I'm just going to get this out at the beginning: I absolutely adore adventure games, and honesty above all honesty, I think adventure gaming is almost the perfect genre. I wish MMOs would play like adventure games. I wish that adventure games had multimillion dollar budgets so they could go on forever and ever, patch after patch of head-scratching puzzley goodness. I wish that adventure games were not as rare as they are.
But I also wish I were actually good at adventure gaming. I have a hard time with puzzles. Gollum would have had me for lunch. I've been enjoying my time in Lilly Looking Through and Memoria so, so much, all the while becoming extremely depressed each and every time I look up a walkthrough that made me feel like a complete and total three-year-old who could barely assemble one of those funny multi-colored donut toys.
The thing is, I'm smart, right? I was in those funny advanced classes that taught me languages and told me my IQ was high and were separate from the muggles. At one point they even did experiments on me that made me put together odd puzzle-thingies and attempt to control a primitive computer. Yet here I am now playing Words with Friends and trying to spell words like "THURK" or "ZSATS."
I have always been intrigued by Myst Online: Uru Live. It's an online component of the standalone game Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. You might be familiar with the game's developer, Cyan, especially if you have ever played Myst or Riven. Heck, the company is now attempting to raise funds to make its next adventure title! Myst Online: Uru Live sets players down in New Mexico in order to attempt to further understand the ancient D'ni race by solving massive, explorable puzzles called Ages. Ages were essentially "written" into existence by the long-gone D'ni, and as you explore each Age you will slowly come to understand who the D'ni were and what they were about. Your also tasked with locating seven fragments of cloth, called tapestry fragments, in order to "complete" each Age.
My time away from the game has given me a bit more understanding for the game's pacing and mechanics, so this time around I was actually able to figure out much of it on my own. I'd forgotten a bit, but once things got going, I looked back over the week having accomplished much more than I ever had before.
The great thing about Myst Online: Uru Live is that you can play through each of the Ages with other players. Of course, this fantastic, multiplayer puzzle-mode works only when there are other players around (or at least players who take a moment to notice the fact that you've been asking question in chat for the past 15 minutes), but it's a neat idea.
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When I played the game way back when it first launched (or around those early phases) I played in one of my Ages with another player. She came in with me and helped me without spoiling the solution. Sometimes she would stand by a button or switch and say something like, "Now look at this. Notice anything?" and she would gently nudge me like that when I got stuck. It was glorious, immersive, and sometimes magical. Unfortunately, there were at most about 20 people online while I played this week, and they ignored me.
The game remains fantastically detailed. Even considering its age, its graphics are top-notch. When you unlock a certain area of an Age, dust can fall, and a wonderful wave of slow music washes over you. It all feels unlike anything you've ever been through in an MMO before. Those moments are common through the entire experience, but it rarely feels cliche or repeated. Each moment just adds to the rest of the building fun.
You cannot die in the game, and there is no combat. All of your time will be spent slowly and methodically working through massive, sometimes maze-like puzzles that will often challenge you the way only a Cyan game can. Even with my occasional spoiler references, I felt challenged and immersed.
Still, I can see why there are not more MMOs like Myst Online: Uru Live. It's just a lot of work to create such large, intricate puzzles. Players burn through content so, so quickly, and there's no way that a developer team could keep up by creating this sort of content. I can also see why Myst Online: Uru Live might have been met with smaller and smaller crowds as it went on. After all, it's a relatively linear game, and once the Ages run out, there doesn't seem to be much else to do. The players who do remain seem as invested as before, but I wonder if they show up just for some roleplay and community because it's free to enter. Who knows? I know that Cyan demands a certain type of player, though, and even though I probably would not pass the entrance exam, I would love to be as immersed as some of the people who have continued to play and or participate in the community to this day.
It's wonderful that Cyan managed to keep the game going, even after its initial confusion and closure. The game can stand on its own, but it's also a small part of the greater Cyan catalogue. It's not really an MMO as much as an experience to be had with other players. I would love to see another attempt at it, but it would be a costly project unless the developers fashioned it with more primitive graphics, inside the browser, or even in a mobile client that does not require such incredible art assets. Then again, amazing graphics sort of define Cyan games.
You can check the game out right now, for free, on the official site.
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!