Disclosure ‐ Massive thanks to Prideful Sloth for giving us a review code at our request!
Welcome to your next relaxation station!
The feeling of returning home from work stressed out and looking for something calming is new to me. Finding something to do once I’m home that is actually calming is even newer. Now, here’s something I’ve learned about myself: give me a beautiful landscape and I’ll immediately annoy my friends with 30 second long Snaps and screenshots showing off how pretty everything is.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is what you need to wind down after a busy day. This debut title from Brisbane-based game dev studio, Prideful Sloth, for both PlayStation 4 and PC brings us an overall pleasant experience in this laid-back adventure. Your customisable character, who was born on the island Gamea, finally returns home after many years only to be caught in a shipwreck.
Of course, that’s not where the game ends but begins, giving you some narrative about the once beautiful and bountiful island being captured by something called ‘Murk’. Y’know, it’s purple, murky and sticks to places it shouldn’t. But other than that, the island is yours to explore. And holy shit is it a pleasure to explore!
This game, which opens with stunning lighting effects aboard the ship, and an introduction to the Gamea plains, is absolutely eye-grabbing. Around every corner, at each point of the day/night cycle, there’ll be something to stop and look at; the sun shining through the trees, the dark clouds over the ocean, or the stars and constellations. These visual touches combined with the changing seasons really hit it out of the park for me.
And if there’s nothing I love more, it’s an open world that’s actually open. From the moment you step onto land, you’re free to roam into the different regions, check out their changing biomes, and look through every nook and cranny.
FALLING INTO WATER BROUGHT YOU BACK QUICKLY TO THE WATER’S EDGE AND JUMPING FROM HIGH DISTANCES GAVE ME A BEAUTIFUL SURPRISE THAT HAD ME SMILING.
However, this game isn’t just for looking at. As soon as you complete your first couple of narrative-based quests, you realise just how much interactivity they’ve put into Yonder. A handful of tools helps you to collect handy materials for trading, building, customising and completing side-quests.
Each district has their own unique flora, fauna, and materials, which makes travelling the world a must-do. Shops are based on bartering, which adjusts prices depending on location and what you’ve just traded.
Each different region has their own ‘satisfaction’ rating which is determined by much you interact with said region; how many minor quests you go on, building your own farm, fixing things, and clearing away the Murk which pollutes the map.
The Murk is where the conflict of the story comes in. Through a very quick narrative, you learn that the Murk has covered a lot of the island, and with the help of little fairy creatures called ‘Sprites’, you can clear the Murk away for good. The Sprites are the story-based collectables of the game. You find them around the place in easy to reach places, or after you do a fetch quest or two. The more Sprites you have, the more Murk you can clear. They serve as a silent companion along the way as well, always appearing above your shoulder but never really saying anything.
The Murk is the true antagonist of Yonder. Gamea is a conflict and hate-free zone, something I came to realise standing still in a field of grazing beasts. They were more scared of me than I was of them unless I had food. Falling into water brought you back quickly to the water’s edge and jumping from high distances gave me a beautiful surprise that had me smiling. It made experiencing Yonder all that more relaxing; I knew that I didn’t need to level up or find better gear before moving on to the story.
THE DESIGN OF THE LAND DEFINITELY HAS ALL THE FUNDAMENTALS FOR A BRILLIANT OPEN-WORLD GAME
The story itself is… yeaaahhh. You’re special. You have a special compass and you can talk to the Sprites and because of that you’re the only one who can fix the huge Cloud Catcher – the keeper away-er of Murk – that’s placing a hold on a chunk of Gamea. I found myself skipping through the narrative itself, just to get to the breadcrumb quests on the other side. You actually get the final quest quite early, but to complete it, you have to do 30 other quests to get the one thing required. Not a bad structure, really. In all honesty, I was happy to be shown the ending quickly. Not because it was a taxing game, but because I tend to get bored when I can’t see the progression.
As you explore the land, you’ll find plenty of characters that would love some of your help along the way, gathering things, finding lost items, all that. After a few side-quests, it became very one-note, and they pointed me in the wrong direction to where I was ultimately heading. These detours were a result of new quests automatically taking the top of the queue no matter if I’d pinned the previous quest or not. Sometimes – because I tend to be a passive player – I didn’t realise this until I was ¾ of the way to finding a bottle of festival juice in a cave, rather than heading in the opposite direction to the Master Tailor who could help me with my Cloud Catcher problem.
The characters you come across also left a lot to be desired. Their charming, bloopy (for lack of a better word) design was great, but they didn’t add much to anything. Every now and again, they’d give you facts about the land and hints to where things were, which was when they weren’t adding as many puns as they could to a sentence (That sounds like a con. It wasn’t.) I’m sure to a lot of people, this is totally fine for NPCs, but none of them made me want to find anything for them. Why can’t they just get off their asses and find it themselves? It’s, like, just up that hill, Mary, seriously. Maybe some exercise would do you some good.
The only thing to really take me out of this adventure was some of the designs picked for certain aspects of the game. I found the UI to be unpolished and out of place, almost looking like clipart placeholders, compared to the beauty of the rest of the game. Some of the animals also seemed… weird; just plopped into the world to fill an empty space. They were all amalgamations of a couple of things – a Bambex, for example, is what I can only assume to be Bambi and an Ibex – but only reminded me of Gumby’s horse, Pokey. However, the Spring Pig… brilliant.
Overall, despite some flaws that were quickly shrugged off, I got lost in Gamea. I lost count of the number of times I wandered from my objective and ended up half way across the map. Yonder won’t be for everyone, but for someone like me who loves expansive and interactive environments, repairing the mysterious Cloud Catcher was thoroughly enjoyable.