game uses is incredibly strong and with some of the lighting in-game being so vibrant, I ended up turning the bloom down by nearly 70% to avoid how harsh it was initially.
Ultimately, those are nitpicks on a simple game that is well worth your money, but not for everyone in my opinion. This is a game for those who know they want to kick back and relax. Yonder is for people who enjoy wandering about from task-to-task. It is easy to lose yourself in the simple, charming, and surprisingly expansive land of Gemea.