There’s a lot to be said for games that allow you to approach them the way you want to. Emergent gameplay is nothing new, of course, but so often it’s tied into gameplay systems based around destruction and violence; the attraction there mostly being the slapstick chaos that can ensue when you go hilariously off the beaten path.
The real beauty of Yonder, however, is that it provides lots of little interlocking systems and a laid-back approach to progression without the need to fall back on any conflict. The most panic you’ll experience while playing will come when you’re trying to land a particularly stubborn fish; there’s very little else in the way of stressful situations here.
Backing up a bit, allow me to explain the premise. Yonder sees your custom-made explorer shipwrecked on an island that is besieged by a physical force known as Murk – a purplish haze that prevents you from having access to every area of the island when you begin. As you explore, you’ll come across tiny, pun-loving creatures called Sprites – collecting these will allow you to clear ever-larger island areas of Murk and enlarge the area you have to explore. There’s a lot more to it than this: there’s basic crafting, farming, trees to plant, native animals to discover (and befriend!), the aforementioned fishing and even hidden cats to find, amongst other things.
Though somewhat basic-looking, Yonder has buckets of charm. The island is beautifully colourful and a delight to explore; a day/night cycle is also present, with some lovely sights to be seen at different times of day. Island folk will give you quests, which are often very simple to carry out; the map and compass are very clear and well laid out, but quests can continually build up into a very long list at times if you allow them to. There’s no pressure to do these, though the main storyline does require you to complete certain quests in order to see the ‘ending’ of the story (you can, however, just continue to explore the island and do whatever you want to do once the story is complete). Your character can’t die or be harmed – even a fall from a great height will see your character swiftly deploy an umbrella, allowing them to gently float to safety. The Murk is an obstacle, rather than a true antagonist – and there are no other ‘enemies’, as such.
The music and sound effects are a perfect compliment to the colourful visuals; the soundtrack is charming and it’s wonderful to hear and feel the serenity of the island at any time of day through the well-realised sound effects.
It’s not perfect; it can be hard to see certain details at night (it’s just a smidge too dark – but the day/night cycle is pretty quick, so this doesn’t present that much of an issue) and the lack of any nudging can mean that you’re sometimes aimlessly wandering for longer than you really need to. The main storyline itself wraps up in a bit of an unsatisfying way too, but in fairness, the focus for me when playing was less to see an endgame and more to just spend time in a relaxing, no-pressure environment amusing myself with one of the many activities on offer. Though the lack of conflict – and the inability for your character to come to any harm – means that it’s a game perfect for much younger players, there’s a heavy reliance on in-game text rather than speech which can be a hindrance for, particularly small children.
Nonetheless, these are pretty small gripes for a game which seems to scratch the same itch as something like Animal Crossing, albeit within a structure that’s structured and designed more like a traditional third-person action RPG. There’s something incredibly calming and serene about Yonder; it’d be fantastic to see more along the same lines from developers Prideful Sloth – DLC or a sequel that continue along the same, no-conflict, no-death lines would be very welcome indeed. There’s nothing else quite like it right now; it’s a beautifully serene and chilled out experience that lends itself to long, relaxing sessions of charming exploration.