The first few months of 2019 have introduced various, high quality, open-world action games; and as a gamer, I am loving it. There is something obvious that has garnered my concern, however. Okay, several things, but one in particular. Many of these fast-paced games, while taking place in beautifully rendered worlds, have definite violent streaks in them. Sure, there is a simple reason for that, conflict is essentially what a good story is about, and the threat or presence of violence lends a certain immediacy to the conflicts that a story might be based on. Besides that, what better way to instill a cathartic expression of epic heroism than the “against-all-odds” scenarios that we encounter. But is such violence the only viable iteration of conflict? Is conflict without massive amounts of violence capable of giving legs to the fantastical stories that come to life within these games? Allow me to introduce you to Prideful Sloth’s beautifully rendered, open-world game that is also virtually sans-violence: Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. This is our review.
Prideful Sloth, as a company, boasts a strong production staff with a previous Activision producer and veterans from Rocksteady, and in my opinion, it shows. Yonder is artistically stylistic and beautiful, and I found myself easily drawn into hours of simple exploration. The people are rendered in more of a sprite-like embodiment that is simple but somewhat varied as well. The problems facing this world are, again, not born of violence, and neither is the solution. Gamea, as it is, has been plagued by “bubbles” of purplish mist referred to as Murk. The Murk’s presence has created various obstacles throughout the land, and your avatar will be unable to pass into or through these areas. Which, of course, means they are interspersed into inconvenient areas that hinder the way. To progress through them, you must collect increasingly more sprites who will then clear the Murk from the path and reveal any hidden treasures within. Obtaining the sprites is rarely difficult, but finding them requires a great deal of wandering. That’s really okay because there is a lot to see and experience.
The premise of the story consists of an individual who was sent away from their land of birth as a babe, because of the growing mist or Murk problem. Now that the babe is grown, they are driven by the need for answers regarding their identity and past as well as the motivation to see their homeland cleansed of this atmospheric illness. As the game begins, you pick out and do some basic customizations of your avatar. Don’t worry, there are many more customizations to come, including apparel options and hair colors or styles. Our hero, whoever he or she may be, while on their journey to return to their homeland, find themselves shipwrecked.
Separated from their companions, they are addressed by an other-worldly type being that gives some basic guidance and introductions to your soon to be acquired little helpers. These are the actual sprites and you will encounter and collect quite a few of them, and each has its own appearance and personality. As you acquire them, you will be able to choose which one is wandering out and about with you. The rest somehow fit within your backpack with everything else you end up acquiring, including massive amounts of resources. No complaints here, trying to maintain weight management while traversing effectively across the regions would be challenging, at best. So let’s just say the presence of the sprites in your pack gives you a Mary Poppins bag, which makes the use of an umbrella as a parachute that much more entertaining. Just a note here, pick up everything you find. Rocks, sticks, flowers. Everything has a use and some things require great amounts of an item to accomplish certain tasks.
Your avatar will also need to become skilled in the various crafts available to them, for which there are numerous uses. As the story progresses, you will be given ownership of a farm, with others around Gamea that you will be able to build up and populate as you see fit. Don’t worry, populating merely consists of hiring others to work your farm for you. Effective management of the farm requires various different crafts and skills, and the condition and success of the farms you possess will increase the regional wellbeing, as well as accomplishing tasks and jobs in those areas.
The world presented within the game is vast and contains several biomes of different landscapes and elements that are immediately appealing, and quite honestly endearingly adorable. Most of the animals for each of the biomes are not animals you would find anywhere in our world, at least not in the iterations you might find in this strange, yet familiar world of Gamea. Sure it has foxes (half a dozen types, or more), but again, each kind of fox found in a specific region will be different and obviously from that respective region. But variations of the animals are not the only variances in wildlife. Many of the animals you will encounter are specific to that region, and that region only. Not to mention, the plant life changes substantially for each region as well, and this will be important as you progress along.
While there is a form of currency, traders and residents are just as happy to trade for whatever items you happen to gather on your travels. I have purchased quite a few things using only the sticks I find laying on the ground. Anything will work, as everything has a value, including rocks. One of the interesting aspects of the region well-being system is that it requires a certain amount of trees to be growing there. This might seem like it would cause a problem as you will need to chop down trees for wood, but trimming the long grass in areas will often grant you a “mystery” seed or two that you can plant in specific planting spots.
As your hero progresses in their wanderings, they will encounter some rather large stone heads that depict old men with glowing eyes. Upon examination of these heads, or sage shrines, your hero will be given a task which, upon completion and re-addressing the head that gave you the task, give you access to a portal (his mouth…) that takes you to a central realm (a crossroads as it were) where all the portals lead. This enables quicker travel between regions, not to mention that this little pocket houses the otherworldly being that communicated with your hero when the adventure began.
Yonder is an enchanting adventure that is oddly compelling, despite the lack of threat from violence experienced in so many other games. The style in which the adventure is delivered reminds me strongly of the storytelling styles implemented in some of the Mario adventures, though, I dare say, with even less violence than presented in those games (just because your opponents aren’t human doesn’t mean that smacking them around isn’t an expression of violence). As the adventure begins, the bits of lore and story regarding your avatar’s personal journey may seem a be far and few between, but as your hero obtains the assistance of more sprites to help stave off the Murk more access to knowledge inevitably follows. I really enjoyed this game as it allowed me to explore and experience a beautiful world without the moment to moment pressures of forcibly conquering or overcoming opposition. Yonder is a much-needed breath of fresh air, allowing players the opportunity to wind down from stressful lives while still enjoying a quality story and gaming experience.
Note: This copy was reviewed on Xbox One with a code provided by PR.