These days, the moniker of “indie game” often conjures up thoughts of a bite-sized morsel that is celebrated for tackling challenging content or pioneering new gameplay mechanics. So when one hears of an indie studio taking on something like open-world gameplay, you don’t expect a shipped product until… well, let’s just say that open beta is going to have a few content patches across a number of years.
Nobody told the devs at Prideful Sloth. Formed in 2015, the studio has just published its first title, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. Based in Brisbane, Sloth describes its work as “a micro-AAA approach to high quality game development”, drawing inspiration from games like Elder Scrolls, Zelda, and Harvest Moon.
The game begins with you adventuring on the high-seas with your trusty compass, until your ship is wrecked on the expansive island of Gemea. Heading inland, you quickly encounter a sprite, who quickly informs you that the island is riddled with a dark essence called Murk. Fortunately, a gathering of sprites can cleanse the Murk and free Gemea of its corruption, so you set out to pocket a few and get scrubbin'.
Along the way you help out villagers by repairing a towering artifact known as the Cloud Catcher, which just so happened to break down around the time the Murk showed up… but that’s surely just a coincidence, right?
Within Yonder exists a vibrant world with diverse environments, adorable creatures, and a rich sense of mystery and hidden adventure. Across eight biomes there are deserts to wander, lush forests to explore, and snowy mountains to traverse.
Gemea doesn’t just offer up a range of environments to explore, but also an active weather system, seasonal shifts, and a night/day cycle. The ebb and flow of seasons passing transforms the landscape, offering up new areas and gameplay options. Summer may see you sinking to the bottom of a deep lake, but in winter it will be a frozen surface you can walk straight over.
The world of Yonder also offers a bounty of resources to utilise within its comprehensive crafting system. At a basic level you can pick flowers, smash rocks, and cut trees, but as you progress, you’ll build farms to grow crops and domesticate the menagerie of animals that populate the different regions.
These creatures look to have been bred for their adorableness too, plucked straight from a kids' show. There’s the squomble, a mix between a wombat and a squirrel, or the fabbit, a human-sized ball of fluff with saucer sized eyes that hops around the grassy plains. Offering them their favourite food can coax them back to your farm, where they’ll occupy a pen and generate you anything from milk to hide.
On top of farming, there’s a surprisingly fun fishing game that’s easy to learn but hard to master. As you get familiar with the different murky shapes in the water, you can start to aim for the larger, more valuable fish. Of course, those are more reluctant to take the bait, while smaller swimmers will be chasing your hook. The result is an amusing game of cat-and-mouse as you chase your desired catch around the water.
Character creation is quick and fun, and there’s a nice range of outfits and accessories available to customise your look. Of course, as is the case in most third-person adventure titles, you spend the majority of the game looking at the back of your avatar, watching a backpack bob up and down.
Crafting is split among a number of professions, with respective guilds training players in the arts of cooking, carpentry, sewing, and even brewing. However, the game struggles to find a use for a lot of these, with only one profession being needed to compete the main quest arc.
This all makes it sound like Yonder is an epic adventure that sends you to the farthest reaches of its diverse world, but the reality is that its lightweight main quest line can be banged out in a few hours. Beyond that are lists of side-quests for each biome, but these are all of the fetch variety – sprites to find, Murk to cleanse – and their only real reward is seeing a zone’s completion counter tick over to 100 percent.
With that stuff squared away, all that's left to do is build bridges to explore more of the world, or craft houses for your collection of animals. Neither of these activities is particularly scintillating, and both seemingly exist just because. There doesn’t seem to be as much thought given to the “why” as there has been to the “what”.
A painstaking amount of care has been poured into Yonder's art, but beyond making a strong initial impression, its wilds don't reward your curiosity. It's a sumptuous looking creation, but there's little of interest to interact with in Gemea.
The boundaries of the world are subtle, and any misadventures are quickly set right. Falling off a cliff or wading too deep into water results in a brief fade to black, but your character is quickly returned, resurrected a few paces back from where they met their demise.
This more-than-forgiving world leads to complacency. There's no risk to progress, no unknown danger to come up against (Yonder doesn't feature combat of any kind). And despite what a thousand YouTube psychologists will tell you, it's hard to gain a feeling of accomplishment when you haven't really had to overcome anything.