Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles lands players in the role of a customized avatar in the land of Gemea. It is geographically diverse with myriad environmental weather patterns and organic life. A virtual sandbox for the player to explore, gather materials, craft items, raise animals and collect treasures. Scattered about the map are fairy like creatures called sprites hidden around Gemea. These little guys are the key to opening the full expanse that this world has to offer.
The different areas of the continent are covered in ‘murk’: a blackish purple haze that obscures points of interest and prevents the player from traversing parts of the map. By collecting sprites, players can clear the murk and gain access to previously blocked sections of the map. Each new region the player journies to provides new land to cultivate and build on, animals to tame and plants to forage.
The gameplay loop of gathering materials, crafting, building, and progressing should be familiar to anyone who has played a sandbox title in the last few years. Players typically enjoy these games because they can flush out those sandbox environments and/or the gameplay progression loops they have to offer. Meaning that successful sandbox experiences almost always excel at making a specific experience exceptionally enjoyable.
For instance, Minecraft has all but cornered the market on games that allow players to build as big and broad as they would like. Intricate castles and underground labyrinths are just a few of the amazing player showcases. Unfortunately for the development team at Prideful Sloth, Yonder doesn’t excel at any one area. Instead, it opts for a more jack of all trades approach to the open-world formula.
Players can build a plethora of structures to occupy the plots found around Gemea, but the customizations are limited Instead,these structures are more utilitarian. They serve specific purposes like animal husbandry or cropping. Sadly this too is shallow, as husbandry consists of luring a wild animal with its treat of choice back to your farm and assigning it a pin to sleep in. After the task is complete players can gather animal produce for crafting and selling. The farming never expands into a real simulator like Stardew Valley players might expect. Instead Yonder seems to want to hang its hat on exploring and collecting, but those aspects doesn’t quite measure up either.
There is plenty of space to roam in Yonder; players will never want for a lack of open space but the content in that space is lacking. Smashing rocks and chopping down trees take up most of the activities across the map, but there are also ponds to fish in and villages to complete fetch quests for. Yet other than locating the sprites there’s not a whole lot of reason to do much hiking . Even then, finding sprites only allows the player to open up new areas of the map. Which provides more equally tedious area to run around in. Luckily for those that like eye candy,like myself, each of the environments is visually appealing, as is the game itself.
Yonder is animated in a 3d art style that reminds me of paper mache mixed with watercolor. Running through tall grass or across snow capped mountains, wherever you find yourself in Gemea, it’s a pleasure to look at. The lighting effects are notably good for an indie title making the setting and rising of the sun a treat each day/night cycle. In addition to a day/night cycle, Yonder has a seasonal cycle. The reds and oranges of autumn, whites and greys of winter, multicolor blossoms of spring and the vibrant green of summer all pop with detail. Yonder’s best feature is by far its visual style and charm.
With this in mind, I found myself having more fun exploring the different landscapes of Gemea and observing the details; viewing the budding flowers in spring, or the snow covered huts in winter. Even the soft glow of a lantern surrounded by lightning bugs captured my attention enough that I found myself simply watching the world of Yonder pass by. It’s such a shame I didn’t find more to keep me engaged with the game. After setting up several farms and filling them with animals, clearing away the murk from a good portion of the map and doing more fetch quests than I’d care to admit, I wanted to have something to keep me in this beautiful storybook world. But there just wasn’t; even still Yonder’s art direction is heartwarming enough that I’ll be jumping back in just to stop and view the roses.