Monday, 17 July 2017

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles Review (PS4)

A Far away place you'll want to stay

Exploration is something that isn't mentioned all that often when people discuss games. Be it players, websites or creators all of us usually focus on aspects of a game such as plot, combat systems, the amount of tracks and generally elements that focus on what a player is doing at any given second. Yet in truth these features are not what we all enjoy most when playing games. Take this example, most people who don't engage with videogames probably assume that everyone who's ever played GTAV went and killed as many people as possible in the game when they played for the very first time....but I bet for most of them that wasn't true. I bet most people grabbed a car and went to discover what was at the top of Mount Chiliad, just like I did. The best games realise that what really drives gamers isn't the here and's beyond the horizon, the places they've yet to see.....Yonder if you will (segway!). Yonder is a game that understands all to well that the undiscovered corners of a games location are what drives people forward more than anything.

So what on earth is Yonder about I hear you screech. Well after a very simple character creation screen your unnamed protagonist will be on a boat reading a letter from his or her mother detailing the fate of the Island of Gemea. This island is the victim of a substance called the muck, a purplish substance that envelops patches of the land making life for its inhabitants a misery. You're tasked with exploring Gemea and finding out how to lift the muck as well as how its very existence is connected to you with only the sprites...creatures only you can see, and the sprite seer Aaerie to help you. In truth the story is relatively simple and you can probably see it all in a couple of days of play...but fortunately theres quite a bit more to see and do in all the corners of Yonder's interesting world....

Once you set foot on the island of Gemea after a ship wreck the player will find yourself confronted by a vast field filled with things in the distance that you'll want to see and discover, from the vast heights of Numino peak, to the pink tree's of Dapplewood forest and the strange smoke belching out from far in the distance, there's lots to see and do from the word go, and there's not much to stop you. Other than a second island which requires some of the story be completed before it can be accessed, and a final area only reachable after the games longest task, most of Gemea is accessible straight off the bat. As you begin wandering the main thing you'll notice are the patches of murk that require a varying number of sprites to dispel. These patches of murk usually disguise treasures and paths, but some hide more important things. You'll also come across a number of villages where a majority of the games side missions can be fact I was surprised at how populated Gemea was considering the threat of the muck.

The most notable of side tasks are the crafting guilds in which you learn to create a number of items, many of which are required for the most major feature of Yonder outside the missions....farming. In most regions you can create a farm and build small buildings, tools and other things to gain a variety of produce. You can even hire a farm hand to each of them which makes your life easier. The biggest issue with farming however is that it's kind of irrelevant, you're not especially required to give farming much of your attention. Of course there may be some people who want to dive in heavily but I just wished farming had more of an impact on Yonder's world outside of increasing each area's happiness a little. Crafting also doesn't have too much purpose outside of making components for the odd bridge. It's a shame really as both crafting and farming could have been used as ways to heal and change the island....there are a number of destroyed buildings in the world and I wished the crafting could have been used to rebuild these buildings, bringing in more residents and maybe even new missions.

The crafting system also highlights one other issue, menu's that don't always explain things quite as well as they could have. For example, some side missions require you to build stone bridges, which requires you to build stone components...which requires mortar. Thing is the only way I've currently found to get mortar is from a single trader in the mount Numino region...and he only had two for sale. You'll needed ALOT more than that so I can only assume there's some other way to get hold of it. Yet I can't find out what that either something hasn't been explained or there's a major balancing issue. Suffice to say Yonder is a game that will benefit from the inevitable wiki. There is one final You'll do a fair bit of walking in Yonder and for the most part it's a joy (even if you're character does walk like they're busting for a number 2) but it gets a bit repetative after a while. There is a fast travel system involving places called sage stones, but to use them you have to wander all the way over to the nearest one, and they're often located in awkward places. I really wish you could fast travel to either villages or farms regardless of where you are (although this would have created the need for loading screens). But in fairness most open world games suffer from this especially if you go back a console generation or two.

At this point you may have noticed one thing I haven't mentioned...combat. Well there isn't any, in fact you can't even really die. Significant falls cause your character to pull out an umbrella and drift gently down ala lemmings and although you can't swim, wandering in to deep water will simply teleport you back to land. Personally I'm a fan of this bold choice, it's pretty daring and means you can explore without fear, but it is a fact you should know before considering purchasing the game. There really is alot more to say about Yonder, I haven't mentioned the very well implemented fishing system, the various cute animals that you can feed and bring back to your farms, the various mysterious puzzles dotted about the place, how nice and simple gathering resources is, the day/night and seasonal system and the easter eggs dotted about all of which help enrich the journey. Yonder is an indie game, but it really doesn't feel like it...or look like it for that matter.

Looking back at this review so far I feel I've complained alot...but in truth that's just because I'm hungry for more. I want more things to craft, I want to influence the land more, I want more missions and more places to see...because Yonder crafts a world that's an absolute joy to be, filled with all sorts of secrets and surprises, it's a game that I found hard to put down and I think that very fact is why I can heartily recommend it. Yonder is a game with no combat, no peril, many features that can be ignored and yet I want to engage with everything, I want to catch every fish and create a fantastic farm, I want to learn to craft everything and find all of the hidden cats in the game. It also helps that it's so pretty and vibrant with a distinctly Zelda: The wind waker vibe that will enchant many. Yes there are flaws, but they are overshadowed by the games strengths. I really hope the team at Prideful Sloth continue to support Yonder and add to it's world as I'd love any excuse to come back to Gemea time and time again. It may have it's niggles, and those looking for high octane action and nothing more need not apply, but if you've enjoy the likes of Zelda, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing then you will adore this. Yonder: The cloud Catcher Chronicles feels like gaming food for the soul.


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