Myst Online: Uru Live Review

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Graphics: 9.0
Sound : 9.5
Gameplay : 7.0
Multiplayer : 7.0
Overall : 8.5
Review by Jeff Seamster
Ok gamers; listen up because it’s time to talk about Uru Live, the massively multiplayer online installment in the Myst series of adventure games. But before we begin, I think it’s worth covering the development history of Uru Live and how it almost slipped through gamers’ hands altogether.

Uru Live is made by Cyan Worlds, the creators of the original Myst games. Development of Uru began shortly after the completion of Riven, the first sequel to the original Myst. Its existence and progress were kept tightly under wraps for several years. Eventually, word leaked out that Cyan was working on something big and fans were thrown a bone with the project codename Mudpie. After a time, a new name was given to this project, that of Uru. Uru was released in 2003 with both an offline game called Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and a multiplayer online game called Uru Live. Uru Live promised massively multiplayer online adventure gaming with new content being generated constantly. Beta testing for Uru Live began in 2004 but this online component was suddenly scuttled in February of 2004. In its place, Cyan Worlds released the content intended for Uru Live in the form of two expansions, “The Path of the Shell” and “To D’ni”.

This offering left fans and beta testers of Uru Live fairly disappointed as the game world of Uru felt rather lonely with just one player. Later in 2004, Cyan released Until Uru, which was effectively a way for players to run their own Uru online servers but this still wasn’t Uru Live as it was originally intended.

While all this drama was unfolding, the single-player Myst franchise was still being developed by other studios, Myst III: Exile by Presto Studios and Myst IV: Revelation by Ubisoft. Myst V: End of Ages fell back into the hands of Cyan Worlds and was announced to be the last game in the Myst series. Soon after the release of Myst V, Cyan Worlds had massive layoffs but then received a new round of financing from Turner Broadcasting and hired back almost its entire staff. Pretty serious drama, eh?

So the employees were back at Cyan, and nobody knew what they were doing though many hints were dropped that Uru Live was making a comeback. Fast forward to 2006 and at E3, Cyan and GameTap announced that Uru Live would return as part of the GameTap online gaming service.

On February 15th, 2007 Uru Live officially went live on GameTap and it is now available to all GameTap subscribers. Quite a haul, but they made it and now let’s focus on the game itself.

Uru Live sticks to what Cyan does best – adventure. If you’ve played any of the Myst series, you know about linking books. These specially crafted books have the ability to transport a player’s character to one of many available “ages”, perhaps easier to think of as parallel dimensions. Though there are some characteristics common to the architecture and artifacts of the D’ni civilization, each age has its own unique environment, style, wildlife, and purpose.

Gameplay

Gameplay involves exploration, solving puzzles, and unlocking the secrets of the long since collapsed D’ni Empire. Rather than the player being part of the story as in previous Myst adventures, Uru Live players are trying to uncover a story long past, that being the story of the D’ni civilization. Players can explore the ages of D’ni on their own or with other players and friends.

One very important difference between Uru Live and other MMO’s is that character level does not exist. Any player can fully participate in an adventure with another regardless of prior achievements and this is a welcome change in the MMO realm as far as I’m concerned. Communication with other players can be done either with text chat or in-game voice chat. A personal data device called a KI is used for communications, journal entries, and snapshots.

Your first task in Uru Live is to create his or her in-game persona (avatar). No elves, demons, or wizards here; players are straight-up human. There are a good number of options available for customizing avatars including wardrobe, character build, facial hair, accessories…you know the drill. And once you have an avatar, you can enter the world of Uru Live.

The first locale that you visit is a cleft in the New Mexico desert. Those of you familiar with the Myst fiction will understand its relevance. Those who aren’t familiar with the setting need not worry though, there’s help near the cleft. And by help, I mean there’s some dude sitting next to a mobile home in a lawn chair. He’ll get you started on your quest through the cleft and provide hints if needed.

