Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles Review – Vibrant Beauty (PS4)
Pick three games at random from your PS4 library, and chances are they’ve all got some form of guns, weapons, or violence in them. Don’t think that I’m here to get all preachy though. I enjoy a wide-ranging variety of games; many of them involving shooting or slicing the bad guys, but it’s a formula that’s become all too easy to replicate. Give players a bunch of enemies and ways to take them out and you’ve got them hooked. It’s a strategy that’s worked for three decades.
It’s always a highlight for me when a game bucks this trend of violence and manages to grab my attention through other means. The Witness is one such adventure that comes immediately to mind, managing to become one of my favorite games of all time without a single enemy to kill or weapon to use. Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles takes the passive crafting and farming of Harvest Moon and blends that with the grand open world exploration found in the likes of Legend of Zelda to bring a sense of wonder and discovery to the player. There is nary an enemy or weapon to be found, unless you count the hammer that smashes rocks or the scythe that cuts the grass.
Shipwrecked on the visually stunning island of Gemea, you are the hero, tasked with earning crafting badges while learning what caused the landscape to be entrenched in Murk, a physical manifestation of darkness that brings sickness to the living wherever it goes. With the help of powerful and adorable sprites discovered across the landscape, you can rid the world of the Murk while uncovering the mysteries that hide beneath it. Seriously, it should not be understated how gorgeous Yonder is. Emerging from the waterlogged cave to get your first breathtaking view of the island is among my favorite video game moments this year.
Without any combat to occupy your time, you’ll be gathering resources to achieve different goals and complete quests instead. These tasks start off small, collecting wood from chopping down trees and stones from smashing rocks, but the complexity of what’s needed begins to grow. You’ll need to explore the many biomes of Gemea, meeting with new people in different towns and learning how to craft more complex items to move forward.
Exploration is one of the highlights of Yonder. The world has a rich and brilliant design that begs discovery. Rounding every corner, climbing every mountain, and delving into every cave always leads to something new and unique. I wasn’t content until I had covered every inch of the island, and even then I was still constantly finding new and fun little details and secrets that Prideful Sloth has peppered across the landscape. From the hidden troll village to a message on a rock stating “you aren’t supposed to be here” after doing a little mountain-goating, to the more overt — yet still quite subtle — pop culture references in character names and dialog.
Perhaps what makes Yonder even more impressive is that it was made primarily by three people, each one with a prominent resume showing their prowess in the industry. Yonder is an indie game in every sense of the term and is even launching at a very friendly $19.99 price point, though the sheer scope of the world might imply otherwise. It’s engrossing just to run around the world, which is essential because the crafting and farming aspects of the game fall quite flat.
It’s not that there isn’t a lot to craft. There’s quite a bit actually, but none of it feels all that meaningful. Sure, there’s a bridge here and there to reach a new area, and building your first farm feels like it’s really going to blossom into something, but I never felt the need to farm or craft outside of the objective requirements. As I traveled the world, I wanted the need to set up somewhere to return to, but Yonder promotes journeying to the far corners of the world as opposed to cultivating a home. I never felt the need to run a good farm. The game’s bartering system ensured that I had whatever I needed for the various quests through simple collection and hoarding.
Where games like Stardew Valley are built on the premise of farming, relationships, and making a life for yourself, Yonder never embraces this side of itself. Instead of Harvest Moon with vast exploration, this is Legend of Zelda without combat. Once the world exploration was burnt out, I never felt a strong desire to settle down on one of the farms and live out life as a Groffle milk peddler.
Part of this comes from a convoluted fast travel system. The longer I played, and the more I was tasked with whisking back and forth across the world, the more I grew to loathe the fast travel system they had set up. It’s never communicated to the player, so making your way to the one trader you know has mortar (one of the many basic components that you can’t craft yourself) ends up being a much bigger chore than it ought to be just to make a nicer lean-to for your Fabbits and Squombles. In fact, this lack of communication regarding some very basic game mechanics comes early, but didn’t really hit me due to the wondrous nature of the world.
I wish that the game had slowed down just a little bit, offering a narrower, but more guided look at everything you can do within Yonder. Instead it spits you into its very gorgeous world without so much as a second glance at how to actually take advantage of the various systems that it offers. There are many things that I didn’t even discover I could do until I neared the end of my time with the game, and some glaring omissions that frustrated throughout, like not having the ability to set waypoints on the world map.
Much like the fauna that inhabits its world, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a beautifully odd creature. The things it does well it does extremely well, which leaves me baffled at some of the obvious drawbacks that limit its scope and longevity. With that said, I am massively impressed by what such a small team was able to accomplish, and the attractive launch price certainly makes it all the more appealing. I hope Prideful Sloth can take their experience creating a varied and fascinating world and expand the purview of the crafting and farming to have more meaning in the future, but until that release I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing all that Gemea has to offer, even if my feet feel a little blistered from the journey.
Yonder The Cloud Catcher Chronicles review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on standard PS4. For more information on scoring read our Review Policy.