As you may expect, Uru departs quite significantly from the usual gameplay of the Myst series. Moreover, there are differences between the offline version (now known as Uru: Complete Chronicles, or CC, including both expansions) and the online version (Myst Online: Uru Live again, or MOULa), in terms of where you begin the game and the particulars of some of the puzzles. Some places are accessed in a different way as well.
The game is in third-person view by default, and the first thing you do upon beginning a new playthrough is create an avatar for yourself, as in all online games. You can pick their gender, name, physical features and clothing, and if you ever want to change anything, you can use the wardrobe in your Relto, which is very handy. Various extra items of clothing are scattered throughout the ages as well, and picking them up will add them to the wardrobe options, my favourite one being the D’ni shirt found in Ahnonay. Your avatar can walk, run, climb ladders, jump and even swim, which allows for the implementation of more physical puzzles, like on Gahreesen.
This is also the first game in the Myst series that lets you do two things players have probably wanted to do for a very long time: take screenshots and notes. The former can be done via your KI, a communication device used for online chatting and interaction between players that looks like a watch worn on the hand, rather than the wrist. It can also be used for orienteering within the city of D’ni itself and is thus integral to solving its puzzle. As far as notes are concerned, you are provided with an in-game journal, which you can consult at will and use to jot down any observations you may come across or clues you may want to remember.
The game automatically saves your progress, which is a definite plus. Every time you play, your avatar will restart in Relto. As previously mentioned, Relto can be customized by collecting pages found in nooks and crannies around the various ages. There are 24 pages in total, including the MOULa ones, my favourite ones being the waterfall from Gahreesen, the fireplace from Myst and the trees from Eder Delin. Some also have additional perks/conditions/annoyances. For instance, the page for the pine tree from Kadish Tolesa initially appears to have no effect, but it actually makes one of the small pine trees on Relto grow. The process takes a while, but can be sped up by activating the page for rain, obtained as a reward for completing the initial ages. A page found in the Great Zero building in D’ni adds an imager that will display all screenshots you have taken with your KI, but can also display any custom images you put into your screenshots folder. Similarly, a page found in the Great Shaft adds a cannen (D’ni music player, previously seen in Gehn’s office in Riven) to the Relto hut. Gehn’s Theme from Riven is the default music, but you can pick up the Kadish Gallery theme from a cannen in the corresponding location in the online version, or simply add your own songs to the appropriate folder. Ahnonay contains two Relto pages, but they are–unsurprisingly for Ahnonay–extremely annoying to obtain. One of them adds a very cool D’ni clock, however, so it’s a shame to pass it up. The online version makes this somewhat easier by moving both pages to the same location.
The online version of the game also features some additional pages, such as the ‘calendar’, found in the Cleft. This adds a small island next to your Relto, which you can access by a suspended bridge. The island features a circular pattern. Each real-life month, a small wisp of light (commonly known as a ‘sparkly’ among fans) appears in one of the ages, and collecting it adds a small stone receptacle containing said wisp to the pattern. Once you’ve collected all twelve ‘sparklies’, stepping onto the centre of the pattern will trigger fireworks. It’s a pretty nice feature, but it essentially takes a year to first see it in effect. Provided you don’t miss a month, that is.
In addition to these page-based changes to your Relto, you can also physically bring in fireflies from Eder Kemo. Mind you, this will mean deactivating the rain page first, as they dislike water.
For the first time in a Myst game, linking is not solely achieved via linking books, and even those have multiple linking panels, which are gradually added as you find linking stones, most likely created by Yeesha. As their name implies, they look like slabs of stone with a cloth depicting a linking panel stuck on them. Amazingly enough, the panel works, the requisite information most likely being contained in the patterns of the cloth, somehow. Presumably, the Journey Cloths work in a similar way. The other alternatives are portals, which you mostly encounter in the Pod Age, but also in D’ni and Minkata. How those work is, frankly, beyond me. The last instance is, quite simply, linking with seemingly no intermediary at all, something that the bahro can do naturally and that Yeesha appears to have mastered as well.
Roughly speaking, the game is divided into five parts, each with slightly different gameplay. The initial five ages form the first part, distinguishable by the Journey Cloths representing an open hand. The idea is to find and touch seven Journey Cloths in each age. Journey Cloths are a form of ‘bookmark’: they record your physical position within an age. Touching one will make a Journey Cloth page appear in the corresponding linking book, and using that instead of the normal linking panel will transport you to the spot in the age where that particular Journey Cloth is located. This can be a handy shortcut. Once you’ve touched every Journey Cloth in an age, you need to locate a large metallic door, also bearing the hand symbol, and walk through it, at which point you’ll be transported to a cave containing a pillar. You can transfer this pillar, representing part of a bahro’s soul, to your Relto (how?), and when you have collected them all, you need to revisit each age and ‘return’ the pillars, whereby the bahro will somehow be freed, thus completing this part of the game. Yeah, don’t ask.
The exploration of D’ni serves as a transition between the original content and the Path of the Shell, which is the name that Kadish gave to the puzzle inside the Watcher’s Sanctuary. Accordingly, the Journey Cloths in Ahnonay and Er’cana represent shells, rather than hands and act solely as bookmarks. Meaning that you’re not required to touch them all, unlike the hand Cloths, but the bookmark function is used as part of puzzle solving. However, solving the actual Path of the Shell puzzle requires ridiculous amounts of waiting (15 minutes! THREE times…), which is just bad design.
The third part encompasses Eder Delin and Eder Tsogal. I’m guessing that the idea here was to extol the virtues of teamwork. The Journey Cloths here represent a spiral, but are designed to be activated in a sequence by a team of people, rather than serving as waypoints or bookmarks. This may be a cause of annoyance if you’re playing online, as it entails finding enough people that are willing to join you to solve the puzzle.
The fourth part is the Pod Age. The puzzle entails calculating its time zones and linking into each pod at a given time to witness the appearance of a portal that you need to walk through (there are helpful online clocks designed for this). As far as I can tell, the purpose here is to demonstrate that natural beauty needs to be preserved, since all you’re basically doing is sightseeing.
The fifth and final part is the exploration of Minkata, witnessing the powers of the bahro firsthand. In the online version of the game, a circular pedestal appears on your Relto, and each of the five parts adds a floating ring above it (known to the fanbase as “donuts”), divided into as many segments as there are ages.
You may also notice that each linking book on your Relto shelf is held in place by two ‘tabs’, one at the top and one at the bottom. The top tabs bear the symbol designating the Path the books pertain to and can be activated to ‘share’ the age in question with other players (meaning that they can access your particular instance of it alongside you). The bottom tab represents the D’ni symbol for zero and can be used to reset all the puzzles within the age in question, making it as if you were visiting it for the first time, if you ever find yourself hopelessly stuck.