Wanting to go on adventures and explore the world was something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. I would look through fact cards of animals and wildlife books while planning my route on a world map. I would have my little safari outfit and tools such as a multi tool and compass. I was set. In some way, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles encompasses the song, “I can show you the world” and fulfills my childhood dream of exploring a new world, discovering interesting new creatures and meeting new people along the way. With a desire to explore and the with the magical light of your compass, although limited, Yonder sets up a world for you to roam and discover to your hearts content.
Drawn to a hidden island and behind distant fog, and your crew doubting the existence of this place, you are shipwrecked alone after a violent storm. You are awakened by a spirit named Aaerie who has waited for you to free the people of Gemea of a dark substance called Murk that has spread across the land. Hidden throughout the world are Spirits; the children of Aaerie, which are key to removing Murk which has caused many of the residents to flee from the safety of their homes. Apart leaving the cave you washed up in and curious as to where you crew members have went, you will travel and meet many interesting people who live on Gemea along with cute creatures to befriend. Although there is the overarching story of removing the Murk from the land, through exploration, you can kind of make your own story as you go.
Upon leaving the starting cave you washed up in, you are presented with a view of a beautiful open world vista just begging to be explored, especially tempting is that mountain you see in the distance. That is the great thing about Yonder. It is a very chill game in that it is largely an exploration game with a plethora of fetch quests. And when I say exploration, that is essentially it. Much of the gameplay focuses on discovering new towns, new animals and hidden secrets that provide additional information to the story or acts a shortcut around the island. You might be surprised what secrets are hidden behind destructible wooden crates, barrels or walls. I would even encourage you to come close to just about every object and stone for fun discoveries and puzzles. There are even cute little cats hidden around the world that will mew when you are near and just waiting for you to pick them up.
There is a full map that uncovers as you travel throughout the land. Pulling out your compass shows a task list including a light path to where the quest leads to off in the distance. It is a neat mechanic but a glowing path system as you walking could have been useful and would have tied into the magical component of the game. Within the map, I kind of wish there was a way to create a custom waypoint that shows a path as I was constantly switching back and forth between the game and the map. The mini map as an arrow indicating direction to the task, and the quick task list in the overlay UI has a small icon arrow that shows direction to travel in addition to map which took me a bit to notice since it is small, but a handy feature.
Along the way, you will discover many different kinds of animals, and upon feeding them specific food they are interested in, lure them for a short time to your farm. Yes, you can also farm in Yonder. The animals can even be taken out on an adventure with you but unfortunately can not mount them which would be neat for faster travel around the island. Discovering your first farm is exciting as you start to make a home for yourself on Gemea. In fact, there are multiple farms around the island within the 8 various biomes that not only allows an efficient means of luring animals to your farm for penning when you befriend them but also an easy access to your personal storage chests, which are universally shared between them. Each farm provides an opportunity for design where you can craft structures to place on the grid system for storing the animals, feeding them, and cosmetics. Farming is a very basic component to the game though and can largely be ignored, but I feel like it is worth spending some time revisiting when you have a good setup to obtain your own crafting items or valuable items for trade. You can hire a farmhand to maintain your farm, but It requires a lot of food in order to hire a farmhand. I assumed you could start with giving them a base “salary” with a few food items to get them started and then continue to “pay” them, however you must achieve 100% happiness with them through food before they can be hired. Considering farming is a secondary component and not immediately necessary, except for the items you can collect from the animals, I feel as if hiring a farmhand should be less of an initial grind.
Crafting can be a time consuming task that requires a lot of grinding for items, such as cutting down trees, breaking stone and finding mining spots. Crafting resources are obtained by using the various tools in your quickbar once you obtain them from NPCs. Using a tool requires you to click 3 times before obtaining the resource. It’s unfortunate that you can’t hold down the action button to use the tools while the character strikes it for the amount of times needed to gain the resources instead of tapping multiple times to strike the object. I also would have like to see text under the quick toolbar popup to better indicate the item selected as the quick toolbar contains other items as well such as seeds. Crafting often requires large distance travel to certain NPCs in towns that can convert certain raw items into key items needed for recipes. Once you discover new towns within each of the 8 biomes, you will speak with each of the guild leaders and complete their quests for entry to each crafting guild. Through this, you will have many crafting recipes available to you. Since this is an exploration based story game, you will not be able to place crafting pieces anywhere in the world like an open world sandbox game. You are limited by the confines of your farming grid and the quests presented to you by NPCs and signs. The signs are locations where you can build bridges to gain access to new areas of the map or to provide a future shortcut across a river. Again, it can be a very taxing to grind for all the items, but you can often trade villagers for what you need. I felt like the items would respawn with each new login, or location refresh as I would visit a location and recut a tree, pick up a stone, mushroom, etc. This seemed like too much of an advantage for grinding items however you could just look at it as regrowth from the time away from the world. It may also necessary so you don’t run out of items as you must collect a lot of items for crafting and trading. Interestingly, Yonder encourages eco friendly tasks where you plant seeds to encourage tree regrowth after you cut down a tree. It also ties into rebuilding the land. Fishing is often a popular component in these types of games and definitely a part of Yonder. I liked the mechanic of casting the line and moving the bobber until a fish shadow pops up. Then having to pull the line back in the opposite direction the fish is swimming until caught. It made for a simple mini game to sit and relax at your favourite watering hole just like real life. Especially if you have a sunset view.
