Your parents sent you away from your homeland of Gemea as a child with a note stating that, when you are ready, you can return to discover the truth about why you were sent away. However, finding the truth won’t be that simple. You see, Gemea is plagued by a mysterious fog of sorts called Murk, which can only be cleared up by creatures called Sprites. A larger plague of Murk plagues the Old Kingdom, where you must go to search for answers. As perhaps the last of the Sprite Seers, it falls on you to help save Gemea from its current predicament.
This simple story sets the stage for the charming open world adventure game Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. What truly makes it interesting, however, is that, throughout this quest to save Gemea and discover the truth, there is no combat. At no point will you kill anything, nor will anything kill you. Rather, the entire game is built upon non-combat quests, crafting, trading, farming, fishing, and a small number of puzzles.
The majority of the game revolves around quests and the gathering of materials for those quests. As you adventure around the game world, you will encounter various citizens of Gemea, Sprites, or even signposts that will give you quests that you can complete. These range from finding someone’s pet or pets to checking to make sure that several machines are in working order to building a farm. Short of the main story quests, practically all of these are optional—even the guild quests, which are how you unlock more crafting recipes. In a larger sense, this works because the game is truly open world, but it causes problems, as well.
While quests display great variety in terms of context, most fall into one of four categories: interact with this person or object, gather these materials, craft this item, or wait a specific amount of time. There are a few quests that require you to complete other tasks, such as befriend an animal and bring it back to a person, but they are few and far between. The end result is that it will largely feel like you’re going through the same, increasingly time-consuming process over and over. The complexity of tasks never really increases. Instead, later versions of the same task simply require more and more resources. For example, you need wood and vines to create a wood bridge in the starter zone, but later zones will require you to create planks and twine instead, which are simply processed wood and vines, respectively.
Part of the reason that the complexity doesn’t increase is that there’s no sense of progression. While there are crafting guilds that you can join that provide you with more recipes, the recipes that you obtain largely aren’t used anywhere. The only quests that I recall calling for one of these recipes that weren’t directly related to the guild that gave me the recipe were the stone bridge quests, which require the Constructor guild’s stone arches and pillars. Other than that, there isn’t a sense that any quest is truly prerequisite to another. None of them provide rewards that will enhance or even change the way that you play the game.
In addition to quests that are explicitly given to you, there are a number of tasks that can be completed in each zone. These include finding all of the zone’s Sprites, clearing all of the Murk that plagues it, restoring its farm, finding all of the cats that it holds, making sure that all tree planting spots have trees planted in them simultaneously, and so on. They provide a slightly better sense of progression in that each particularly cloud of Murk requires you to have a certain number of Sprites to clear it, but the abundance of Sprites and lack of high-requirement clouds of Murk means that that sense of progression wanes quickly. Many of the clouds of Murk house cats or farm-building quests, offering a small prerequisite, but many others simply contain chests that hold random items, a great many of which are superfluous rewards, such as shampoos that are used to change your character’s hair color.
As mentioned before, much of the game also revolves around crafting. The crafting system is fairly simple. You simply obtain the recipe, obtain the items needed to craft it, click the recipe in your crafting menu, and the item is crafted. Any recipes that are absolute necessities are given to you early on, but you can unlock more by joining each of Gemea’s guilds. The system lacks some niceties, such as being able to craft more than one item at a time, but it works well enough.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of crafting is that you can never become a self-sufficient crafter. Many of each guild’s recipes require crafting components that can only be obtained by visiting an NPC that can make that component from other items, such as an NPC that can make planks from wood, or by trading with an NPC for that component, depending on the component in question. In both cases, these components can only be obtained from one place in the world. Fortunately, the NPC that makes the one component that you need to craft your item and the NPC that sells the other component are generally fairly close together, but that fact doesn’t make it any less frustrating that, in a game that considers trading to be one of its core pillars, you can’t just stop in any town and purchase the items you need at a potentially inflated price.
Unfortunately, the frustrations don’t end there. In the case of the items that need to be made by NPCs, the items that each NPC can make are truly simple items, such as flour or planks. They’re items that should be extremely easy to make for someone who’s able to make the items that you can make on your own. In the case of items that you need to trade for, the exact amount of the item in question that the trader will have in stock is random and is always far less than you need to get any significant amount of crafting done. Once you’ve exhausted the supply that you were able to obtain, your only option is to wait until the trader in question restocks.
Given how often you will need to visit traders to trade for key crafting components, it is fortunate that the trading system is fairly interesting. Instead of simply paying for items, you barter. Every item you have or can buy has a specific value; when you want to trade for an item or items, you have to offer up items of at least an equal value. There are some complexities, such as traders valuing items that both you and they have at a higher or lower value than they otherwise would, but the causes of these fluctuations aren’t ever clear. The truly great part of this system comes is that nearly everything that you harvest, craft, or even obtain as a quest reward is something that you can trade for something else.
