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Myst in Retrospect Re-Run: End of Ages

“Consider it a ‘Myst’ opportunity.” – Esher

Considering what a vast and varied journey it’s been, definitively wrapping up the series is a tall order. We have loose ends from Atrus’s family turmoils, we still don’t know Yeesha that well, the question of the Restoration is still in the air, and that’s not even mentioning the bahro. A strong conclusion will need to cover those points, but should also allow us to revisit a few of our favorite old haunts and see some new places as well. Myst V: End of Ages hits some of these notes. It has a handful of nice character moments, a few spectacular Ages, and the occasional pinch of nostalgia. Unfortunately, it also has some serious flaws that greatly diminish the experience. Is it a fitting end for the series? Considering some of the high points we’ve seen, for the most part it isn’t. At best it’s a predictable end to the series, delivering most of the elements we’ve come to expect, both the good and the bad.

Double, double, toil and trouble, Esher burn and pedestal bubble

The game opens with an Atrus voiceover. (Well, why not, every other game has followed this convention and there’s no need to break a precedent, even when it doesn’t make sense anymore.) Atrus talks about how he’s lost everything and everyone he ever cared about, including (he thinks) Yeesha, and ends by saying that he will soon go on to a better place. The implication seems to be that he’s dead, which Yeesha shortly later emphasizes by saying that Atrus’s “time has passed.” It’s a somewhat grim start; it feels like finding out about the death of a friend secondhand. At the end of the game, of course, it turns out that Atrus isn’t dead at all; the whole thing was just a _metaphorical _way of saying he lives in Releeshahn now. It’s hard to guess why the game is set up this way. Nothing is really gained by this deception, unless making the player depressed right at the outset can be considered beneficial. Even when we find out Atrus is still alive, it’s not so much a relief as it is an irritation, because then we feel like we’ve been lied to. It’s a minor point, but it does affect the tone of the game, coming at the beginning as it does.

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Myst in Retrospect Re-Run: Uru: The Path of the Shell

On many occasions I’ve mentioned Myst _to avid video game enthusiasts and seen the same reaction: their eyes glaze over and they say that they thought it was boring. The way the _Myst series tells its stories is rather unorthodox, to the point of being inaccessible to many newcomers. In the end, though, it’s the story that makes the game work. The desire to find out what happened is what pushes players to solve the puzzles. Uru, on the other hand, has an understated narrative that makes the game feel somewhat empty even to invested players. This final installment, sadly, does nothing to correct that precedent, and unfortunately compounds it with an almost complete lack of storyline and some of the most tedious and repetitive puzzles ever devised. Uru: The Path of the Shell is not without its charms, but the inescapable fact is that it is, in all honesty, pretty boring.

Kadish's ego, depicted in 1/4000 size.

Much of the game revolves around the prophecies of a D’ni mystic known only as The Watcher. Specifically, the Watcher prophesied the coming of a messiah figure known as the Grower, who would lead the D’ni into a new era. Over the course of the game we come to learn that Guildmaster Kadish (the greedy guy who owned Kadish Tolesa), created an elaborate hoax to trick people into thinking the he was himself the Grower. Who is the real grower, you ask? Yeesha, of course! This is where things begin to go wrong.

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Myst in Retrospect Re-Run: Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

Imagine reading a press release that describes a website filled with interactive poems. The site will debut with just a few poems, gradually adding more in response to user involvement, making the site’s visitors part of a living, breathing artwork. It’s a clever idea, and a couple poems released as teasers show that the site has a lot of promise. Sadly, however, when the site finally debuts, something has gone wrong in development. Instead of the vibrant scene you were promised, there’s just a static page with a handful of poems. There’s not even anywhere to post a comment. The poems are still well-written, and you enjoy reading them, but you can’t shake the feeling that you could have been a part of something much bigger. Welcome to the beautiful and depressing world of Uru.

Hey, it's that guy!

After completing Riven, Cyan went quiet and began work on a multiplayer Myst game which was codenamed “Mudpie.” The concept was a surprising one, Myst being perhaps the quintessential single-player experience. Fans were largely intrigued but somewhat apprehensive. The development process was long and Cyan’s occasional preview screenshots offered glimpses into a game that seemed perennially just out-of-reach. Even more tantalizing were the promises of real-time graphics, ongoing storylines, and (perhaps most intriguing of all) access to D’ni itself. We waited patiently, forgiving Cyan’s radio silence on the grounds that Mudpie was going to be awesome.

Yet even early on there were signs of trouble. Cyan’s publisher, Ubisoft, requested that a single-player version be built as well; dialup users were still a majority at the time and Ubisoft didn’t want a product that required broadband. Cyan obliged, and the first public release of the game was the single-player adaptation Uru: Ages Beyond Myst in 2003. The multiplayer version, Uru Live, was not ready. The game shipped with promises of online play, but implementation was delayed. Eventually, the pretense was dropped, and in February of 2004 Uru Live was officially canceled.

