Myst Series Review

Over the course of about a year, I played through all six games in the Myst series. You might have heard of the classic 1993 puzzle game Myst and its first sequel, Riven, but not a lot of people know that there are a total of six installments in the series, as well as some novels that expand the lore. A big part of the reason I played them all was that one of my best friends, ArcticMetal, has been a huge Myst fan since childhood and wanted me to experience a series that meant a lot to him. Fortunately, this meant I could play while screensharing on discord and asking him for hints with the puzzles—I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through it all without that, as these games are hard. Sometimes they’re challenging in a way that’s fun and satisfying, but a lot of the time they just annoyed me, and I would have almost certainly ragequit without a friend to help me and motivate me to continue. But I’m glad I took this long Myst journey, even though there were some frustrating points along this way. This review will summarize some of my feelings about each game without spoiling much beyond some general explanation of how the story goes.

Myst (1993)
The iconic classic that started it all brings you to the eponymous Myst Island, from which you travel to several other “ages” in search of missing pages from books. At first, you want the pages to help free two mysterious prisoners named Sirrus and Achenar, but as your journey teaches you more about their past, you may start to side with Atrus—their father, who imprisoned them—instead. The basic idea of the Myst series is that Atrus has the ability to write different worlds into existence through magic books that will teleport you into the corresponding age if you touch them. You typically spend a Myst game traveling between a few of these different “ages,” in which you have to solve puzzles to reach some goal or other and get back to where you came from, uncovering some lore through cheesy FMV scenes along the way. The FMV scenes are probably my favourite element of the entire series, as the actors are always hamming it up and it’s a lot of fun. I especially love Sirrus and Achenar from this one, and Arctic and I still quote one line Sirrus yells at you in his bad end, “You stupid fool!”, all the time. My least favourite part of the original Myst is one age that’s centered around sound-based puzzles, as you have to spend a lot of time figuring out where to go based on distinguishing the differences between various weird sound effects, and I was just awful at it and couldn’t tell some of them apart to save my life. I’d definitely recommend a guide for that one, but the rest is pretty fun and includes some really cool environments. It’s plain to see why Myst had such an impact, as it’s a very impressive game for its time.

Riven (1997)
Riven sets itself apart from the rest of the series by taking place entirely in one very large age, with puzzles and clues scattered all over the map. It’s a beautiful and deep world, and at first I was really excited to explore it all—but it ended up kind of annoying me in the end. I can appreciate how this kind of design would appeal to other people, but personally, I don’t really like searching the whole world for clues to puzzles. I prefer to walk into one room and know that there’s a puzzle in here and all the information I need to solve it is somewhere in the same general area, and there were points in Riven when it really irritated me to realize that I couldn’t solve something after all, because I missed something earlier, and it could be absolutely anywhere. Those frustrations were exacerbated by the way that you click around to move between different “nodes” in a way that can be a bit disorienting if you’re not used to it, making it difficult to figure out how to retrace your steps. Riven looks gorgeous but I mostly remember spending my time with it walking around lost and confused and annoyed. There was one self-contained puzzle in it that I remember fondly, though, in which a toy in a classroom teaches you the numbers in the language of the mythical D’ni culture. I had a great time figuring that one out, and it was more along the lines of the kind of puzzles that made the next game in the series my favourite.

Myst III: Exile (2001)
Exile is the point at which most people’s knowledge of the series seems to drop off, which is too bad, because I personally think it’s the best one. It introduces a new hammy villain, Saavedro, who sends you on a quest through a bunch of ages that Atrus wrote for Sirrus and Achenar when they were kids. This separates the puzzles into distinct areas again, which I much prefer to the Riven approach, and also gives some fun justification for their existence—they’ve been set up intentionally as lessons and challenges. Saavedro is portrayed by Brad Dourif, whom you might recognize from movie roles such as Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings, and he’s my favourite character of the whole series. One of the memories that stands out from this playthrough was when Arctic and I had some problem with discord and couldn’t get sound to work in the screensharing, so I kept trying to badly summarize the content of Saavedro’s anguished monologues for his amusement. While the first two Myst games were developed by Cyan Worlds, Exile is by Presto Studios, and that change in developers is likely the reason this one never gained as much traction. But personally, I think Presto Studios couldn’t have done a better job at taking over an ongoing series and keeping it fun and fresh. Unfortunately, the company shut down in 2002, and Myst changed hands again, swinging to the opposite extreme with my least favourite entry in the series.

