Yonder has had some bold comparisons made about it in its run up to release, and still afterwards. Stardew Valley, Minecraft, and even Zelda have had their names dropped when trying to come up with a relevant description of what’s on offer. These aren’t entirely incorrect comparisons when complied together – a bit of farming like in Stardew Valley, a bit of mining and chopping like in Minecraft, some third person adventure questing not too dissimilar to what you might find in a Zelda-like game – but individually, Yonder holds little resemblance. Referring to a game as a ‘Rogue-like’ for example, conjures a picture of specific mechanics or systems, but as we all know, it ultimately means very little when describing a particular game. Yonder is much the same. It takes ideas that are present in other titles, however if you go into it expecting a bizarre adventure Stardew Valley, it ain’t gonna cut it. What it does do, however, is create a nice casual brand of farming and resource management, with an open world adventure edge. Yonder gets confused a bit along the way, but we’ll get into that later.

The main plug, as it were, of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, is that you are sailing towards the island of Gemea when you enter a storm that destroys your ship and leaves you stranded on the island. Before you wake, however, a mystical ‘sprite guardian’ comes to you and asks for your help. Gemea has been stricken with a mysterious epidemic, and clouds of ‘murk’ are taking over areas of the island. The guardian tasks you with finding her lost ‘sprites’ (fairies basically) which hold the power to remove the murk, and along the way find a solution to this spreading evil.

Of course, you’re an outsider on this island, so in order to achieve your goal you’ll need the help of the locals. This is where the whole questing, farming, and crafting business comes into play. The world is filled with little towns, villages and outposts that contain people and their many problems. The quests that they offer will involve anything from acquiring an item for them, building something, or crafting them something. With respect to the ‘main’ questline, 90% of these encounters and objectives are not directly related, and if you decided to only concentrate on completing the game then you could probably get away with doing not much else but following the directions of main quest related characters, and be done with it all in just a few hours. But what the side quests do offer, aside from distractions, are skills and resources that could help you get through the main story.

Since most of the quest require you to craft things, you need to find resources and recipes. The game splits types of crafting into 6 main areas, or ‘guilds’. There’s the carpenter guild, which deals with building mainly wood related items such as architecture and farm items made from wood; there’s the constructor guild, which deals with the same sort of stuff as the carpenter guild, only replaced with stone; there’s the chef’s guild, which enables you to create delicious food (for the sole purpose of feeding to ingratiate farm hands – you can’t consume it yourself annoyingly); there’s the tinker’s guild, which deals with contraptions and mechanical stuff, so you can build machines for farming, make parts such as cogs and so on; there’s the tailor’s guild, which deals with fashioning clothing; and finally the brewer’s guild, which deals with a bizarre variety of things, from dyes to fireworks.

Essentially the deal is, you complete quests for these guilds and unlock their recipes, which will then enable you to complete other quests in the game. For example, there are a few bridge building quests dotted about the game world. In order to build the stone bridges, you will need to have the constructor recipes, and in order to build the wooden ones you will need to have the carpenter recipes, and so on – some people want you to make them food, which will require the chef’s recipes, etc, etc. In actuality, it’s not as complicated as it may sound, and these guild quests are easily found by simply exploring the world. The game has a nice way of making certain quests rely on each other, so at some point you’ll find yourself unable to complete something and be forced to branch out a bit. But where the game gets a tad more complicated is in finding the resources to craft this stuff.

There are a few ways of doing so. Firstly, and most expectedly, you can gather resources from the environment. Using tools you acquire at the beginning of the game, you will chop down trees to gather wood and sticks, hammer boulders to get stone, mine veins of ore to get iron, coal and gold, scythe grass to get fodder, and so on. You can also find various resources just lying around, such as stick and stones, and even different kinds of flowers. These are the essentials of your crafting experience, and will be used to make actual parts. For example, a stone arch takes a variety of bits and pieces to make, and those bits and pieces require resources themselves – craft mortar from clay, use the mortar in addition to stone and other resources to make a pillar that can be used in addition to other items to build the final product…you get the picture. It’s actually, for what mostly seems like a casual game, a fairly time consuming affair, and really demands you focus on gathering specific materials in mind of certain quests/goals.

Farming is a more focussed way of acquiring resources due to the fact you can produce specific kinds at will. There are two main areas of farming, those being plants and livestock. There are a plethora of animals available throughout the island of Gemea, all cute and cuddly, and more importantly easily charmed with their favourite snack. Each animal likes a different kind of ‘snack’, be that fodder, wood, fish, mushrooms, and so on. Once you’ve fed your chosen animal, it will follow you back to whichever farm you want it to belong to, and assuming you’ve crafted and placed a shelter for it to live in, it will move in and start producing a resource for you. The variety of resources they can produce is quite creative and whimsical. You have your general produce such as milk, but some breeds of animal will produce things such as clay, and even flowers. After a certain amount of time has passed, your produce will appear in a chest at your farm, and you can do with it as you wish – use in crafting, etc. As for plant based farming, once you build plots to grow things on, you can grow trees and a variety of things from seeds.

Farms contain ratings that you need to keep in check. The happiness of your livestock, the cleanliness of your farm, and how much it is all worth can be increased or decreased depending on how much attention you give to them. To be honest, this was a non-issue for me. You can hire farm hands throughout the island (by giving them food), and once you do, your farm essentially requires no input from you. The whole process of farming was a bit disappointing. It’s a highly simplistic affair, which only seems more complicated due to a lack of explanation. I played the game for a long while before I ‘found out’ how to acquire another farm. It turns out you simply find them. You can’t create farms for yourself, there’s no expanding or upgrading them. Simply, you are given a piece of land and can fill it with the small variety of farm buildings and objects available to you.

