This is one area where Uru doesn’t disappoint: the variety of ages available for exploration, unsurpassed by any other Myst game. D’ni, in particular, is huge, which makes it all the more disappointing that all you can really do there is a glorified scavenger hunt. Most of the online-only ages are tiny, but they’re quite lovely, and the Pod Age, in particular, features a lush wildlife. Puzzle-wise, the outstanding contenders are Kadish Tolesa, Ahnonay and Minkata, all of which will require you to get those brain cogs moving. The rest are a lot more hands-on, especially Gahreesen.
The Cleft: Accessed via a yellow linking book with the outline of the Cleft depicted in green on its spine, this is the spot where the entrance to D’ni is situated, somewhere in New Mexico. The Cleft itself is a crevice in the ground next to the volcano that houses the Great Shaft, which links D’ni to the surface world. The crevice contains living quarters, which were first inhabited by Atrus’ grandmother, Ti’ana, and where Yeesha lived for a while before exploring D’ni herself. This is where you start your journey in the offline version of the game, under the beating desert sun, arid expanses dotted with scant, scraggly bushes stretching around you on all sides and eagles circling overhead. A short trek takes you to a trailer, where Zandi welcomes you and encourages you to find the clues Yeesha has left. Once you listen to a message from her and find seven Journey Cloths, which look like orange squares of tapestry with a hand pattern on them, you’ll be able to enter an underground chamber, where your Relto book awaits. In the online version of the game, you start out in Relto and can link to the Cleft via the appropriate linking book, even though the ‘beginner’s’ puzzle is no longer there.
Relto: Accessed via a green book with Yeesha’s symbol on the cover attached to your avatar’s belt, Relto (“the high place”) is a small island lost in a sea of pink clouds, as lovely as it is soothing. Situated on a towering pillar of rock, it features a small hut at the base of a cliff and four totem-like pillars set in a square pattern. Each pillar is decorated with different carvings and sports a differently coloured hand symbol. The hut is rather bare-bones: all it contains are two bookshelves and a wardrobe. The latter allows you to customise your avatar whenever you feel like it. The right-hand shelf contains a book with some cryptic quotations that serve as clues for the starting ages, as well as five volumes containing the prophecies of the Watcher, which are integral to Path of the Shell. The left hand shelf is designed to house linking books. The four pillars outside the hut represent the four initial ages (actually five, but two of them are linked), and each contains the corresponding linking book. As Yeesha explains, she wrote Relto by breaking a number of rules that the D’ni held as sacred and immovable. For example, several instances of the age exist simultaneously, one for each player. As you explore other ages, you can collect pages with drawings on them. These pages can be inserted into the Relto linking book, and ‘activated’ and ‘deactivated’ at will to customise the age. Also, unlike other linking books, the Relto book travels around with your avatar. This means that you can go there whenever you like, and falling off a ledge will prompt an automatic ‘panic link’ to safety. It’s a clever idea for a hub, and the age is definitely very pretty, but they could’ve made it a bit more hospitable. Like, say, adding a bed to the hut.
Gahreesen: Built as a high-security R&D facility for the Guild of Maintainers, Gahreesen (“fortress”) is accessed via a muddy green linking book located in the totem depicting a blue hand and an open book surmounted by an eye, the symbol of the Maintainers, who were in charge of ascertaining whether newly-written linking books were safe. In fact, you can find Maintainer Marks, which look like round searchlights on the ground with a Maintainer symbol on them, in most of the ages, which signifies that they’ve been checked and deemed safe. Gahreesen consists of two monolithic rotating stone buildings situated on small islands in the middle of a river that flows through a hilly, lush jungle. The local wildlife seems to be highly dangerous, judging by the metallic spikes adorning the buildings and a journal left behind by a DRC member. The idea here is to explore the facility, a task rendered problematic by its extensive state of disrepair. The smaller building contains the Maintainers’ living quarters, as well as a KI dispenser. The larger building contains the Wall, which was used for Maintainer training. There was a plan to get it to work online, so that players would be able to compete with each other, but it remains inaccessible offline. The top floor of the building also contains maximum security prison cells, which can only be accessed via an external link from Teledahn. Gahreesen also contains two linking tablets to D’ni.