I would recommend discovering, but not rushing, all the Sage Stones early on for quick travel around the island. However, you really need to remember where each stone leads to. The design of the stones are themed with trees or snow for instance to indicate the biome but some floating text above them would be most helpful. Unlocking each stone will require a small puzzle or task to be completed before you can access it which is yet another fetch quest and even if you have previously done the task before talking to the stone, you must exclusively repeat it when the stone asks you to in order for it to be recognized.
By now, the real question you are probably asking is: where is the combat? Well, simply, there is no combat. In fact, the only way to even “die” is to drown because for some reason your character cannot swim and you just respawn safely to the water’s edge. I’m unsure if there is an explanation for this mechanic hidden within the lore, or if it’s a way to contain players to confines of the land you walk on but it can be annoying when you are so used to running through water as a shortcut or when some items are trickily obtainable from a rock in the middle of a pond. In addition, should you choose to run off the edge of a cliff, survival is achieved by you character automatically pulling out an umbrella and safely floating to the ground just like Mary Poppins. I thought that was a cute touch. For a while you will jump of short cliffs as shortcuts to your tasks, but eventually you will climb very high up the mountain and yes, you can float all the way down from there with a stunning view of the whole island.
Graphically, Yonder features a soft clay like texture to provide an inviting and relaxing look to the world with real time light rendering. The forests are lush with flora, foliage and particles. There is a full, time enhanced day/night cycle in Yonder with a beautiful view of the sun rising in the morning from any location around the island. Sometimes I would find myself atop a cliff or on the edge of a beach just as the sun peeks above the horizon and stopping to watch the view in awe. Sleep is not a necessary component. In fact, You can’t even enter a building. Unlike other games you run through the day and through the night doing tasks with no reduction in stamina or fatigue. Even the NPCs stay awake all night. There are however tasks that can only be completed at night. However, nighttime in itself is a wonderful experience with the land being lit by moonlight and the path ahead of you being lit by your trusty lantern.
In addition to the day/night cycle, Yonder includes a dynamic weather system. Weather affects animals in that they will hibernate and change their position in the world depending on the season. Wind will pick up and start to rustle the bushes and leaves on trees before it starts to rain. Snow will softly fall or blow heavily depending on the biome and time winter.
The sound design in Yonder stunned me immediately during the first night cycle as I would walk by a tree and hear crickets. I had to remind myself not to check my room for a cricket since it was only in the game and I’m not going crazy. Although having lived in the country for most of my life, I am used to crickets being just outside my window, or annoying me in my room. So I know just how real that sounds. And it’s not just the typical chirping crickets. It’s a full ambience of how they would naturally sound. This outstanding sound design carries over through daytime, but there are less dynamic elements that I noticed.
Continuing with the sound design through to music, that sounds like a mix between games like Minecraft, Kingdom Hearts and Zelda, Yonder features progressive and even reactive music that changes depending on location and time of day. For instance when the sun rises, there is a beautiful sunrise tone to add to the view which then transitions into a relaxing morning tone with a motivational adventurer tone by mid morning. Night time is more about the world ambience with a deeper undertone. Some areas feature music with female vocals which may indicate important locations, but I couldn’t pinpoint the significance other than to enjoy what I was hearing. The opening menu features ethereal theme music with female vocals which could be missed if you quickly click through the menu items but worth taking the time to sit and listen to.
Unfortunately the sound will sometimes cut abruptly, which is mostly noticeable with headphones. I played with TV speakers for the first while and never noticed it. It wasn’t until later when I tested with headphones in a contained environment to appreciate the sound design more and to hear the nearby cats better that I noticed the issues.
A Steam code for this game was provided for free for review purposes. This does not affect the opinion of the content or value of released game.
Check out the first hour of the game here during our recent Twitch stream!