Another potential timesink is the farming system. There are several farms scattered throughout Gemea, each of which needs to be independently cleared of Murk, rebuilt, and restored to its former glory. Once you have rebuilt a farm, it needs a farmhand, animals and the proper facilities for animal care, to remain cleanly, and to produce items that are equivalent to a certain value. As with much of the game’s other content, farms are entirely optional so the exact amount that you restore farms is entirely up to you, but at least building each one is a fairly good idea, as they each come with a new access point for the game’s infinite storage system.
Many of the people that you encounter along your journey can be farmhands. Once you’ve become a Master in a specific crafting guild, you can even hire the guild leader as a farmhand. The process of hiring a farmhand is incredibly simple: give them enough food and then send them to a farm. Once they’re there, they will automatically maintain the farm forever. The system works well enough, but disappointingly, you can’t even see your farmhand on your farm, much less see them at work.
The system of adopting animals is similarly simple. In fact, it’s shockingly simple. Each animal is categorized as either a large or small animal. For each animal that you adopt, you need either a large or small stable. You will also need fodder and water troughs. Once you’ve got these set up, you need to find out what kind of food the animal in question likes. This is simple enough, as there’s an NPC that wanders through open fields waiting to tell you facts like this. You then give the animal one unit of that food, after which it will follow you for a short amount of time. After that, you need only lead it back to your farm. As long as you have a facility to house it, the game will automatically ask if you want to adopt it once it has reached your farm.
After you have adopted an animal, it mostly just sits there and occasionally produces a specific item that is automatically deposited into a chest on your farm. For example, Groffles produce Groffle Milk and Grass Foxes produce Clay. You can walk up to your adopted animals and “care for” them, but, if you have a farmhand and the proper feeding facilities, this isn’t necessary. You can also bring them on your adventures, but they don’t do anything other than follow you around.
Farming is a similarly simplistic system. The actual process of farming is locked behind becoming a Master Carpenter, as you don’t obtain the crafting recipe for a Garden Plot until then. Once you have become a Master Carpenter, you simply make a Garden Plot, place it on your farm, and plant up to nine seeds in it. You have to be careful of what seeds you plant because they will become the nine plants that will always grow in that Garden Plot. Oddly, plants planted in Garden Plots are not automatically harvested, requiring you to harvest them manually, but, once harvested, they are placed in the chest that holds the items that were produced by animals, rather than in your inventory.
In order to completely restore a farm, you basically just continue to craft Garden Plots, place them on the farm, and plant seeds in them until it has reached 100% value produced, as animals account for far less value than plants do and take up far more space. The entire farming system has very little depth, leaving it feeling less like an independent activity and more like it is only meant to be a way to obtain more items that can be used in crafting and trading.
As I played, I also noticed that there were two glaring omissions to the game’s core systems. The game world isn’t particularly large, but it isn’t small by any means. It would be nice if you could place waypoints on the map, either to mark where you’re headed or to remind you to visit somewhere later, but you cannot. As a result, I often ended up using quest markers to remind myself where specific guild leaders and other key NPCs were.
You also can’t auto-sort your inventory. Instead, the game only lets you filter items based on a set of predetermined filters. While not infinite, your basic inventory is large enough to require a scroll bar. Furthermore, items can only be kept in stacks of up to 50 and the game makes no effort to keep stacks of identical items together. This can make keeping track of the exact number of a specific item that you have difficult, especially when completing quests that require you to, for example, gather upwards of 400 wood for planks and you have upwards of eight stacks of wood that are scattered throughout your inventory.
I also didn’t find myself particularly enamored with the story. The story itself doesn’t take long, consisting of somewhere around fifteen quests that will require you to adventure throughout Gemea. None of these are particularly complex and, in fact, many of them simply require you to visit a specific location or talk to a specific person. There’s not a whole lot of context to anything offered throughout and it ends quite abruptly and unsatisfactorily. There could have easily been one last step that would have wrapped everything up more nicely, but instead, the story is left on a note that simply implies that greater things are to come.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is an extremely charming game with great graphics and quite a lot of content to offer. There are tons of places to explore and secrets to find. The problem is that nothing that you do will amount to much of anything. The world will remain largely unchanged, save for the fact that you will slowly clear the Murk out of it, as will your character. There’s no sense of progression guiding you towards greater things. There are no additional gameplay systems awaiting you, nor are there complex puzzles hiding out there, waiting for you to solve them and take the riches that they guard. It is a game that you could continue playing long after you’ve completed the main story, grinding through increasingly demanding quests and finding all of its hidden items, but chances are that you will not.
Important note: Prideful Sloth sent us a copy of the PC version of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles for the purpose of writing this article.