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Myst in Retrospect Re-Run: Revelation

When Myst IV: Revelation is good, it’s great. It wildly exceeds one’s expectations with exceptional visuals, clever storytelling, and originality. But when it’s bad, it’s terrible. Revelation largely improves upon Exile‘s mistakes, but it fails to emulate Exile‘s successes. This makes for a frustrating game: too flawed to be great, but with too many good bits to be written off completely.

The Lakehouse

Revelation, like Exile, was contracted out to a new studio while Cyan continued work on Uru. In this case, Ubisoft hand-picked a group of creators specially for the purpose, dubbing it “Team Revelation.”

In terms of visuals and immersive effects the studio did admirably. Using the aptly-named “ALIVE” game engine, Revelation seamlessly merges prerendered images with attractive real-time effects for insects, water, and so on, which creates a convincing and dynamic world. Another extremely subtle but ingenious feature enables the player to lightly tap on things to hear what they sound like, adding a layer of interactivity to otherwise inert objects. This all works together to create an engaging and believable game environment, one which feels more lifelike than that of any other game in the series.

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Myst in Retrospect: End of Ages

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Myst V, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy it at gog.com.

They finally canceled the lawn service when it started raining all the time.

“What you still don’t understand, you have failed to hear or don’t need to know.” – Yeesha

“Consider it a ‘Myst’ opportunity.” – Esher

At long last, here we are. From the heights of the Fifth Age to the lows of Serenia, through Stoneship and Ahnonay, from the Cavern to Terahnee, we now gather for one last journey, one last quest. I begin to understand why Yeesha talks like that; it’s much easier to write than meaningful sentences, yet it still manages to sound profound.

All silliness aside, Myst V is the end, “the final chapter,” as the box proclaims. Considering how vast and varied a journey it’s been, wrapping it all up is a tall order. We have loose ends from Atrus’s family turmoils, we still don’t know Yeesha that well, the question of the Restoration is still in the air, and (of course) the Bahro. Naturally we also want to check out a few of our favorite old haunts, and see some new places as well. Myst V: End of Ages manages to hit a few of these notes. It has some nice character moments, some spectacular Ages, and the occasional pinch of nostalgia. Unfortunately, it also has some fairly serious flaws that drag down the experience considerably. Is it a fitting end for the series? Considering some of the high points we’ve seen, for the most part it isn’t. At best it’s a predictable end to the series, delivering most of the elements we’ve come to expect, both the good and the bad. Let’s begin.

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Myst In Retrospect: Uru, The Path of the Shell

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Uru, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy it at gog.com.

Kadish's ego, depicted in 1/4000 size.

On many occasions I’ve mentioned Myst to an avid video game enthusiast and seen the same reaction: their eyes glaze over and they say that they thought it was boring. As I’ve established throughout these reviews, one’s enjoyment of these games is due in large part to one’s willingness to meet the game’s story at the level it’s being presented. Uru, as we have seen, tends to be even more difficult to appreciate, since its story is obscure at best, and feels somewhat empty even to invested players. This final installment, sadly, does nothing to correct that precedent, and unfortunately compounds it with an almost complete lack of storyline and some of the most tedious and repetitive puzzles ever devised. Uru: The Path of the Shell is not without its charms, but the inescapable fact is that it is, in all honesty, pretty boring.

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Myst in Retrospect: Uru, Ages Beyond Myst

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Uru, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy it at gog.com, and it’s actually on sale this weekend, so why not.

Hey, it's that guy!

Imagine a new social network based on poems. The site will debut with a selection of original poems, and you and your friends will be able to read them and base your interactions on them. Gradually new poems will be added to the mix and the userbase will be able to slowly understand and help to build a narrative around the poems, creating a sort of living, breathing artwork. It’s a clever idea, and a couple poems released as teasers show that the site has a lot of promise. Sadly, however, when the site finally debuts, something has gone wrong in development. Instead of the vibrant scene you were promised, there’s just one page with a handful of poems. There’s not even anywhere to post a comment. The poems are still well-written, and you enjoy reading them, but you can’t shake the feeling that you could have been a part of something much bigger. Welcome to the beautiful and depressing world of Uru.

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Myst in Retrospect: Revelation

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you’ve not played Myst IV: Revelation, I  recommend playing (most of) it before proceeding. You can buy it from Amazon.com or eBay.

The Lakehouse

Myst IV: Revelation is an impressive accomplishment: surely no other work of art in human history has managed to be so immersive and realistic while simultaneously preventing any degree of credibility. Where it’s good it rises to great heights…which unfortunately gives it that much more distance to fall. Exile set a fairly low standard, and while Revelation largely improves upon Exile‘s mistakes, it fails to emulate Exile‘s successes. This makes for a frustrating game: too flawed to be great, but with too many good bits to be written off completely.

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