Kickback, relax, and enjoy this stunning world worry free.
What I find most fascinating about exploration-based games are just how different each world can be. Some are filled with hostile enemies with the goal to take you out at all costs and others have a nice balance between exploration and combat, but not many take the route that Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles does. Instead of sharpening your blade and grabbing a buckler, the only things you’ll need to keep sharp are your tools for collecting various materials as you explore this breathtaking world worry free of enemy interference. There are some frame rate issues here and there, but this only lightly dampens an otherwise charming experience.
The story for Yonder isn’t exactly unique and certainly not fleshed out, but serves the driving force of the game well. Upon a great shipwreck you find yourself on a magical island, but not all is well as a strange evil known as Murk is polluting areas around the world causing distress to all those on the island. With the aid of sprites found around the island, the goal is to eliminate the Murk and return peace and happiness to the island’s inhabitants. While it is an open world explored in the third person, there are some areas that are gated off by Murk which require a certain number of sprites to clear. The beauty of it is that everything is tied to exploration and the controls make it a cinch to traverse the world - allowing you to soak everything else in.
Since there aren’t any enemies to deal with and thus no combat commands, the controls are rather simple, making it very accessible. All the action is done by either pressing B to jump or using Y for just about any other action imaginable, ranging from talking to townsfolk to chopping down trees. All your tools and usable items can be toggled between with the press of L or R, allowing you to avoid digging through menus. Movement feels good for the most part, but there are instances where the physics can be a little wonky. For example when jumping on a series of rocks or steep inclines, the first jump will be normal, but the second jump will actually end up propelling you backwards. This feels awkward and can be a little frustrating, but I usually only ran into this issue when trying to jump up a series of rocks that the developers likely intended to not be climbed. There are also some annoyances when trying to navigate through cramped corridors.
The huge driving force behind Yonder is exploration and you’ll be doing a ton of this throughout the journey. Not only are there beautiful sites to behold, but there are an abundance of quests and things to do along the way. In each of the eight areas, there’s Murk to clear, farms to build up, trees to plant, and quests to complete that ultimately contribute to the area’s happiness level. More often than not these are fetch quests, which can become tedious, but that feeling is elevated a bit because of just how much fun the awe inspiring world is. I can honestly say I had the Breath of the Wild feeling of setting out to tackle one objective, but running into so many other things that I found myself on the opposite side of the world with a handful of new quests. With so many quests it can be daunting, but luckily the compass takes care of all that making it extremely easy to manage active goals. The great thing is it also gives the option to show a highlighted path to the objective, not an exact route, but enough to never get lost.
While adventuring is the focal point of Yonder, it isn’t the only thing to do in the world. In fact part of exploration is discovering guilds within each region and learning their trade. By completing a relatively easy fetch quest, one which I almost always had the materials for at the time of accepting the quest, you become part of the guild and can craft items associated with said guild. These items can in turn be used to trade, build bridges, develop your farms, and even outfit your character with a new set of digs. Farming, fishing, and crafting can be more or less ignored once completing the initial quests, but I found them to be nice side activities for when I needed a break of traveling the world. What’s fascinating is how the economy works; since each town is associated with a guild, they’ll buy and sell certain things other towns won’t have and it even affects the price they trade things for. For example the tailoring guild doesn’t buy cloth for a very high price, but might be more inclined to pay top dollar for something not native to the region. Unfortunately trading between NPCs tends to work better on paper than in execution because it’s devolves into mixing and matching dollar values. I often found myself trading tons of random items to just clear space from my bag, which fills up way too quickly.
When the direction of a game is hinged on exploration, it’s paramount that what you’re exploring is both interesting and worthwhile. Yonder not only meets this requirement, it exceeds it tenfold delivering an absolutely stunning world. Visually it stands tall with interesting towns and wonderfully tucked away areas to discover and enjoy. With each passing season the weather changes, which not only gives a nice visual change, but also affects the environment in fun ways such as water freezing over to form a path. What surprised me the most is just how excellent the sound design is. From the whimsical music to the incredible storms, it’s easy to get lost in the moment, but sadly the frame rate tends to break that immersion on occasion. For the most part it just isn’t as smooth as one might hope, but there are instances of extreme choppiness when the game autosaves. Luckily due to the nature of the gameplay, there is no risk of dying or negatively affecting your progress.
While an open world adventure game with no combat is not something I’d generally jive with, I found myself enthralled with Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. It does a fantastic job of making a captivating atmosphere that’s both fun to explore and filled with things to do. There are frame rate issues and the lack of diversity among quests is a bit disappointing, but the jaw dropping visuals and superb audio design left me pining for more. While it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those looking for a laidback trip through a stunning world, look no further.