Stop a misguided madman from destroying an entire world.
PC Release: May 8, 2001
By Ian Coppock and Branson Roskelley
Our reviews on the Myst series continue! We weren’t able to get Riven to work, but fortunately the rest of the games have functioned and we’ve been able to play them to our hearts’ content. Myst III: Exile continues the series’ proud tradition of mixing mysticism with steampunk, though not without creating a few novelties of its own.
Set 10 years after the events of Riven, Exile begins as the Stranger is invited to Atrus’s home, Tomahna. The Stranger’s been asked to tour Releeshahn, the Age Atrus designed to be the home of the last remnants of the fallen D’ni civilization.
The Stranger’s visit is interrupted by a disheveled intruder, who sets fire to the house and steals Releeshahn’s Linking Book. The interloper escapes using a Linking Book of his own, and the Stranger, never one to shy away from the unknown, leaps right in after him.
The Stranger finds themselves trapped by the maniac who made off with the Book, Saavedro, who it turns out had intended to lead Atrus here instead of you. As you explore the Age Saavedro calls home, you learn that he seeks vengeance against Atrus. Atrus’s villainous sons, who we encountered in the first game, ravaged Saavedro’s home, and now he’s driven by a warped sense of justice.
To escape and to save Releeshan, the Stranger must pursue Saavedro through a new crop of Ages, bolder and more beautiful than the ones we saw in Myst. Originally created by Atrus to train his sons in Age Writing, they’ve since been corrupted by Saavedro into a perverse game of revenge. Catching up to him means navigating his myriad of puzzles successfully.
As you can see from the screenshots, Myst‘s visuals have received a hefty upgrade since the first game. Even by today’s standards, many of them remain quite impressive. Part of this is due to the still imagery of the game’s point-and-click format, but that does not detract from the developer’s talent with color and atmosphere.
I’ve praised video games past for popping with color, but Myst III: Exile brings more than that to the table. Its visuals are bathed in a palette of light styles that bring the game so much closer to reality than many titles released these days. Though the level design is fairly consistent throughout, each Age has its own array of colors, textures and environments. From giant jungles within a tree to sea-scoured pillars of stone, there’s a lot to explore in Exile. Each Age has much more character than their counterparts from the first game, which were oftentimes little more than a single room with one puzzle.
There’s something to be said for how much the game carries the feel of the original Myst, considering that it was developed by a different studio. Presto Studios, of which Rand Miller was definitely NOT the head, produced the third game in place of Cyan Worlds. Miller did not originally have plans for a third game, yet here it is. His relationship with Presto remains difficult to discern, but he returned to voice and act Atrus in Myst III: Exile.
One aspect of the first Myst‘s design that Presto did NOT replicate was the difficulty of the puzzles, and thank God for that. The puzzles in Exile remain challenging, but you won’t need a walkthrough or a heartbreak repair kit to get through them. We were able to get through a good chunk of the game without even once having to consult a guide. For a Myst game, that is indeed a novelty!
Though Myst III‘s puzzles are much better designed than the first game’s, that doesn’t stop a few of them from feeling a bit like busywork. However, the purpose behind most of them is clear, and you feel motivated by the fact that you won’t break down and cry trying to discern their logic.
Apart from this, there’s not a whole lot to be said on Exile‘s gameplay. You get from place to place by pointing and clicking, and you can consult a journal as you walk around the various Ages. The point-and-click format can feel tedious at times, but it also allows for the game’s outstanding visuals, which makes it okay in my book.
To draw yet another parallel with Myst, the game’s characters return as live acting projected onto the game’s vivid backgrounds. Rand Miller once again proves that he belongs more in the studio than on the stage, but at least he’s consistent in his performance as Atrus.
Far more interesting is the character of Saavedro, played by the guy who played Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. You encounter the character a few times in person and via recordings left behind for Atrus. Though some of Brad Dourif’s acting as Saavedro is melodramatic, it’s an overall impressive performance that conjures a villain we can sympathize with.
Most of Myst III‘s story is restricted to a handful of character cutscenes and a much larger wealth of written material. All of the backstory and most of the mainline exposition is to be found in Saavedro’s journal, written with the same surprising intimacy that we saw in the journal entries of Myst. These new entries serve to combine the main narrative and the backstory into a single entity, since much of the time you’re by yourself solving puzzles.
In a sense, Saavedro’s character represents the madness of Atrus’s villainous sons. He is a product of wanton destruction and his anguish is directed squarely at the player. In this way, we become intimately familiar with the psychology of a scarred refugee, and he becomes easier to sympathize with in turn.
Overall, Myst III: Exile is a well-crafted game. Presto Studios is to be commended for making the puzzles relevant, and adhere to that handy little thing called logic. The story is simple yet engaging, relying on character strength rather than plot twists to convey an interesting narrative.
And you can’t beat the game’s visuals. You just can’t. Unless it’s Myst IV.
As of this writing, Myst III is not available for digital download. You can surely pirate it, but there’s no stable build of the game, adapted for modern systems, that we’ve been able to find. Because Presto Studios is now out of business, and some of the Myst games are owned by Ubisoft, it is probable that Exile is trapped in some sort of limbo. Ironic, considering that’s the fate of many of its characters. You can chance it with a physical disc if you want, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll work, or be available at a reasonable price.
Hopefully someday a remastered edition will be released on Steam. Games that I swore I’d never see on Steam have been popping up in twos and threes over the last four years, so who knows? Maybe someday we can all have this gem again.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. You can also find Branson on Twitter @MrRoskelley, and at his website, bransonroskelley.com.
Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.