Riven - PC (Steam) Review

Riven by developer and publisher Cyan Worlds Inc.PC (Steam) review written by Susan N. with a copy provided by the publisher.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Wow. Riven. It's been redone and it is beautiful. And I can't believe I'm back here again.

Let me start at the beginning. I know you have questions and I can't answer them because there is no time, but suffice it to say Catherine is in trouble. I have to send you back to the world that you may have been to before. Back to Riven. But things have changed since 1997. And I can't send you back with a way out, so I'll have to send you with this book to trap Gehn. Now please, take this and save my wife and stop Gehn before it's too late. I must finish my work. Go. Please.

Back Story Time!

Those of you who are not familiar with the famous series of Myst, you will be undoubtedly confused about the introduction to this review. For everyone else, you may be smiling because I tried to spin my introduction like Riven begins. I did this deliberately because I, like many people, played all five games in the 90s. Myst is the first of the five games and at that time I became enthralled immediately in this world. 

Myst is a game that people hold in high regard because it kicked off the puzzle game genre in a way that no other game could. It spawned games like Riddle of the Sphinx, Starship's Titanic, The Crystal Key, and a whole host of others usually published by a company named 'The Adventure Company'. After I played Myst, I became hooked on all of those sorts of games, but none of them seemed to engulf me in the universe quite like this little single CD-ROM game did. When Riven released a couple years afterwards, I immediately grabbed it. This five disc game was the only one that I remember being that large. 

To make a long story short, Riven was the single hardest puzzle game out there. Part of that was due to the fact that internet access was limited and somewhat costly. Playing anything on dial-up and 2600 Baud Modems was a challenge, to say the least. There was no cloud gaming to hold your save files, so they had to be contained on the computer directly. Plus, CDs and DVDs had their limitations. But aside from the ease of guides and walkthroughs of today's games, back in the 90's, we had to figure things out on our own. To further the difficulty is that Riven is not a linear game. There are plenty of titles that have a straightforward narrative, but as I said, Riven is legendary because it did not follow that kind of system. The remake holds true to that same concept. And while they made the color marble puzzle - the reason why this game is the hardest of the series - simpler, it has been changed in a way to be more challenging. And suffice it to say, we spent *months* on the color marble puzzle back in the day. (Admittedly, it makes sense now but back then I didn't understand the logic of the puzzle. Younger me was definitely not a mastermind.)


When you first begin Riven, you are in a relatively dark room with a man who is writing profusely in a book. At this point you have no idea what he is writing nor why it is more important for him to finish what he was doing before he even addresses you. Once Atrus does look up to speak, you're met with a sense of confusion, wonder, and perhaps bewilderment, as he stresses the importance of a few tasks you must complete. He asks you to save Catherine as she has been trapped in Riven. He tells you that the world of Riven is unstable and the issues with the place cannot be fixed. Finally, he tells you that under no circumstances should you give his father means to escape. You will have to trap him there. 

Oh readers, this burden is rather heavy for the beginning of the game, but it is relatively familiar given the nature of the 'good' ending of Myst, its predecessor. So, we save Catherine, trap Gehn, and get out of there post haste. Simple enough? *cackles* Oh no. Oh no no no dear reader. 

Upon entering Riven, you awaken in a prison cell with some gentleman talking to you incomprehensibly. He's clearly surprised that someone is in the cell. Perhaps he even hopes that you will be the answer the people are looking for. But before you can try communicating with him, he's knocked out from behind and dragged away. Your savior is gone. To make matters worse, the man who clearly took out the person speaking to you says nothing as he takes the linking book from you and then breaks a lever that is a couple of meters away. Then he leaves you there to wonder what the &*^%$% just happened. And also, why did he break the lever to begin with? This is a question that has no answer at this time.

So here you are, in a world you are unfamiliar with, sent by someone you barely know, and surrounded by people who speak an entirely different language from your own. Let me tell you lovely readers that it is a whole other experience when you are in a place where English is not the primary language spoken. Anyways, you might be asking what you're to do from this point on. And that would be an excellent question but the whole point to the Myst series is to figure it out as you go along. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get to important places and without the limitations of prohibitive loading times between discs, you are free to roam as you may in this spectacular 3D environment.

