As the saying goes, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” Such is the mindset of an adventure gamer, who values not just the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a video game, but also the experience of getting there.
Perhaps no game captures this sense of adventure as well as the classic puzzle/adventure series, Myst. Published by indie studio Cyan Worlds Inc. between 1993 and 2005, the Myst series challenged players to slow down and truly experience video games through immersive, first-person gameplay. Now, more than two decades after the release of the original Myst, Cyan has released a new game: Obduction.
Funded on Kickstarter with a campaign that raised over $1.3 million, Obduction is the spiritual successor to Myst. But fans of the original series shouldn’t worry; Obduction is a classic Myst game in all but name. As in previous Cyan installments, the player is dropped into a deserted alien world where they must explore their surroundings and solve intricate puzzles to overcome obstacles and progress through the game.
Scattered throughout the world are subtle hints (such as journals, newspaper clippings and audio recordings) that help you piece together what this strange landscape is and what happened to its people. However, despite the familiar format, the Obduction story is set in an entirely separate universe from Myst, so players do not need to be familiar with the original series to enjoy Obduction.
The game begins in a world called Hunrath, which is comprised of chunks of harsh Arizona desert set against the surreal backdrop of an alien planet. This juxtaposition is both jarring and beautiful, and that unsettling sense that something just isn’t quite right — so characteristic of Myst — gives the game a thrilling, otherworldly appeal.
As the game progresses, the story expands into three other worlds—Kaptar, Maray and Soria—and players must travel back and forth between them in order to solve puzzles and advance the narrative. This is accomplished through the use of travel nodes (known as “seeds”) which transport the player and his or her immediate surroundings to another location. It’s a clever twist on the classic Myst linking books that feels familiar yet fresh.
Obduction’s gameplay is fairly straightforward, though, in typical Myst fashion, it can at times be difficult to figure out what is expected of you, and players may find themselves occasionally getting stuck. On my first playthrough, I got stuck for an agonizingly long time. After spending three days combing the world of Hunrath for clues I might have missed, I retraced my steps only to discover I’d walked right past a very important lever in Kaptar.
Obduction’s puzzles require just the right amount of brain power, striking an effective balance between difficult and doable. Throughout the game, you encounter a variety of (often literal) roadblocks and have to think outside the box to get around them and move forward. Some puzzles are more challenging than others, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from cracking a particularly tricky puzzle is incredibly rewarding.
The game’s graphics are where Obduction truly shines. Gone are the days of pre-rendered images and point-and-click gameplay. Built in Unreal Engine 4, Obduction combines the best of Myst-style imagery with cutting-edge graphics; players experience the worlds of Obduction in full 3D and can roam freely throughout the game. The results are stunning. More than once, I found myself audibly gasping at the landscapes, and I took more screenshots than I care to admit. Cyan has also optimized the game for VR capability for an even more immersive experience.
In many ways, Obduction is not just a spiritual successor to the Myst series but an overt love letter to its fans. Scattered throughout the worlds of Obduction are a variety of Easter eggs which Myst fans will recognize and appreciate. Some are more obvious than others, and while these references to a separate game universe can at times feel somewhat jarring, it’s hard to fault such unabashed fan appreciation.
Obduction suffers from a couple of minor missteps. Travel between worlds requires long loading times, which is a nuisance when you’re excited to go try a new idea in a different world and have to wait to get there.
The game also feels shorter than other Myst games, with fewer puzzles and a sudden and confusing ending. The story is intricate, and slow revelations throughout the game keep you on the edge of your seat, so the sudden ending felt a bit rushed and unsatisfying. There are also multiple endings, depending on what decisions you make throughout the game, and the “right” choices are not always obvious. Still, for existing fans and newcomers alike, the game is a worthwhile experience.
My own experience playing Obduction reminded me why I love the adventure genre in the first place. Like most adventure titles, Obduction is ostensibly a single-player game. The narrative is told in the first person, and there is only one playable avatar.
But for me, adventure games have never been single player.
I started playing the Myst games when I was about 8 years old, and I played them cooperatively with my mother and siblings. Each player had a special role on our team (e.g., navigator, mouse operator, note-taker, math expert), and we all worked together to solve the puzzles and beat the game. This passion for the shared adventure is something I’ve carried with me into adulthood.
When I started Obduction after it was released last month, I tried to play it alone. But I quickly found that I didn’t get the same level of enjoyment out of it that I did when sharing it with another player. Roughly an hour into the game, I quit and started over, this time playing with my fiancé.
The overwhelming critical success Obduction has enjoyed since its release on Aug. 24 is significant, not just for Cyan but for the gaming industry at large. The release of a brand new adventure game from one of the most influential studios in the genre is reflective of a wider industry trend: a return to classic adventure gaming. Over the past several years, indie developers seem to have caught on to the genre’s continued popularity, and adventure games have undergone a revival.
Titles such as The Witness, Firewatch, The Eyes of Ara and Haven Moon (among others) draw on many of the same themes that made the original Myst series so popular and have received widespread acclaim. Another Kickstarter success, Quern: Undying Thoughts, has received the Steam Greenlight and is currently in the beta-testing phase of development.
Adventure gaming fans who have finished Obduction and are wondering what to play next have reason to celebrate: The adventure [genre] isn’t over yet.