Most of the game takes place on Riven itself, originally designated by Gehn as his 5th Age. Whether by design or by coincidence, five is also a recurrent number within the age’s structure, as you’ll be able to see for yourself. It has a warm, sunny Mediterranean climate and flora, featuring rocky landscapes, palm trees and succulent plants. However, due to its structural instability, the age has gradually split into five islands, which Gehn has attempted to keep connected by means of a maglev system. Each island has its own landmarks and primary function. In addition, you also get to visit the Moiety age, Tay, written by Catherine, and the 233rd Age, which Gehn finally managed to write as a first step to escaping. However, in both cases, the visits are rather short. You also start out in D’ni, in the same room where you encountered Atrus in Myst, but this is so brief as to not be worth a mention. All in all, this is probably the game’s weakest point: there is only minimal linking book travel, and the overwhelming majority of the story and puzzle-solving takes place on one age.
Temple Island: This is where you first arrive on Riven. The island consists of two parts, one larger, one smaller, connected by a wooden bridge. Its most prominent feature is the gigantic golden dome towering on a tall cliff, accessing and powering which is one of the main goals in the game, once you have determined its purpose. Access is achieved via a rotating room which looks somewhat like an Egyptian tomb, with thick pillars adorned with scarabs. This is not the temple which gives the island its name, however. That distinction goes to a different structure, also with an Egyptian vibe to it, located on the smaller part of the island. This was built by Gehn as a place for the locals to worship him by means of a holographic projector, the use of which you’ll be able to witness for yourself. The other important landmarks on the island are a spinning half-sphere located on a rock at sea and a strange metallic structure which looks like an ice-cream cone, but actually appears to be some sort of telescope, even though it’s pointing at the ground.
Jungle Island: The largest island of the lot and my personal favourite. This is where Riven’s remaining inhabitants live. Their village, consisting of spherical mud huts connected by wooden pathways, is perched on a cliff above a lake, which can be navigated by means of an odd submarine on rails. Gehn has also built other additions to further his cause: a schoolhouse to teach the locals D’ni language and culture, a prison cell and a rather interesting execution device. The ‘jungle’ which gives the island its name has been reduced to a small grove, as Gehn has been using it as a source of timber for making his books. Nevertheless, it’s a pleasant, shady place, featuring lush vegetation, birds, insects and even giant mushrooms. It also contains another spinning dome and a giant wooden idol depicting a fish. You’ll also find odd puzzle clues, in the form of carved wooden spheres which emit distinctive noises when spun, scattered around the island. Finally, there’s also a small but delightfully cosy lagoon (probably my favourite spot in the entire game), where what can only be described as cousins of Nessie, aptly named sunners, come to sunbathe. If you’re careful and quiet, you can get very close to them.
Crater Island: As its name indicates, the island consists of a large rocky crater surrounding an apparently sulphurous lake, judging by its bright blue colour and the deposits on the shore. This island is, to all intents and purposes, Gehn’s paper-making factory, as attested by the wood chipper and the very large boiler which greet you upon your arrival after a rather unique log cart ride. A paper press was originally accessible too, but beta testers couldn’t figure out what it was for, so it was removed, although it’s still visible in one of the frames. Gehn has a workshop on this island, where, besides paper, he makes ink and a very peculiar sort of tobacco, the main ingredient for which can be found on the island as well. The workshop also contains a furnace, where he used to burn his failed linking books. And, of course, the island has its own spinning dome, tucked away in a cavern. Due to the monotonous landscape and the overabundance of machinery and pipes, this is the island I like the least.
Survey Island: The primary purpose of this island was to house a natural large-scale map, which Gehn achieved by means of a control room and a model of Riven’s five islands, created by sculpting a plateau and filling it with Rivenese water. The latter has the peculiar property of being inhabited by a unicellular organism with a strong aversion to heat (which you can witness in Gehn’s Crater Island workshop). Thus, by heating the water to various degrees, it’s possible to shape it, and Gehn used this characteristic to reproduce the topography of each island. The other purpose of this island was to house wahrks in its deep lake, which, on the surface, is located in a very pleasant, sheltered nook. Wahrks are very large fish with tusks, as depicted by the totem on Jungle Island, which used to inhabit the surrounding ocean, but which Gehn hunted almost to extinction, before deciding to use them to terrorise the villagers. In case you’re wondering, you do get to see a live one. Up close and personal (and pissed off). And of course, the mandatory spinning sphere is also present on this island.
Tay: The age that Catherine has written to relocate Riven’s population and the one depicted on the game’s cover. I find it strange that the developers didn’t use an image of Riven itself. They may have thought that this age’s somewhat foreboding aesthetic fit the darker tone of the game better; let’s face it, the golden dome, Riven’s most distinctive feature, doesn’t exactly spell ‘menacing’. Be that as it may, Tay’s main landmark is an impressive gigantic tree with a spherical canopy (likely a twin of the tree which used to exist on Riven) situated in the middle of a lake surrounded by tall cliffs, reminiscent of the Jungle Island lake. The tree serves as a settlement, as the branches house a multitude of little huts, again, much like the ones on Jungle Island. The age is very quiet – perhaps ominously so –, the sky is overcast and grey, and strange birds with long tails circle overhead. You don’t spend very long here, but you do obtain very important information and items.
233rd Age: As is typical of Gehn’s utilitarian terseness, this age doesn’t have a name. It’s constituted of a group of strangely-shaped rocks (they seem to have eroded in the middle, making them look a little like stone trees) rising out of an ocean, and apparently has a harsh climate. Gehn has built a small office here, using it to monitor the situation on Riven and to attempt to find a way back to D’ni. It contains linking books to each of Riven’s islands, an ornate D’ni writing desk and a small underground bedroom, which showcases Gehn’s more personal side. There’s also a beautiful sunset outside, all purples and fiery oranges.
Prison Island: The smallest of the Rivenese islands, which, as its name implies, is used by Gehn as a high-security prison. The only means of accessing it is through a linking book in the 233rd Age, as it has drifted so far away from the other islands as to be completely out of sight, giving it a very lonely atmosphere. According to Catherine’s journal, which you eventually come across, the island used to sport a very large tree, which Gehn cut down (presumably for his paper-making needs), repurposing its stump as the prison. It goes without saying that this is where Catherine is being held.