Much of the storytelling is told through various notes that you find at different points. These notes often give clues to puzzle solutions or they spark the 'A-HA' moment when a solution becomes apparent to you. Aside from these notes, there isn't a straightforward way to get to the end. Part of the main appeal of the series is to fiddle with buttons and levers until everything starts to make sense. The journey is greater than the solution in this case. And Riven allows you to figure things out at your own pace. So long as you get Catherine and yourself out of there, everything will be fine. Hopefully.


Since Riven is not told in a linear way, I can't just ruin the experience by giving solutions or talking about the brilliance of the puzzles themselves. What I will say is every puzzle can be logically figured out. For instance, the clues to solving a puzzle is often not in the same location as the puzzle itself. In fact, you'll be traveling between the five islands often. As you see more of the D'ni culture and language, the society's dynamics become more clear. When you start to see subtle clues in various places, the story of Riven unfolds.  

Another point of note about Riven, and any game within the series, is that to solve some of the puzzles it is much easier to have a notebook and pen handy. So far, I have several pages of notes connecting symbols and numbers together. These become integral to Riven as well as future games in the series. And strangely enough, the D'ni language itself follows a pattern. It may not be readily apparent but everything you see that is awe-inspiring and different is likely meant to assist with a puzzle somewhere. You just have to find them. Hence the importance of a notebook. 

Something that is worth mentioning is the idea that many of the puzzles cannot be brute forced. Each puzzle has a solution that will logically make sense or the solution will be plainly found within the notes you find throughout the game. Even the hardest puzzles can be solved with some note taking, whether that is done in game or out. While the in-game notebook is not perfect when scribbling non-sensical symbols, it is a system that was highly used in the later games. Anyways, I will not be spoiling any of the puzzle solutions, but I will say that it is important to be highly observant. Trust me.

Audio and Graphics

First let's talk about the audio in Riven. It is masterfully done. While the music itself may be sparse in areas, the sound effects make you feel like you are physically transported to this foreign world. The birds will chirp happily, strange creatures will protest when you get too close, and the water effects make you feel like you are standing right there. What's really interesting about the audio in Riven is that a lot of the sound design from the original game was used in this remake. It's a little bit like revisiting an old childhood home after its been repainted and lived in by other people. The memories are still present but the visuals are vastly improved upon.

On the topic of graphics, much of Riven had to be redone from the ground up. As a subscriber to the newsletter, I can tell you that taking a 2D point and click adventure game into a fully 3D space was no easy feat, but Cyan did it. Yet, while the visuals of familiar places are drastically improved, there are some short comings with updating the game to modern standards. The only failing with respect to the graphics are the animated representations of the original actors from the 1997 version. It makes sense that Cyan would take this approach because there are unfortunately some actors who have sadly passed. While I understand the decision to use animation in place of real actors, the visuals negatively impacts the beautiful world behind them. Unfortunately, the performance of the animations doesn't sell the urgency as much as a real actor would, but the good news is that this is one of the few flaws of the game that would otherwise be perfect. 

The only other negative point to bring up is some of the water effects. In most cases, it is beautiful and realistic. Paired with the impressive audio to add the immersion of Riven, the water effects are breathtaking; that is until you see a few gaping holes in the water animations. Though it doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the game, these holes were quite obviously glaring. I can only hope that this is only an issue with my graphics settings.

Final Thoughts

Riven is beautiful. It is brilliant. It is a masterpiece that stands the test of time with its updated graphical design, slight puzzle changes to be friendlier for players, and audio that still provokes a ton of nostalgia. I cannot even begin to describe how much both Riven and Myst have shaped my love of puzzle games. Riven in particular frustrated me as much as it fascinated me back in the 90s, and it now fills my head with a sense of wonder and nostalgia at the same time. In fact, this particular series has shaped my love for puzzle games so much that I have often dreamed about having a Myst room in my ultimate home. Complete with the dagger. (A dagger which inspired a physical purchasable replica that I sadly wasn't able to buy.)

Riven is filled with familiar images that nag at my brain as I recall aspects of puzzle solutions but not where to find them or how to get there. It has kept me on my toes the whole way through while causing me to once again stare into space as I did as a child. And in 2024 the game has been brought to life for a new generation of gamers to experience for themselves, which is amazing. I can only hope that it is enjoyed without modern gamers using a guide to complete. Suffice it to say, I have so much praise for Riven that it receives a 9.5 from me!

Score: 9.5 out of 10

Article by: Susan N.



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