| 100% free to play
Beautiful, detailed environments
Intellectual and stimulating puzzles
Lively, friendly community
| Easy to get lost
Limited social aspects
No storage of items
Puzzles can be daunting
Myst Online: URU Live is a massively multiplayer online game developed by Cyan Worlds, Inc. It is the continuation of the Myst and Riven series of games and novels. The D’ni, a now-extinct civilization that lived in elaborate caverns under the New Mexican desert, were able to create books that linked to other worlds, or Ages. You play an explorer that feels compelled to solve the D’ni puzzles, help rebuild their civilization, and restore power to the linked Ages.
Aesthetics – 8
The game’s textures are nicely painted but at higher resolutions they lose detail. Animations are smooth and the 3D models are well made. The in-game environments are beautifully designed and full of character, taking immersion up a notch. The settings do allow for lower resolution graphics and fewer bells and whistles so those with low-end computers should have little problem running it.
The music is relevant to the area you’re exploring. The dialogue is easy to understand and well written. Background sounds are unobtrusive and add an extra layer of immersion. There are audio settings that allow you to adjust the volume of certain parts of the audio. So, if you like ambient noise but dislike loud background music you can adjust it.
The user interface is spartan. It is pared down to the bare minimum for an MMO. It consists of four icons that appear at the bottom of the playing screen when you mouse-over the area. The first icon links to your Relto Linking book. If you get into trouble, stuck in a hole or on a balcony with no exit, you use this to teleport out. The next icon is for your KI interface, the game’s communication tool. The third icon is for game settings, which allow the player to adjust graphics, audio, and key bindings. The last icon is to exit the game.
The most notable, and intricate, piece of the user interface is the KI. It facilitates communication with other players, takes in-game pictures, and provides the player with a spot to record journal entries and notes. It does its job well but is not as intuitive as it could be at times. Adding some user instructions, even very basic ones, to the KI interface would help quite a bit.
The game does offer both first and third person perspectives. While, each has their strong point, I found myself playing the bulk of the game in first person. The first person perspective is good in close quarters while third person is helpful when you need to see more of the area or you need to jump. Unfortunately, the third person camera tends to do its own thing. Your character may be moving to the east but the camera is still aimed north, shows no signs of adjusting itself, and doesn’t respond to your mouse or key presses. The only solution is to wait because the camera will readjust itself eventually.
Gameplay – 8
From the very beginning MO:UL shows us that it is not a normal MMO. There is no tutorial. You are essentially thrown in the deep end and expected to sink or swim. Now, you aren’t left completely helpless but the game does not hold your hand either. It is completely up to you what you do and where you go from here.
You begin the game on your Relto, your personal island in the mist that is your home base. It consists of a hut with two bookshelves, a wardrobe, and some land. The land is basically empty but can be customized as the game progresses. You can run around but you’ll never lose sight of the hut. Inside the hut is the wardrobe. This is where you can change the appearance of your character and store clothing you’ve found on your explorations.
A pair of bookshelves flank the wardrobe. These are important as the one on the left holds the books that link to your Bevin (neighbourhood) and the various Ages you’ve visited. The one on the right holds journals that contain various information, narratives, and drawings that are a part of the puzzles you are trying to solve.
The whole game is PvE. There is no PvP element at all. Taking this one step further, there is no combat in the game, either. There are only puzzles that must be solved and Ages to explore. The puzzles range from the simple to the mind-blowingly complex. Some are contained within one Age, while others span multiple Ages and unlock Easter Eggs if solved correctly. The game encourages players to cooperate with one another in the form of sharing hints, tips, and tricks regarding the puzzles or Ages. While you don’t have to cooperate by sharing information, it does make solving some of the more complex puzzles or finding hidden locations much easier.
Each Age you access, like your Relto, is instanced. No one can join in your instance without an invite from you. Similarly, you cannot join anyone else’s instance unless they invite you. There are public instances, such as your Bevin, where you can mingle with fellow players, share information, or create groups and explore an Age together.
Innovation – 9
MO:UL is innovative in both what it does and doesn’t offer. As you’ve already read, this is not a typical MMO by any stretch of the imagination. It does not offer anything you would expect to find in an MMO. There are no levels, armour, weapons, loot drops, crafting, maps, compasses, mobs, health meters, or dying.
What it does offer is a huge, persistent world that requires the player to use their intelligence to figure out what to do. It offers stimulating puzzles to solve and beautifully designed Ages to explore. It requires players to pool their knowledge in order to get over a hurdle. It offers a storyline that is mixed with real world events to add a layer of credibility and plausibility that further aids immersion in the game’s world.
Polish – 8
Cyan Worlds ensured the game would be as polished as possible by doing one simple thing: it open sourced the game’s code. This allows anyone who has the inkling to take a peek under the hood and tackle a bug, create an Age, or make an improvement. Cyan Worlds then picks the best ones and applies them to the live game. Thanks to this program, I found no bugs or glitches. My game did crash three times during gameplay for no discernable reason but what game doesn’t crash every once in a while?
Customer Service is professional and timely. I had an issue crop up when I attempted to register with the game’s forum. It threw a php error that resulted in my activation email not being sent out. I sent Customer Service an inquiry asking for help. They activated my account by hand and I haven’t had any problems since.
Note: If you decide to join their forum and want to post, you must join the Explorer’s user group.
Longevity – 7
First released by GameTap in 2007, MO:UL was closed down in 2008. Later that same year, Cyan Worlds, the game’s developer, regained the publishing rights. They relaunched it in 2010, hosting it on its servers free of charge to players. It has thrived ever since and enthusiasm for the game has not abated. Add to this the fact that the game is completely free and you have an MMO with an active community that will be around as long as Cyan continues to support the servers.
Social – 6
During my time in MO:UL I encountered no other players at all. I know there were others around because their names were listed as having visited my Bevin within the past 24 hours. Even in the public instance I visited I saw no one else. This could be because I had just started out in the game and was still in the beginning areas. I expect that I will find more of the game’s population as I progress further into the game.
The social aspects in-game consist of chatting, sharing pictures, passing on hints through your KI, or by inviting friends to your Relto or instance of an Age to help solve some puzzles. It is a very different social scene from the ones players encounter in more traditional MMOs. It is more helpful, more cooperative, and friendlier.
Value – 9
MO:UL is completely free to play with a donation button at log in if you feel the need to help support the game. You do not have to donate in order to get access to the complete game. Nothing is hidden behind a pay gate. There is no cash shop. In fact, no gameplay or cosmetic advantages are given for donations at all. If you’re a fan of the Myst single player games and want to give this incarnation a spin, or even if you’re just a fan of puzzles, it’s well worth the value.
Final Score – 7.9
Myst Online: URU Live is not your typical massively multiplayer online role-playing game. It is unique in many, very distinct ways. I must stress one point: If combat and PvP are your primary reasons for playing MMOs then you’ll want to pass this one up. There is no combat or PvP at all. Its central gameplay is puzzle based instead of combat based. Your Relto and the Ages that you visit are instanced and cannot be entered by anyone else unless you invite them. The world is one huge sandbox that you have to fully explore in order to discover clues that will lead you to the next step in a puzzle. The best thing about the game is that you don’t have to follow up on those clues if you don’t want to.