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URU EXPANSION PACKS:  'To Dn'i' and 'The Path of the Shell'

Reviewed by  Mark Hasley

So you've purchased and played URU.  And somewhere along the gameplay line, you decided that it is indeed a most wonderful game.  You loved it and wish to play more.  As a result, you ran out and purchased the Expansion Pack (which contains both To D'ni and The Path of the Shell ) and you are now looking forward to more of the ingenious joys that you loved in URU.  Well you're in for some treats, some thrills, and at least three significant irritations.

Perhaps a brief history lesson will explain why there are 2 games.  There were a lot of people who spent about $ 50 on URU when it first came out, because we were thrilled about the chance to go to D'ni Live and mingle with all the other MYST players in real time.  This was a noble experiment, but it didn't work out.  In order to make us feel less jilted, the Ubisoft folks made the To D'ni Expansion available as a free download for those of us who had wasted our money.  We got the game before anyone else.  Of course, we later had to buy The Path of the Shell, and To D'ni was included with it, but for awhile we all felt important.

The Expansion Pack consists of two separate additions to the original URU.  They come on one CD and can be loaded only if URU has been loaded already.  The control features, the Avatar, and the Relto system are all used in both expansion games.  The Avatar will once again start at the Relto, but there are some new additions.  There will be several new books on the shelves and several new clothing options available.  It's not necessary that the original game be finished, but the gamer must have completed at least part of the Gahreesan Age because that's where he gets his KI.  While all that KI did was open a few doors in URU, it will play a huge role in the gameplay for the Expansion Pack.  One new and thoroughly pleasant addition to the game package is a daily journal.  Here the player can write his own notes at the end of a gaming session.  It's fun and often helpful.  I've seen this device used on a few games since, but I think that URU invented it.  But both of the expansion pack games have their own intricacies, so I will deal with each of them individually.

To D'ni  is very much an urban game.  Virtually all of the movements take place in the city of D'ni itself.  The gamer's job is to solve all of the puzzles, and to somehow get an energy source called 'The Great Zero' to operate.  If successful, there will then be power in the ancient city, and all will be well.  There is a LOT of linking here.  The player will be wandering all over the place to find the answers for all of the puzzles, but that is part of the beauty of the game.  A player will get to see all of the ancient, decaying, but still magnificent civilization that was D'ni.  If the gamer has read the novels, it will all make absolutely perfect sense because he'll understand why things are what they are.  The genius of this game is that there really is a reason why the river is orange and the buildings are crumbled.  It's all incredibly beautiful and often pathetic to see the remnants of this great culture eroding into dust.  It is gloomily gorgeous.

There are several new elements here.  As I noted before, the KI is required and will be used a great deal.  The player will also discover the Nexus, which is sort of a central location that contains linking books for travel to a great many places in the city.  However, the real joy of this new addition is that it makes more sense of URU.  The gamer will again be able to visit all of those strange closed-off balconies that were visited in URU, but this time they will make sense and he'll be more able to appreciate and understand what he's looking at.  There are also several new Bharo Stones, which allow for short odd trips to unimportant but very entertaining places.  The player even gets to visit someone else's Relto.  And while wandering, the Avatar will keep picking up new articles of clothing ( By the time all three games have been played, the closet will be loaded! ).  There are also a lot of new Relto cards to find and apply.  And these, in turn, continue to add new elements to your Relto.

There are, of course, puzzles.  There are no timed puzzles, but several of them do require crossing and then re-crossing the entire city to find 'stuff ' and put it where it belongs.  The player will do this several times and use all of the various elements of the KI ( By the time the game is finished, it will be obvious that Captain Kirk would have loved having a KI ).  There is virtually no inventory collecting.  There are simply a lot of the usual complex and difficult but fair puzzles that MYST players have come to expect.  There is also a payoff.  When 'The Great Zero' finally does operate, it is an incredible sight to behold.

I should make two final notes on To D'ni.  As the player wanders, he constantly comes upon areas where the archeologists have been working.  The people who designed this game have made sure that there is a ton of material laying around for someone to read.  There are books of history.  There are several daily journals left at archeological sites which help explain what has happened as workers have attempted to reconstruct D'ni.  And there is an entire collection of dozens of books each of which contains the history of a particular king.  By the time all of this material has been absorbed, the player may begin to feel like there really was a D'ni.  The detail and cohesiveness of the writing make this an amazing experience.

This concept of realism is further supported by the ending.  This game has the most wonderfully wistful conclusion that I've seen in a long time.  I haven't yet mentioned that, throughout the game, the player constantly finds messages from an apparently rogue archeologist named Dr. Watson.  As the game ends, his last place is visited, his last book is read, and the end of the game is obvious.  It is very cleverly and reasonably done.  The gamer is left with the awareness of a logical conclusion, a sense that there is more to come, and an atmosphere of both pathos and warmth.

