Yonder, the flagship game from Australia-based studio Prideful Sloth, hits almost every mark a game of its genre should. Set on the island of Gemea, following a shipwreck that has left you stranded, you must help the natives free the island from an oppressive presence known only as ‘the Murk’.
You’re told this by Aaerie, a large and very unusual fairy type creature, shortly after you’re shipwrecked. You must collect adorable little fairy creatures called Sprites to destroy pockets of the murk and allow you access to new areas. These new areas reveal tasks and objectives which will allow you to progress the main story if you can complete them.
Gemea itself is a decent size and pretty much an open world to explore at your leisure (except when certain routes or points of interest are blocked by the Murk). The island is split into regions, each representing a different type of terrain, with towns and points of interest changing to reflect the realities of the area. For example, there is a frozen, mountainous region in the north and the inhabitants have built their city into a large mountain for practical reasons. I liked this approach to differentiating the island. While it was a bit superficial and unrealistic, I never found that I minded terribly because it meant I got to see a huge range of areas. Given each area had such a unique feel (even the local wildlife changed), I found the differentiation interesting and refreshing.
There is no combat in Yonder. Let that sink in for a moment. Literally no combat. The gameplay loop is geared towards crafting – that’s how you help people and clear murk. There’s no need to battle or kill anything. This makes for an interesting and ultimately, relaxing, game. There’s no need at any point to feel threatened, whether you’re exploring a cave full of spider webs or not. It’s a pleasure I’ve not experienced in a game before and I found myself able to fully appreciate the impact that not having to fight had – no worry about resources, lost progress or getting to a safe haven. It was such a treat.
The crafting and resource collecting element of the game is fun. You’re given the tools you need to make a start early, but the game eases you into it nicely. You start with your hammer (which smashes large boulders into collectable rocks) but quickly move on to a sickle (for cutting down grass) and other tools like a pick axe which allow you to shape the world around you. All the items you collect from using your tools allow you to craft other items which can then be used to complete quests or climb further up the crafting tree. You also can pursue different crafting professions in the game if you can find the guild master and convince them to let you join. You can pursue carpentry, cooking or tailoring (and a few others) which all allow you to craft more and more complex items.
One of the real joys of the game for me was farming. Relatively early in the game you’re given the ability to set up your own farm which you can own and grow. You do this by crafting items for it, inviting creatures to join the farms and taking care of it. Every part of this activity has a little mini game to it. For example, you can lure animals to live on the farm by offering them certain types of food and making them follow you back to it. The animals then produce food and other useful materials which can be used or bartered for other items. The process of building the farm was slick and I found myself very begrudging of having to leave it behind while I helped villagers and completed quests.
The aesthetic of the game is special. You can tell that the team laboured over making sure every single detail was perfect. From the sunrise lighting the world beautifully, to the shadows your lantern casts in caves and tunnels – the whole thing is a spectacle. I often found myself just taking a break from the game to admire my surroundings or watch the sun rise over the sea. Even the Sprites which you must find to progress the game each have their own aesthetic and theme which just goes to show the effort that went into designing Gemea; they’re completely charming and it’s just another excuse to collect them all.
Unfortunately, for all the amazing things about Yonder, it does have a few issues. The biggest of these is the crafting system. You quickly realise that you’re crafting for the sake of crafting and the end goal will always be to make more things. It’s an endless loop and once you realise you’re in it, the enjoyment is hampered. I also felt the day and night cycle was incredibly fast. I was only getting three or four minutes of daylight before the sun set and it was dark again.
It’s not necessarily a problem if you don’t mind the night, but the game looked so much more beautiful by day that I found myself wishing that the night would pass faster. Finally, the fast travelling option in the game is really limited. Each region on the islands has a Sage Stone which, once discovered, can be used as a gateway to other Sage Stones. There are less than ten of these in total and when a quest wanted me to cross to the other side of the island, I found myself having to walk the route I’d just travelled just to complete it.
I finished the main quest in Yonder but there’s so much more for me to do there. I didn’t realise how much I needed a game like this until I played it and I really recommend it to anyone looking for a break from the ordinary.