The cleft not only starts the player along the story line of Uru, but also introduces the basic controls. And since we’re on the subject…

Controls in Uru Live are fairly straightforward: run, jump, climb, push, and pull. Unfortunately, their implementation isn’t quite as smooth as I’d like. The default perspective for Uru Live is third-person, a significant derivation from the past first-person Myst games. Controls in the third-person mode feel awkward even after hours of playing. A first-person perspective is also available and I find myself using it for the most part, however many areas involve precision jumping from ledge to ledge and this requires switching back to the third-person mode. But I digress.

After a short time, the player proceeds through the cleft and into an age called Relto. Relto can be thought of as the player’s “home base” where avatar modifications can be made where linking books are stored. Using the linking books, players can be transported from Relto to one of several ages and this is where the adventure really begins.

Each player is assigned to a neighborhood upon character creation and there is a linking book used to reach the player’s neighborhood in D’ni. This is where you can meet other players and congregate. From there, you can adventure solo or invite other players to join you in your travels. Most ages are instance-based meaning that only invitees will appear with you in your travels. So let’s talk about these ages.

The worlds you visit in Uru Live (referred to as ages) have been created, or more accurately “linked to” using the special linking books found throughout the game world. Place your hand on the book and you are transported through to the age described in the book. These ages are not vast by MMO standards, but there is plenty of exploring to do. Sometimes, your purpose is simply to explore the natural surroundings of an age. Other times, you must bring a piece of ancient machinery back to working order to proceed in your adventure. Scattered around the world are artifacts, devices, and documents, all of which served a purpose at one time or another. For the player, their purpose is to teach the history and secrets of the people of D’ni.

One appealing part of Uru Live, something of a throwback to the original Myst game, is that details are scarce at first. This forces the player to explore and discover the story and purpose of the ages of D’ni for him or herself. An important fact picked up early in the game is the existence of the DRC or D’ni Restoration Council, a group dedicated to restoring the ages of the D’ni. This story element opens the door for new content to be added to Uru Live over time.

Graphics

As mentioned previously, each age in Uru Live has a look and feel all its own. Environments vary from lush outdoor areas teeming with wildlife to desolate caverns featuring long decayed remnants of a people come and gone. Overall the visuals are rich with great attention to detail, not surprising considering the pool of artistic talent at Cyan Worlds. There’s plenty of diversity in the visual themes between ages but there are common mechanical and structural styles that show D’ni influence throughout the game.

A fairly good video card is required to run Uru Live with the settings maximized, and the visual returns for higher detail settings are well worth the overhead. The high-resolution textures, weather effects, and most importantly attention to mood and environment help Uru Live uphold the standards of visual quality represented in the rest of the Myst series.

Sound and Music

Audio has always been an important part of the Myst series, especially in the earlier titles. With Uru Live, Cyan has continued its exceptional audio work with excellent ambience, mechanical effects, and voiceover work. The originality in sound design contributes greatly to the immersive quality of the game.

Another strong point in past Myst titles has been the music and Uru Live doesn’t break that trend either. Tim Larkin’s music for Uru Live sets the mood for each age in the game perfectly with a wide variety in instrumentation and style. Also worth noting is Larkin’s effective use of both real and synthesized instruments and vocals to create an other-worldly gaming environment.

Multiplayer

Uru Live’s group dynamic is simple yet effective and exploring with others is the bread and butter of this title. Interacting with other players is easy using the KI or voice chat, and there are also a handful of emotes for those who just can’t convey their sentiments with words. Most importantly, the online community for Uru Live is helpful, interesting, and dedicated. Fellow adventurers know better than to bark out spoilers and there’s little tolerance for your standard MMO buffoonery. Most players seem to stay in character and speak within the context of the story. I think this is a solid testament to the game’s immersive nature.

Summary

Passing judgment on Uru Live isn’t easy because it’s in a league of its own. My time in the game has been entertaining, interesting, and enticing. The only complaint I have is that the control scheme feels extremely unpolished in comparison to the high-quality content making up the rest of the game. Uru Live’s sense of constant discovery keeps me coming back for more and I look forward to seeing its content expand in the future. Whether you’re a seasoned adventure gamer, an MMO player looking for a truly different experience, or you simply have an appreciation for a fully immersive gaming experience, Uru Live is worth your exploration.