Save the last remnants of a fallen civilization.
PC Release: September 20, 2005
By Ian Coppock and Branson Roskelley
Well, this is it. The culmination of a 12-year series. Myst V was, in the words of the Miller brothers, the absolute last installment of the Myst series. Whether it’s the last Myst game is beyond dispute. Whether Myst V manages to end the series on a satisfactory note, however, is a matter of fierce debate.
In stark contrast to previous Myst games, which usually happen within a decade of each other, Myst V takes place many years after the events of Myst IV: Revelation. Whether you return as the Stranger is a matter of some ambiguity, especially since it’s been so long, but your character is a silent, first-person protagonist all the same.
The game starts you off in the ruins of D’ni, the mysterious fallen city that was once home to Atrus’s ancestors. When their civilization collapsed, few survived to carry on their culture, including the creation of Linking Books. Those D’ni who remained followed Atrus, our esoteric Linking Book writer, in his attempt to rebuild. These ventures ultimately failed.
The player soon encounters Atrus’s daughter Yeesha, no longer the bright-eyed child we saw in Revelation, now much older and apparently descended into madness. Yeesha rambles that the civilization her father tried to save can still be salvaged, if you can venture into four exotic Ages and find the magical tablets hidden within. Because Yeesha failed to complete this mission herself (and because you apparently have nothing better to do) you take up this mission for the D’ni.
As you travel deeper into the ruins to find the Linking Books, you encounter a D’ni survivor named Esher, who advises against following Yeesha blindly. He takes it upon himself to appear throughout Myst V and offer advice, though his end game is unclear at best.
Esher’s not the only one following you into the darkness. A race of furry, humanoid bug people called the Bahro (E.T. meets an ant) have also taken great interest in your journey. Yeesha’s journal entries out in the ruins reveal that they’ve been enslaved by the tablets you seek. Like everyone else who’s put their trust in you, though, they keep many of their motivations in the dark.
So, yeah. We have a tired old woman, a secretive old man, and an army of bug people rooting for our grand finale.
As you might’ve noticed from these screenshots, Myst V is not pre-rendered in any sense of the term. Everything is built out in 3D graphics. Cyan Worlds, who returned to design Myst V, felt that 3D had become sufficiently immersive to supplant pre-rendered visuals. It’s an assertion that we strongly disagree with. While the environments of Myst V are certainly expansive, their significant graphical downgrade is anti-climactic.
The real-time visuals also detracted from the character animations. The voice actors wore motion capture equipment to make their in-game faces look as realistic as possible, but even that doesn’t compensate for the stiff character models we see. Again, to see this after Revelation‘s smoothly executed live acting was a major disappointment.
Myst V‘s environments may have suffered because of its real-time visuals and some downgrades in sound quality, but the puzzles are excellent. Once again the Myst pendulum has swung, this time favoring reasonable and more accessible puzzles. You no longer have to consult reams of walkthroughs or satisfy the whims of obscure prankster gods to figure out what’s going on here.
Cyan Worlds made this decision to make the game more accessible to new players. I suppose it’s better to start doing this at the series finale than not at all. It’s a shame Myst and Myst IV: Revelation‘s puzzles never had the chance to follow suit.
What do we mean specifically when we say the puzzles are better? We mean that the two halves to a solution aren’t on opposite sides of an Age. We mean that the game tells us all the rules we’re operating with so that we have some idea how to proceed. Not to say that the puzzles are a cakewalk, but Myst and Revelation‘s failure to adhere to the above guidelines made puzzling a true chore. Not to mention that Revelation‘s cheat sheet was wrong.
In defense of the 3D format, Myst V‘s new style allows you to putz around the game free of the point-and-click restraints we’ve seen in all the other games. It was nice to be able to run freely around the Ages instead of going from scene to scene, which, no matter how much you gussy it up, can be tedious.
Even though Myst V‘s visuals are down for the count against other Myst games, the Ages you travel to still haven’t lost their impressive sense of scale. Todelmer, an Age built to study the cosmos, is an enormous-feeling map. Gorgeous island archipelagos stretching as far as the eye can see may not be as impressive without the pre-rendered visuals, but at least they’re still big and give you lots of room to run around.
It’s a tough balance to strike in writing about Myst V, because though a lot of the key ingredients for the game are there, the new visual style is so radically different as to make Myst V not feel like a Myst game. Not a great feeling to have, especially when we’re supposed to be playing a series’ grand finale.
The biggest problem we faced with Myst V is that its premise and narrative feel completely disconnected from one another. You’re supposedly out to save a fallen civilization, but that premise takes less and less precedence over running around in some backwater, drawing symbols on rocks. It’s a schism that makes the story hard to follow; is this game about the gorilla people hanging out behind us, or the last remnants of a people that we never. Ever. See.
Ultimately, the goal is the magical tablets. But as we go on, all the reasons why we get the tablets fall away in face of unlocking, brace yourself, the MASTER TABLET, which is even more incredible than our now-pedestrian normal tablets.
It’s a bit weird to see a game go off its own rails like this. It’s not that the dialogue is badly written or that we don’t feel some sense of grandeur as we did in previous Myst games, it’s just difficult to keep track of what we’re fighting for. In games past, this was crystal clear from the get-go.
It’s difficult to tell you what to take away from all this. Sure, there’s wonder and majesty in some of the environments we see, but it’s at a lower dose than in previous Myst games. We have characters whose development is rarely explored, a palette of beautiful but hollow environments, and a radical change in game design that is much more befitting of a sophomore effort than a grand finale.
It sends the series out on a dang, rather than a bang. Some of you will play it and say, “oh, this is fun,” but it won’t stick with you like the older Myst games will. It feels like KFC trying to replicate grandma’s home cookin’.
Ironically, this installment of the series actually is available on Steam, even though its superior predecessors are not. We appreciate the opportunity to write about this amazing series for you… we just wish it had ended on a higher note. And don’t even get us started on Uru.
You can buy Myst V: End of Ages here.
Thank you for redading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. You can also find Branson on Twitter @MrRoskelley, and at his website, bransonroskelley.com.
Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.