Myst V: End of Ages
As the name indicates, Myst V: End of Ages is the culmination to a decade long series of adventure games which, depending upon your point of view, defined or hamstrung the genre. Each to their own, but I'm a fan, and global sales prove there are countless others.
As a fan, the last in a series is always going to be bittersweet. No matter how strong, how well constructed, there will be some disappointment. Disappointment purely because its over. Or maybe because it didn't deal with this thread, or that character. Not an easy endeavour.
Perhaps disappointment too that it didn't have more of the things you liked from previous games, and less of the things you didn't. I missed the tactile aspect of Revelation, the exhilarating rides of Exile, and the puzzling intricacy of Riven. I wanted more stuff to rummage through, more buttons to press, more diagrams and notes to be made. At the same time, I could have done without the elevator frustrations (a touch of Uru creeping in).
But more of the same would simply have been just more of the same, and to be a worthy finale, things deserve to be a bit different. So the real time 3D world was a big plus, the ability to forsake the traditional node to node movement for the go absolutely anywhere "free move" mode was exhilarating (no longer are you stuck on a path if you want to go somewhere else), and the lack of any real actors was almost compensated for by their animated counterparts. The facial mapping in particular is impressive.
There was comfort, too, in the presence of some old friends and old tales. Yeesha is there, albeit older, and her journals when found reflect on the complete Myst saga as well as telling of her current situation. And Myst island is there, reached by a "wrong" ending that anyone who visited the original must make sure to find.
And if you fork out a few extra dollars and get the up market version, there is an End of Ages bonus DVD which includes a "making of" documentary chronicling all five games, a trailer, and seven in game music compositions featuring stills from the game, plus a Lost Chapters book with a welter of additional information and illustrations.
Put all that together and what have you got?
My final impression was of a more low key episode, more exploring than doing. It was a quiet game in many ways, a weekend down the coast as opposed to a month overseas.
But a weekend down the coast can still be a good time, and I did enjoy this End of Ages.
There are a four different worlds to visit, and you must also work your way through K'veer, the starting location. The "hub" world Direbo must also be visited but it really is little more than a transit station. Via K'veer and Direbo you can visit the four worlds in any order you like, although it did seem that there was a preferred (but I stress not essential) order. You need not complete a world before visiting another, and so long as you have unravelled K'veer and Direbo you can go anywhere else you choose to at any time.
Laki'ahn was the pick of the worlds in my opinion, offering the best mix of integrated puzzles, although it did have the previously mentioned elevator. The starry vista in Todelmer was the most breathtaking, and the best puzzle wa,s I thought, in Noloben. So each world has its attractions, and the pleasure is spread across them all. No doubt your favourites will differ from mine.
Your wanderings will be accompanied periodically by Esher, voiced by David Ogden Stiers. He provides information to assist your actions, and might also guide you along the way. It is through Esher that I formed my view that there is a preferred order to the worlds. Certainly I think Tahgira should be the first location.
The ultimate objective in each world is the same, as (primarily) is the methodology. You need to get to the "end" of the world whereupon you will be able to unlock one piece of the endgame. Pedestals enable you to link back and forth within the world, once you learn to master the slates on which you draw to essentially unlock the linking. A race called the Bahro is also integral to your efforts. They respond to the slates and ultimately make the linking possible.
Utilising the back and forth linking is a large part of each world. So too is the environmental manipulation possible in each; rain, wind and so on. In each world you will have to use the single environmental manipulation in order to progress. How to use it and when is part of the puzzle.
Each world is essentially a self contained puzzle, with a few smaller puzzles within the world. They are not too difficult, though some held me up for more than a little while, but you won't find many instructions or clues for quite a few of them. Simply fiddle and see what happens, and nut out the correct fiddle. That's ok as cause and effect is an important part of many good puzzles, but it was sometimes too random. In Todelmer, in particular, there was on occasion little if anything to observe. It was simply fiddle and keep fiddling until the right result occurred.
With one puzzle, that fiddling was hampered by the environmental manipulation obscuring your vision of what was happening, and with another you pretty much just had to squint and guess to try and decipher a symbol. Not a good design.
Getting the Bahro to do your bidding has a number of applications. Two puzzles require a joint effort, and cannot be done otherwise. These two puzzles may well be the most frustrating, although how frustrated you may be will depend in part upon your personal feelings about the puzzle construct. Both have a timed element, one more generous than the other. At least it seems that way; the truth is that if you have the set-up correct there is plenty of time.
The timed aspect is not really the problem. I thought both these puzzles needed more direction. Both involve slates and their use. If you fail (as you will likely do a few times), what went wrong? Have you got the right solution, just failed to execute it properly? Was the drawing not good enough? Are you even drawing the right symbol? Did you not do it quickly enough? Or are you completely doing the wrong thing altogether? With both puzzles, having failed more than a few times, I needed to check a walkthrough to satisfy myself that it was my execution, not the methodology. Without that, I really wasn't sure.
The worlds within Myst: End of Ages are marvellous, and the detail as you would expect. The detail though made the fact that there wasn't a lot to rummage through that little more frustrating. There is a whole house, for instance, where there is only one thing to find and nothing to look in. I wanted to tap on specimen jars, open cupboards, flip through books. Even if it wasn't necessary for the puzzle solve, it would have helped the immersion and the experience.
The ambient sights and sounds all add colour and vibrancy to the 3D environments, but are again minimalist. There should be more going on in 3D worlds. The worlds are all quite different though and were impressive places to be. The musical scores are lush and inspiring.
You can tweak numerous settings and subtitles are available. A pull down menu contains icons for saving and loading, and also allows you to access the 12 journals you will find, as well as a log of all the dialogue. You don't really have conversations; the two other characters tell you things.
There are, I believe, four endings, only one of them correct. I found three, including the correct one, and the other two lead to Myst island. As I said, don't fail to go there.
In the end, Myst V: End of Ages felt like a little like Myst Lite. At times it was too repititous in approach and lacking in depth, but in some ways it closed the circle; of all five games and was most reminiscent of the original Myst in construction and design. Further, whilst that game didn't blow me away either (though sales suggest I am a minority), it did confirm the peaceful joy and gaming pleasure of a quiet bit of wandering and pondering. Which is what I did here, and my weekend away was all the better for doing so.
So the Myst series ends serenely, calmly, and the way it began. In truth though, I probably did want a fusion of all the best bits. Give me the 3D world and the go anywhere mode of End of Ages, but with the tactile feel and the seamless FMV characters of Revelation, the exhilarating rides of Exile and the holistic puzzling and poking of Riven. That would have been a truly worthy end to arguably the greatest adventure saga to date.
Which means that the only thing to do is play them all again!
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2005.
All rights reserved.
Windows 2000/XP, Pentium III (or AMD Athlon) 800 MHz (1.5GB recommended), 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 32 MB DirectX 9.0c video card, DirectX 9.0c compliant sound card, DirectX 9.0c (included on disc), 4x DVD ROM drive, 4.1 GB disc space.
Macintosh OS X 10.3.4 - 10.4, 1 GHz processor, 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended), 32 MB video card supporting 32-bit color, Standard sound card 4x DVD ROM. 4.1 GB disc space