As soon as the first game is finished, it's time to move on to The Path of the Shell.  This game is the proverbial ' horse of a different color '.  It is full of strange ages, lovely scenery, entertaining puzzles, and some serious irritation.  It is sometimes, to use a word that I seldom apply to games, unfair.

In The Path of the Shell, the player begins in his Relto but quickly realizes that he must enter 'The Great Tree', which actually houses the path he is seeking.  In true MYST tradition, the route to that path is circuitous and requires lots of linking from Age to Age.  Of these new ages, it is Ahnonay that provides a unique gaming experience.  Here the game designers have combined the usual exquisite graphics with a whole new concept.  They have added 'Time'!

The player will visit this world in three different eras and will see some amazing sights.  However he can only link to different times in a particular order, and can only change positions by using the travel cloths (ok, shell cloths).  This makes it a long, involved, complex, and very entertaining puzzle.  Once the player figures out how things work, he'll still be linking to the Nexus and a cathedral a great many times.  In my opinion, it's fun and well worth the trouble.  As an example, there is one time level and location in Ahnonay that adds nothing to the game at all, but is so hauntingly, eerily beautiful that it's worthwhile visiting just to see the huge, unfinished nameless statue that was being completed.  As the gamer listens to the music and simply looks around, he'll know what Shelley was thinking when he wrote Ozymandias.

For awhile, the puzzles in this game are the usual difficult and complicated types, and the payoff is that when they are solved they make sense.  The age of Ercana is great fun because it's one of those highly detailed industrial worlds that MYST does so well.  And 'The Great Tree Pub' contains one of the cleverest 'red herrings' in the history of gaming.  The player will be duped so easily and quickly that he'll laugh at himself.  All in all, the first three-quarters of The Path of the Shell are exactly what they should be.  However, the last few parts of this game make some real assumptions.

NOTE: Some of you may wish to skip the next 2 paragraphs of this review, because they contain some spoilers.

There are two spots in the concluding section that require a player do NOTHING for quite some time.  The idea that a game requires me to stop playing and not move for 10 minutes ( twice! ), and later for 15 minutes, seems unreasonable.  These were real time minutes of non-function.  I don't think I'd have ever figured it out if I hadn't, by pure luck, received a phone call at exactly the correct time.  I moved the Avatar, talked for fifteen minutes, and then could move on.  I later experimented and learned that if I moved the Avatar at all during those fifteen minutes, then everything reset and I had to go to the proper spot and stop playing again for fifteen minutes.  At another time I had the same difficulty for a ten minute wait.  Then if I pulled the incorrect lever (which I did!), the time span started all over.  Again, I've never played a game that required me to stop playing for an extended period of time.  I'm still not sure that it was fair.

The final questionable element occurred when, toward the end of the game, the player revisits the original MYST  Island.  The developers assume that a person will remember the secret code to get out of the fireplace.  There are no hints here.  They simply assume that he'll remember.  Since most people have not played MYST in five years (some haven't played it at all!), and most are not as anal as I am about keeping and filing old notes, this assumption will cause some serious frustrations.  I honestly felt that both of these situations went far beyond reasonable expectations and resulted in puzzles that few could be expected to solve.

This, then, is The Expansion Pack for URU.  It is so consistently beautiful that I have run out of adjectives.  When discussing the graphics I feel as though I'm attempting to describe the paintings in the Louvre Museum.  They're all different and they're all magnificent.  And again, the music is perfectly suited to the scene in which it plays.  It's also true that by the time the end of the game is reached, there have been so many Relto cards that even the Relto (which started as a rather bleak place) is now a veritable Eden.  There's even a new island with a giant D'ni clock on top of it.  The puzzles are generally clever, unique and solvable.  The touches of plot are enough to keep the player on track.  My only criticism is that the final parts of the game seem a bit beyond reason.  All in all, these expansions to URU make it even finer than the excellent game it originally was.  I can live with the irritations that the last part causes.  Indeed, I will close this with a public note to the people at Cyan and Ubisoft...

MYST V is probably about finished and you have stated that the MYST series is finally ended.  If you're now bored and wondering what to do with yourselves, there is still a lot of space left for books on my Relto bookshelves, and I would love to have you fill it with further expansions. Please guys, I promise:

If you make it, I will buy!

 May 2005  Mark Hasley

Full View Screenshot

Developed (2004) by  Cyan Worlds  and published by  Ubi Soft Entertainment.

Rated:   E   for Everyone

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

Where To Buy This Game:

Walkthroughs or Hints:

"Coelho Buda's Walkthrough" available here!

"Graham's Walkthrough" available here!

"Great Zero Markers by Graham" available here!

"Coelho Buda's Walkthrough" available here!

Mr. Bill's   Adventureland
Copyright  May 2005
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