Myst IV: Revelation (2004)
Revelation—developed by Ubisoft, who had previously been the publishers of Exile—is the game that almost made me drop the whole Myst series. I don’t usually like to be too harsh on this blog, but just thinking about my incredibly frustrating experience with Revelation makes me mad. This game brings back Sirrus and Achenar, the absolute best part of the first game, and it somehow still manages to suck. It has so many absolutely infuriating puzzles that not only require you to think through some bizarre logic, but also force you to click and drag various tiny bits of the screen with incredible precision within limited timeframes. I needed Arctic to read me step-by-step instructions to get through some of the worst parts, because they had to be so fast and so accurate that I couldn’t take a second to look over at my own notes, or even just think. Myst IV: Revelation was not fun. It was a bad time, and I do not recommend it. Its only somewhat redeeming quality is that it introduces Yeesha, Atrus’s third child, who turns out to be a pretty interesting character in later installments.

Myst Online: Uru Live
Uru has been alternately available and unavailable in so many different forms over the years that I’m not sure what release date to put next to the title here. You can buy a single-player version of it from GOG, the same place I bought the rest of the series, but the version I played is multiplayer and currently free at mystonline.com. That’s right: multiplayer. Uru is the Myst series’ attempt to be an MMO, and it’s a very strange experience. It’s interesting to see Cyan Worlds, who returned as the main developers for this installment, experimenting with technology that was still really new in the early 2000s. And after playing so many of the games with Arctic just watching me on stream, it was cool that we could play this one together—even if actually getting your friends into the same instance of the world as you is a big hassle every time. But there isn’t much of it that actually requires multiple players, so the MMO aspect of it doesn’t really feel very justified. A lot of the time I was still just solving the puzzles by myself, with the added complications of bad game physics and very clunky tank controls for my character. It’s another one I wouldn’t necessarily recommend playing unless you’re a huge Myst fan, but it’s not nearly as bad as Revelation, and it does have some really cool environments that it was nice to explore with my friend. My favourite experience we had playing it was when we encountered a rare other player—a guy named Starman, who was somehow floating in mid-air just like in the David Bowie song. I wonder if Starman is still out there, adding more mystery to the experience of anyone who chooses to play this weird and obscure game.

Myst V: End of Ages (2005)
The final Myst game isn’t quite the same as the earlier ones, but after the disappointment of Revelation and the strangeness of Uru, it does feel a bit like a return to form. It adds a cool new mechanic where you frequently learn symbols that you can use to communicate with creatures called the Bahro if you draw them on a stone tablet that you carry around with you. Arctic told me that a lot of people struggled with that on release and had a hard time getting the game to recognize their drawings for what they were supposed to be, but I didn’t have much trouble—maybe because I was playing on a laptop with a touchpad, which might be a bit easier to draw with than a mouse. There’s also a new hammy villain named Esher, whom I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the campy FMV had been dropped by this point, so he’s not nearly as funny as Saavedro or Atrus’s sons. The backgrounds also aren’t pre-rendered anymore, so the environment doesn’t have the same charm to it as some of the gorgeous places you could go in earlier titles like Riven. But I enjoyed a lot of the puzzles, so I still felt like it was an all-around decent game which made for a good finale to the series.

Pictured: Starman, waiting in the sky in Uru (way up near the top of the screen)

Overall, I’m glad I took this long weird journey with the Myst games. Even if there were times when I was very annoyed by it, it was an interesting experience to share with my friend. I wouldn’t recommend Revelation or Uru to anyone but the bravest and most dedicated Myst aficionados, and while I did enjoy End of Ages, I’m not sure I can recommend it either since the complex story would be very difficult to understand without playing those other two. But the first Myst and Riven certainly deserve their status as classics, and Exile is also a really good game that’s been a bit overlooked. If you haven’t played them before and you like retro puzzle games, you should definitely give them a try—preferably with a friend in voice chat ready to be your guide.

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