The real stars of any Myst game are the various ages you visit, each with its own style, atmosphere and general thematic. There’s usually one nature-oriented age and one more industrial/techy one (in this case, Channelwood and Mechanical, respectively) with the others covering various points of the spectrum in between. In this game, there are six ages, although you spend very little time in the sixth one. The only major flaw I can think of, besides their facile names, is that they’re all very small. Keep in mind that each of them is supposed to be an actual world, and while there are valid reasons for why you only visit such a small part of each and why it’s always an island, it still feels a tad limiting when you think about it. Besides, most of these ages were supposed to be inhabited at one point, which begs the questions of where people lived, what they ate and what they did with their time (this is answered for Myst island in the books: there were underground living quarters beneath the library, accessed by the tower elevator, which wasn’t working properly anymore by the time of the game). The developers have conveniently explained this as being done for gameplay efficiency: only the stuff that’s necessary to solve the puzzles is portrayed, but the ages themselves are actually much larger. Let your imagination do the rest, I guess. This economy is much less apparent in later games in the series though.
Myst: The island that gives its name to the game and to the entire saga is a small patch of land in the middle of an ocean. It’s covered in lush green grass, and features a pine grove and a steep rocky cliff as its main landmarks. The weather is sunny, with a thin mist covering the horizon and seagulls wheeling overhead. The island is home to Atrus’ library, which resembles a Greek temple, with a row of columns leading up to it and a tower perched on top of the cliff behind it. Other than that, the island houses various structures, each associated with one of the four ages that have survived the library’s destruction. There’s a half-sunken boat, a small replica of which is located in a stone basin in front of the library, and two large cogs situated on a promontory beyond the ship. A small planetarium, also vaguely Greek in style, flanks the library on one side, while the other side features a path to a…spaceship. If you’ve ever read Tintin, it looks like the rocket from Destination Moon. The spaceship is connected to a small underground power plant, situated in the grove. Across from it lies a small wooden cabin and a very tall tree in a stone enclosure. And last, but not least, a path through the grove leads to a clock tower situated just off the shore of the island. If, like me, you’re wondering why there are landmarks for these four specific ages only, considering that Atrus’ library contained lots of books, the answer is, once again “gameplay efficiency”.
Channelwood: Described in a green journal in the Myst library, this age is reminiscent of a mangrove. Tall trees rise up from the water against a misty sky, with wooden pathways running between them. Higher up the trunks, a multitude of huts form a suspended village. While the journal mentions inhabitants, they are nowhere to be seen, and the state of disrepair of some of the huts suggests either violent struggle or long abandon. Or both. The age is very noisy, with birds and frogs holding a constant vocal competition. Most of the pathways have pipes running along them, which converge towards a windmill perched on a rock, just on the edge of the forest. There are also two elevators suspended from the tree tops, and a long spiral staircase winding around one of the tree trunks, with a locked gate barring its entrance. This is a pleasant age with an easy puzzle. The only thing worth noting is that you’ll also find a clue for another puzzle, which you’ll only be able to solve at the end of the game. If you’re a fan of tree houses, there’s plenty of traipsing around on rickety rope bridges. However, the constant cacophony reigning on the lower level tends to get a little overbearing at times. The other aspect of this age that I dislike is the means of accessing its linking book from Myst, which involves iffy timing. This is why I tend to do this age first, to get that part out of the way.
Mechanical: Described in a brown journal in the Myst library, this is the age I like the least. It’s not particularly difficult or annoying, but it’s the least aesthetically pleasing, in my opinion. It’s sunny and slightly misty, but other than that, it’s mostly barren rock, discarded cogs and metal. And ocean too, of course. Just like Channelwood, it was originally inhabited, by a civilisation that was plagued by pirates. Atrus helped them to repel the attacks by constructing a rotating fortress, but the age has since been flooded, and the fortress is about all that remains. It’s not exactly much of a fortress either, since there are only four rooms to speak of and absolutely nothing in the way of a defence system. You really wonder how exactly they dealt with those pirates. Then again, considering the age’s subsequent history, it’s entirely possible that the fortress has been repurposed since that time. It looks like a star-shaped metallic structure surrounded by a rail that supports a bridge. This allows it to rotate to the four cardinal directions, with small rocky islands situated to the north, east and south. The latter island houses a locked hatch, opening which requires a code. Another important thing to note about this age is that it contains vital information concerning another one, which is why it’s advisable to do it as either your first or second age.
Selenitic: By contrast with Mechanical, this is my favourite age in the game, simply because of how strange it is. It’s notably the only age of the four that Sirrus and Achenar don’t seem to have visited at all, as it has no trademark living quarters. Visually, it feels a bit like a Dalì painting, with its almost surreal bright turquoise fog, its lunar landscape – the result of a meteor shower –, which gives it its name, and the gigantic broken grandfather clock unaccountably located at the edge of a path. Atrus himself was unsettled by this age when he visited it, as his journal – the thick blue one with vanishing ink – attests. Everything here is based on sound. The first building you encounter is a bunker set into a rock face, protected by a sound lock. You’ll encounter a grove of trees with red leaves situated on a hill with a spring flowing from it, a volcanic crevice in the ground, a strange clump of large crystals – actually a petrified forest –, which produce an eerie noise when the wind blows through them, and a large radio antenna situated in the middle of a lake, which is accessed by an underground tunnel. There’s also an extensive underground maze, as mentioned in the age’s journal, which is located behind the bunker door and which you’ll have the pleasure of navigating on board of what can only be described as the Yellow Submarine. Coincidentally, this maze is the only reason why I don’t save this age for last, despite it being my favourite: it’s decidedly tedious to get through, even when you know the way. The puzzle for accessing the maze, however, is almost disappointingly easy.
Stoneship: Described in a thin blue and grey journal, this age has a pleasantly melancholy atmosphere, all soft greys and a sense of impending rain. Consisting of an archipelago of sharp rocks in the middle of a grey ocean under an overcast sky, the age features a unique example of Art-gone-wrong. Like Channelwood and Mechanical, it used to be inhabited, and, in order to provide said inhabitants with a means of transportation, Atrus tried writing a ship into it. However, something malfunctioned, and the ship broke in two and welded with the largest rock. Most unique instance of a shipwreck ever. The age also features a lighthouse, which Atrus helped the inhabitants build in order to signal other people potentially living on nearby islands, a wooden pathway leading to the top of the largest rock and terminating in a spyglass, and some underground chambers, which got recycled by Sirrus and Achenar. There’s also a slight flooding problem: Atrus mentions in his journal that the entire archipelago appears to be slowly sinking into the sea. Moreover, its inhabitants, like those of Channelwood and Mechanical, are nowhere to be seen. The ship’s cabin, the chambers in the rock and the lower half of the lighthouse are underwater, and a rudimentary pump system (which looks like half a barrel under an umbrella) lets you drain one of these areas at a time. The ship’s cabin also offers a beautiful view of the sea floor and its fauna…once you figure out how to turn the light on, that is.
D’ni: Well, don’t get too excited. You don’t get to actually visit the city. In fact, all you see of D’ni this time around is a circular room with no exit, located on K’veer island. There are stone pillars around the perimeter, a mosaic of Atrus’ grandfather on the floor, a large pile of rubble where the wall has partially collapsed and a makeshift desk under one of the pillars. What exactly you do in this room is a spoiler, but it doesn’t take long. If you were banking on exploring D’ni, it will have to wait until Uru.