The core gameplay remains much the same as in the previous games in the series: you point the cursor where you want to go and click. If the location is unreachable, the cursor will make a discreet swishing noise. You can interact with some of your surroundings, and the cursor will either switch to an open hand to indicate this or to a magnifying glass, allowing you to zoom. The “zip” mode, which is indicated by a lightning bolt cursor and allows you to travel directly to a location you’ve previously visited (thus reducing travel time) still exists, although, just as before, you may miss out on potential clues by doing this.
Additionally, two exploration modes have been implemented. The default one is the Free Look mode, which makes the cursor semi-transparent and locks it in the middle of the screen, allowing you to rotate the camera at will simply by moving the mouse or the directional keys; a great improvement over the ‘picture postcards’ of the previous games. Alternately, you can switch to Cursor Mode, which will unlock the cursor and allow you to interact with your environment or to access your inventory. Like in Riven, this is still located at the bottom of your screen and houses the journals and pages you can pick up during your explorations.
Journals are still the staple means of providing background information, just as in all games in the series. Myst III is lighter on reading matter than its forebears (which may be a good thing), with only two journals at your disposal: Atrus’ writing notes about Releeshahn, which he hands you in his study, and Saavedro’s journal, which you find in the office in J’nanin. However, this journal has the peculiarity of being incomplete: pages from it lie scattered across every age except Narayan. There’s one batch to be found in J’nanin, four in Voltaic, and three each in Edanna and Amateria. Whenever you pick up a batch, it will automatically be added to the journal in the correct order. This has the effect of giving some dynamism to Saavedro’s narrative: you’re always finding something new. In addition to the journal pages, Voltaic, Edanna and Amateria also feature a painting and a recorded message to further supplement the story. Moreover, once you access the observatory on J’nanin, you’ll discover a recording left by Atrus to guide his sons through their lesson…although it’s been hijacked by Saavedro for his own purposes. Originally, every time they ‘solved’ an age, Sirrus and Achenar would find its core principle depicted in Narayani symbols. These symbols gradually unlock the Narayan linking book within the observatory and trigger additional messages from Atrus. However, Saavedro has changed the symbols and reprogrammed the projector. This doesn’t really affect you, since you didn’t know the symbols in the first place and would need to locate them anyway, but he was banking on being followed by Atrus, who did know them, which is why he implemented this scheme to buy himself some time. Whenever you find a symbol, the game will automatically take over and have you draw it on a spare sheet of paper, which will be stored in your inventory, ready to be used on the projector in J’nanin.
Puzzle difficulty is situated somewhere between Myst and Riven: more complex than the former, but not quite as much as the latter. Voltaic is usually considered as the most difficult age–with the pressure elevator being the most likely culprit–, but I’d say it faces some stiff competition from Amateria’s weight and rotation puzzles. Expect a mix of physics and hard, cold math in both ages. Edanna’s puzzles are a lot more intuitive by comparison, which, all things considered, makes sense.
As in every Myst game, there are multiple endings. The grand total is 10, although some are just variations on one theme, so the end result is something like six unique endings. Two of them achieve the desired outcome of retrieving Releeshahn safely and both are emotionally strong, but only one of them can be considered as good. Most of the rest result in death. However, as opposed to Riven, where it’s pretty damn clear what you need to do, things are a little more ambiguous in Myst III. This is notably the only game in the series where I unintentionally obtained a bad ending on my first playthrough.