Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles (Xbox One) Review
Release Date: February 26, 2019
Publisher/Developer: Merge Games Ltd./Prideful Sloth
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) Previously on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Steam
Price: $29.99 (down to $19.99 on PS4, $25.49 until release date on X1)
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a very "chill" game. It takes a lot of gameplay devices from other places and mashes them together into a world with no real danger going on. While there is a story to follow, it really feels like there is peace in the land before you even get there. Whether this comes as a pro or a con depends on what you wish to get out of it. To some, Yonder may be a lesson in tedium. Others may see it as a chance to zone out and enjoy the mechanics of the game rather than the destination.
Your customized character starts out with a basic story of a voyage on a boat that it soon shipwrecked. Luckily, you made it to your destination: Gemea, a beautiful land with several different environments, changing weather and seasons, and a full day/night cycle. The game is graphically beautiful as you traverse to learn more about your history, destiny, and the colorful characters that live in the land.
Certain areas in Gemea are covered by Murk, a strange, shadowy cloud that keeps you from advancing. By finding and collecting friendly sprites, you can clear away the Murk and go further. Helping out townsfolk can broaden your horizons as well, like helping someone repair their ferry to head out to the distant island.
What sets Yonder apart is the level of choice and lack of risk. Some people feel that a game isn't worth playing without some risk of Game Over, but that simply isn't an option here. As you go on you may get a hammer, but it's to break stone. You find a sickle, but it's for cutting grass. There are no enemies to slay, and the option to use the tool only pops up when you are physically near something that it can be used on. Fall off a cliff? You pop a little umbrella and float slowly down. The closest I came to "death" was falling in the water, and getting transported back a few feet from the water's edge. Any beast you come across in the wild happily ignores you, unless you give it a treat, where it will follow you home and be part of your farm.
Even though there is a main storyline, the choices you are allowed really make Yonder into whatever game you want it to be. You can earn abilities in adventuring, cooking, building (small items and buildings), tinkering, brewmastering, tailoring, and more. You are allowed to work on whichever one to your heart's content. Short of learning new things to make or do, there isn't an endgame to your skills. Yonder has a spat of the Minecraft creative vibe here: just go and do. Some of the quests you face may need you to know how to do something particular, but they mostly boil down to fetch quests. Need help from a guy? He's too busy figuring out a problem that he needs materials for. Where are the materials? With the trader. What does he want? something you find in the field. There are some colorful bits to the fetch quests, but that's in essence what 90 percent of the quests I went on amounted to. Not to say that's bad: take out the slaughtering in Skyrim and you're basically there. You'll end up with a litany of quests but there will be a handy checklist and a line of sight radar ready to help you get from place to place. There may not be leveling, but there is progress: you can bring happiness to the NPCs, expand your farm and keep cute animals that offer milk and such, or even plant a seed and come back later to find a thriving tree. Each region/town/etc has a "happiness meter" of sorts, and the higher it is the better the production within is. If there's anything to really "complete" in the game it'd be finding 100% happiness for the entire realm.
Most of my criticism for the game comes with the territory: I personally find it rather mundane, but Yonder is not meant to be a stressful chaotic game, or one you have to memorize people and places to understand what is going on. I want my character to feel involved, but the customization allows you to make him/her personally yours. I want a bit more purpose and direction, but the free nature lets you do exactly what you want. If I had any actual, valid concerns, they would be as follows. Walking from place to place gets a bit tedious, as you get the little marching sound effect and walk in a straight line to cross a field with no real consequences. Controls are a hair floaty. While that's okay in a risk-free world, I found them floating a bit in menus, which is frustrating to push to go to a particular selection and have the reticle slide right past. The collect-a-thon feels a bit much, as you have action icons telling you to pick up just about everything you walk over. Meanwhile, there is the frustration of things you cannot pick up: certain rocks can be broken for stones, while others are part of the environmental world and cannot. Little cats can be picked up for a quest, but tiny slugs that look just as interesting as anything else you see cannot. Every time I was running between quest points I'd be dancing back and forth to each shiny thing to see if I could pick it up, and sometimes I'd have the requested materials before I even met the quest giver. One thing I did not like having a hard time finding was the sprites. Literally the key to open up new areas, I would get stuck because I had four sprites and needed five. With no real radar other than "glowy spots around the world," the search felt fruitless sometimes. With all the things to collect, it felt like a "needle in a haystack" situation.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is not a game for a hardcore experience. Yonder is there for you when you just want to play and relax. I'd personally call it a wonderful title to introduce young ones to the basic gameplay steps found in some of your favorite titles. As a father of two young boys, I could see throwing Yonder at them so they understand the mechanics, then introducing them to a Legend of Zelda when I felt they were ready. It offers a thin but cute story to simply frame a chance to be a part of this beautiful world. Start a farm, or don't. Become a tradesman, or don't. Yonder gives gamers a chance to do just what they want (minus the violence) and all the time in the world to do it in.
-Beautifully created world
-Lots of quests to complete
-Amazing environments, weather, and day cycles
-Really customize the game to what you want it to be
-So many fetch quests
-Missing that one thing and having no clue where to get it
-Floaty controls, even in the menu
-Main story is just kind of thin and there
Special thanks to Merge Games Ltd/Prideful Sloth for providing a code for review!