It can be fun to fill up a farm with animals, or to create a few plots to grow seeds in, but there’s no maintenance required from you beyond keeping those ratings up. You don’t need to water your plants, you don’t need to restock food for your animals, you can’t expand any of your farms, and as such they just become places you occasionally go to pick up specific resources if and when you need them. Perhaps you remember when I mentioned the various games this has been compared to, and how I hesitate to do so myself? – well, this is why. Stardew Valley had a deep, complex farming system with which you could create many things and actually become invested in the process. Yonder doesn’t have that, and it’s rather conspicuous by its absence.

Carrying on, the final way of acquiring items and resources is through the game’s trading system. This was an interesting facet of the game. In Yonder, you don’t rely on currency to get by. Instead, you can trade for items and resources based on their respective values. Maybe you require an item that has a value of 50, so you will need to offer an item of equal worth, or many items that equate to that. Basic resources are obviously worth less, but if you use them to craft basic items you can get more value for what you’re using – using some fodder to create twine for example. It’s a peculiar choice for an economy, and it even extends to your farming, which is rated on value produced.

Unfortunately, aside from an easy way out of grinding to craft items, I don’t really see much of a point in the system. Particularly when it comes to farming, because there’s no way to sell your stock, it can only be used for a handful of quests and to trade for other resources that are, with the bizarre exception of a few items, readily available to craft and find throughout the world, this means that after a while farming feels like a waste of time, and you won’t be engaging in trading very much at all unless you simply want to bypass the grind of searching for resources. It’s another example of a system within the game that could have been more. Because of how simple it all is, and a lack of scope, trading just feels shallow. It would have been cool if you could make runs to towns with your stock and come back with a sack of cash that you could use to improve what you have, but there is none of this. There are some instances whereby you need to visit specific sellers to get better values for your trades, and even people who only produce a specific type of resource (so, you can go to an outpost that makes planks from wood that you give them), but again this is all quite shallow.

If it was just a matter of the game being simplistic, then it wouldn’t bother me as much – it doesn’t pretend to be more than a nice casual affair – but a lot of it is so confused and ultimately pointless that it’s hard to ignore. For example, the mixture of items you can craft ranges from essential to irrelevant. There are complicated items that you can craft, but then other simpler ones that you can’t and will need to find an NPC to do for you. This issue has been alleviated somewhat with recent patches – for example, you couldn’t craft glue or, strangely, water in the original build, yet these are essential for certain recipes, so you found yourself trading for these seemingly simple items, and these ended up being added to your recipes list after launch – but it’s still a problem, and kind of takes the fun out of crafting. You’ll find that you can shape planks yourself, but you need the expertise of a lumber mill in order to make the planks in the first place – why can you do one, but not the other? It seems like forced busy body work.

There’s a weird muddle of items that make it seem like the developer had more planned for the game. For example, there’s basically only one useful item from the brewer’s guild recipes, and this is only useful in a couple of quests, the rest of the items include things like fireworks and dyes. But what can you do with these things? Use the dye to make clothes…that’s it. Fireworks are cool to look at, but they have no real purpose. And that’s the same for all of the different guilds. A small selection of random tat with little to no purpose, and the occasional utterly essential item that you will find yourself crafting over and over, or as mentioned, find that you need to rely on an NPC to make for you. It’s a shame, because there was a lot of potential for this to be an interesting farmer/crafter, but what it offers in these areas are a bit disappointing.

But what does Yonder do well? It must do more than what I’ve explained if you’ve already looked at the score. Well, despite being shallow and ultimately not living up to expectations, the actual game world and mechanics are enjoyable to play. Exploring and gathering resources holds an appeal that doesn’t get boring quickly. The map initially looks quite small, but there are a load of areas to discover and things to find. The more sprites you find, the more murk you can clear up, and within the murk you’ll find treasure chests, new areas, alternate paths, and occasionally a new quest.

While the questing is simple, they do a good job of getting you to explore your crafting recipes and add some worth to the various systems that I’ve already criticised. The main quest was a little disappointing, as in the end it’s fairly short and not all that interesting of a conclusion, but the game I think expects you to go on – the story doesn’t finish, so to speak, until you solve all the problems on the island. And there are a decent amount of them. Whether that’s the side quests, finding all the farms, improving their ratings, or finding all the collectables (lost kittens in this case), there’s plenty to do throughout the game.

But what really brings it all together is the aesthetic. Yonder’s world is beautiful to look at, and just generally a pleasant experience to explore. Whether you’re relaxing by fishing from the rivers, or exploring a forest or the mountain, there’s enough going on visually, and aurally, that it’s all interesting to play through. Even the animations of your character chopping and mining are charming. It makes me think that if the game had more depth and focus with its crafting and farming, that this would be a brilliant casual farmer/crafter.

But it doesn’t, and that’s ultimately what you’re going to have to consider when thinking about buying. Did I personally enjoy my time with Yonder? Yes, I appreciated its laid back style and the island of Gemea, but it was ultimately disappointing. If you want a Stardew Valley-like game, or even a Minecraft sort of game, you aren’t going to get it here, and if you’re after an interesting farming and crafting game then perhaps look somewhere else. But if that stuff doesn’t bother you, I think there’s plenty to enjoy about Yonder. If you want a casual fling in a cute world with basic resource based gameplay, then this game provides just that.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29