Quest in peace: wandering through Yonder

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Nothing really matters in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles [official site]. Shipwrecked on an island that has been infested with some sort of sinister cloudy muck, known as the Murk, you might think it’s imperative that you clear up the unpleasantness so that people can return to the homes they once inhabited. Everywhere you look there are ruined homes but the islanders don’t fuss about them; they’ve got villages and farms and guilds, and they seem perfectly happy.

In fact, everyone in Yonder seems happy and the more I play, the more radical that design choice seems.

I’ve been playing the game most of the weekend, having been convinced to check it out by John’s review. The truth is, I expected to bounce off it, but I wanted to give it a shot so I could have a better understanding of how it worked. Spending time with games that don’t instantly appeal, or fit into my assumed tastes, is often useful; it helps me to figure out what I do and don’t enjoy in genres I don’t touch very often.

Yonder is part open world exploration and part farm management. It’s a third-person game with a visual design I thought would be nauseatingly cute – the first time I saw one of the collectible sprite characters, chirping, spinning and swooping in the air around my head, I almost tapped out. Not for me, I thought. And I also thought, that’s fine. Not everything has to be for me.

But for one reason or another, I pushed on and the next thing I knew four hours had passed, mostly because there was something about the look of the world that had grabbed my interest. It’s the perfect use of lighting and depth of field, making settlements seem wonderfully warm and inviting, particularly at night when they shimmer in the distance, and the whole world feels simultaneously large yet accessible.

It’s one of those games where you see something interesting off in the distance and can not only go and take a closer look, but will reach it far more quickly than expected. Open world games rarely make a virtue of their size in this way; usually they’re so busy bragging about how vast they are, they fail to provide enough points of interest in between the things you’ll inevitably end up fast travelling to and from. Yonder manages to fit all kinds of environments into an area that feels enormous, but rarely wastes space, simply by throwing in lots of distractions in every direction you care to look.

But the most notable thing about it is that air of contentment around the whole island. People complain about the Murk and talk about a lost Kingdom, destroyed by the titular Cloud Catcher, which is a piece of tech rather than a meteorological twist on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher. They’re aware of the bad things that have happened, and that may still be happening, but they’re mostly concerned about swapping items with you so you can make a new pair of trousers.

There’s no violence, at least not in the hours that I’ve seen so far. I’m all for a bit of in-game violence, but it’s fascinating to see an open world design that removes it entirely. Some people will find the lack of conflict dull, and so far it’s true to say that no other conflict has been introduced in the gap left by the lack of combat and killing, but for now, I’m still finding the entire game satisfying and relaxing in a way that makes it a fine alternative to just about everything else on my hard drive.

I’ll probably get bored of ticking off items on all of my checklists before I’ve done everything there is to do, and the game is very much about working through lists, whether they’re tasks scattered around the world, collections of materials for crafting, or new bits and pieces to expand your farms. For now, I’m happy just to spend time in the world though, so the checklists are a convenient excuse to do that.

Last night I caught a fish that’s only available around midnight (in-game time). I was fishing in a mountain lake and when I had the little wriggler secure in my pack, I stood on the mountain, in a storm, and watched the sun rise over the world below. It was stunning, the light fracturing through storm-bruised sky, and layers of colour seeming to spill across the valleys.

And then I trotted off to deliver the fish, help someone to grow a beard, and to figure out whether I should build some fireworks to impress the brewer’s guild or go and help a scarecrow to dress for the winter.

Yonder feels like I’m working my way through a shopping list, but its world is just about the prettiest shop I’ve ever seen. “Clean-up on Isle Murk”, a new task might say, and I’ll jog toward the horizon, happy to be at work in a place so peaceful.

This feature was originally posted as part of our Supporter Program.

19 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Well it certainly sounds cute.

    Maybe someday I’ll win the lottery and actually have time to play something like this properly.

    • Unclepauly says:

      What a crap way some of us live. Not having time to properly play things.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Help somebody grow a beard? How does that work?

    Definitely adds legitimacy to know that there’s a “depth of field” to a game with farming mechanics.

    • foop says:

      Maybe you shout encouragement at the lower part of their face?

  3. Premium User Badge

    weregamer says:

    I picked this one up with the idea of playing with my 5yo boy, like I do LEGO Worlds. I liked the idea of a game about helping people with zero combat.

    Test-playing it, I don’t think it’s actually a good fit. While by adult standards there’s an enormous variety of stuff to do, by preschooler standards most of them are a little too abstract.

    But after the test play, I am super-charmed by the game for myself. It’s a very relaxing change from the tension levels in my regular fare, and a far better way to calm down right before bedtime than, say, getting a DoW from Egypt the turn before I planned to go to bed.

    • GeminiathXL says:

      Nothing quite like a good night’s pondering on how to mobilize the troops.

  4. TotallyUseless says:

    I thought this game is more of a harvest moon. After playing hours and hours I came to identify it closer to Skyrim. It’s open world, it’s beautiful, it’s captivating and engaging.

  5. baozi says:

    Watching a trailer of Yonder gave me the same feeling I got from watching a trailer of the newish Zelda game; compared to the worlds Piranha Bytes built for their Gothic games, those worlds looked vast but kind of barren and uninteresting.

    • bob22 says:

      Hyrule really is the hd standard of open world design. Travelling from point A to point B often feels like a genuine adventure.

  6. SaintAn says:

    Does this game have changing seasons? Always on the lookout for games with seasons that change.

    • Premium User Badge

      QueenKelly1929 says:

      Yes, the seasons change, as does the weather (snow, rain, thunderstorm etc.) It’s all very lovely!

  7. Jaeja says:

    I had the same thought about the lack of combat, but then I reminded myself that there’s no combat in Stardew Valley either, but I never noticed there. Something about genre conventions?

    • Zanchito says:

      Oh, but there is combat in Stardew Valley, it’s a whole career choice (you can fight gels in the mines). I get what you mean, though. I’ve been into walking simulators as of late, so I’ve moved my views quite a bit about what makes open world compelling.

    • bob22 says:

      Not sure if just joking or never played Stardew Valley.

  8. Premium User Badge

    mecreant says:

    This game seems to have broken Windows 10 on my computer.
    I was playing it last Wednesday evening when the computer sudddenly rebooted. That astonished me because I honestly can’t remember the last time such a thing happened to me, and it certainly had never happened before with my current computer. The next evening I played the game again and after about 45 minutes the same thing happened again, except that this time windows would only load in safe mode. After trying a number of things, I finally did a clean install of Windows. I’m now terrified of playing the game again.

    • bob22 says:

      Sounds like a power or graphics card problem. It’s unlikely to be the game that caused it, just that it happened to be running when whatever happened happened. Are you over clocking anything?

      • Premium User Badge

        mecreant says:

        My new video card, a Geforce 1080 ti, runs hot. I’ve reduced the monitor’s refresh rate to 85hz and enabled vsync to keep games at a reasonable framerate, and I don’t recall hearing the fans running at full speed on the video card, but it may have been running the game at a pointless 144 frames per second.