Teledahn: Accessed via an orange linking book located in the totem depicting an orange hand and a mushroom, Teledahn is the age I like the least in the series. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that none of its various owners seemed to like it much either. It consists of a lagoon peppered with gigantic mushrooms. Originally, the mushroom spores were harvested to make bread, but its mass production exhausted the supply, and the last owner of the age repurposed it for a much darker pastime, to the extent that there was an ongoing investigation when D’ni collapsed. The initial link-in point is located in a small hut inside one of the mushrooms (ugh), where falling spores create the illusion of snow. The mushrooms are connected by metallic walkways, which stretch over brownish oily water. In fact, the prevalent colour palette for the entire age is a dirty brown. Its other specificity is a rapidly orbiting sun (or maybe some kind of artificial light source) that never sets. Sharper used to be the official caretaker of the age and has therefore christened its native lifeforms. You’ll encounter flappers, which look like round grey discs on the surface of the water that propel themselves into the air every once in a while, as well as giant dragonfly-like insects, dubbed “buggaros”, which feed on them. And then, there are the elusive shroomies, which look like giant lobsters, but make whale-like noises. Sharper had a bit of a fixation on them, and you can glimpse one from a distance by attracting it with mushroom spores. The age also contains linking tablets to Gahreesen, Sharper’s office in D’ni (with another tablet back to Teledahn) and a spy room housing Phil’s Relto book, also in D’ni.
Kadish Tolesa: Accessed via a purple book located in the totem depicting a tree and a purple hand, Kadish Tolesa (“Kadish Vault”) is my favourite age in the game. It was written by the wealthy Guildmaster Kadish to protect his riches. The age mostly consists of a forest of gigantic trees, and you first link into a clearing hemmed in by massive trunks. Ghostly purple light filters through the canopy, and leaves fall silently around you, creating a hushed, solemn, mysterious atmosphere. There are ruins dotted here and there among the trees, providing access to a lower level. Further exploration leads you to a platform with a vista of treetops swathed in purple clouds and a simultaneously visible sun and moon in the sky. This is actually reflected in the structures that Kadish has built. Besides the ruins among the trees, there’s a Moon Room, which looks like a well with light streaming in from above, and a Sun Room, which looks like a large, grandiose pyramid. The ruins and the two Rooms are all puzzles designed to keep intruders out. They’re rather complex to figure out, significantly more so than most other ages, which is fitting, considering their purpose. In fact, you’ll find a linking tablet to a hidden room in D’ni (with amazingly beautiful music) exclusively dedicated to helping you solve these puzzles. Incidentally, this is the one age where the cryptic clue found on Relto is the most useful. Kadish Tolesa also contains a linking tablet to a balcony in D’ni.
Eder Gira: One of the twin garden ages accessible via the totem depicting a fish and a green hand. Eder Gira is the one the totem links to (even though the fish actually references Eder Kemo) and is featured in a red linking book on your Relto bookshelf. Garden ages all have the word “eder” (“rest”) in their name and the common characteristic of being enclosed spaces usually designed for the private enjoyment of D’ni nobility and royalty, often at the expense of any local inhabitants, according to Yeesha. Eder Gira (“steam/heat rest”) consists of three main areas, only two of which are accessible. You first link into an arid canyon of red rock and succulent plants, featuring a lava flow and geothermal vents. Once you manage to get past a rock wall, you’ll also find a stream and a series of waterfalls, with some very large bones all around. The stream is inhabited by bioluminescent stingray-like creatures and, as the age has a day-night cycle, you can witness them glowing in the dark. Beyond this area, you can glimpse tower-like structures, hinting that the age is or used to be inhabited. For the purposes of Yeesha’s puzzle, Eder Gira and Eder Kemo are intimately connected, to the extent that they are considered as one whole. Gira also contains a linking tablet to a rooftop in D’ni.
Eder Kemo: Another favourite of mine, the second of the twin garden ages, Eder Kemo, is very different from its counterpart. Where Gira is (mostly) arid and fiery, Kemo is all about water and vegetation. The age looks like a Japanese garden ensconced in a nook of grey rock striated with a blue substance that some alarmingly large black insectoid creatures (dubbed “keanulints”) appear to be feeding on. There are also numerous evocative drawings all over the place, left behind by Yeesha and the bahro. The local flora includes a grove of bamboos and trees with parasol-like canopies, with an Oriental-looking gazebo and a fountain to complete the picture. Past a tunnel in the rock, another grove houses some bizarre trees that look disturbingly like giant brains with rigid stalks hanging from them, as well as a curtain of vines. It’s a favourite spot for fireflies and features a large floating statue that could be the depiction of a D’ni king. Beyond the brain trees are giant puffer plants, and beyond those is a lovely, peaceful lily pond inhabited by rainbow-coloured fishes, dubbed “kemos”, which give the age its name. Kemo also has a weather cycle, alternating between overcast grey skies and flash thunderstorms. Despite that and even despite the creepy keanulints, it has a very soothing atmosphere.