It can’t be easy to try to capture lightning multiple times. Myst was an incredible achievement in gaming for its time, introducing players to a varied and mysterious world that exercised mental abilities to solve abstract and interesting environmental puzzles. Riven was also pretty dang good afterwards. Many years later, Cyan Worlds (composed of many of the same developers who created Myst) has returned with Firmament. Similar to Myst, Firmament takes players on a lonely but compelling journey, navigating realms filled with strange and complicated machinery and unraveling the mysteries of what happened to all who treaded these paths before you. It’s not a puzzle game for the faint of heart. Firmament can get ridiculously abstract at times and doesn’t hold your hand, but cracking its secrets and opening new paths come very close to the same excitement and intrigue that drew me to Myst so long ago.
We are the Keepers
Firmament begins with the player awaking from a deep, artificial sleep in a mysterious mechanical room. Your only company is the spiritual form of a being that claims to be your mentor. She claims you are a Keeper, she was a Keeper before you, and there were once many other Keepers as well. She also introduces you to a tool known as the Adjunct. It can tap into Sockets around Firmament’s realms and activate various functions in the machinery about. It’s your primary tool for interacting with the world. There’s just one last thing. Your mentor also tells you that she cannot necessarily be trusted.
What follows is a quiet, yet visually mesmerizing journey through the realms. They are quite abandoned, yet there are signs everywhere that Firmament was once bustling with beings that operated and maintained the machines you see about. While your mentor guides you and tells you of her memories of these places, she also adamantly states that she will not handhold you through the journey. You must discover the secrets of this world for yourself.
What a beautiful journey it is. Firmament’s environments are easily one of the high points of the game. You’ll wander through vast and snowy mountains through an ice factory full of pipes and cranes for the purpose of producing water. Another realm takes you through a hillside vault overgrown with vegetation, as well as complex trolley and elevator systems that house the precious sealed treasures of the previous occupants and a botanical garden system, just to name a few. Firmament’s environments are absolutely gorgeous and bristling with detail. It’s detail you’ll want to soak in as much as you can, because the environment is almost always your key hint to how to move forward in the game.
Firmament’s gorgeous environments are also accompanied by a rather pleasant soundtrack, though not overused. You’ll hear songs punctuate the arrival at a location or play low against the background of your exploration and contemplation. More often than not, the environment’s soundscape also fills in the void, whether it’s the scraping of machinery, the clinking of your footfall on metal and rocks, or the whistling wind as you gaze out over vast stretches of land. I will also say that Firmament also feels oppressively lonely at times. Your mentor, trustworthy or not, is often there to break the quiet with exposition or explanation of what’s happening, what you’re seeing, or her memories, but when you get stuck on a puzzle and there’s no exposition to be had, it can be dreary to get caught up in the silence looking for any way forward. Outside that qualm, Firmament is another visual and aural feast from Cyan Worlds with a compelling mystery to keep the player moving forward.
Open the way, any way you can
As with many Cyan Worlds games, contemplative environmental puzzle-solving is at the core of Firmament, and at the center of that puzzle-solving is the Adjunct. This arm-mounted device interacts with sockets scattered throughout machinery in Firmament’s realms to let you do a variety of things. You might use a socket to move a hanging crane or lower it to grab an ice block that you can then use as a makeshift bridge. You might also use it to connect and disconnect trolleys in a system and elevate yourself to higher grounds. You also gain upgrades throughout the game that expand the Adjunct’s capabilities.
Most importantly, observing your environment and using the Adjunct appropriately is key to moving forward in Firmament. There might be numerous sockets in a given area, and Firmament most certainly encourages you to experiment and see how you can manipulate the various machines around you. However, it’s figuring out the correct machines and what you need to do with them that makes the game a little more complicated. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing in the slightest, but it doesn’t take long for Firmament to really start to flex your knowledge in how you handle your Adjunct and the sockets in the world.
The sheer variety of things you can do with the Adjunct and socketed machinery and the sheer lack of guidance in your actual progress for the most part are both a strength and a weakness of Firmament. On one hand, the contemplative silence feels like an important part this game and even when I’m having trouble figuring it out, it gives me plenty of time to ponder on how to move forward. That said, there’s also no hint system here. If you get seriously stumped, you’re just kind of stuck. You can’t really die and there aren’t exactly fail states to speak of beyond just not being able to progress. The only lifeline you have is a teleport in the pause menu that will take you to a safe space if you do something like get stuck in a wall or fall off the map. You can also undo a lot of your actions, but yeah, those looking for a gimme when things get really hard to solve are out of luck here.
Where did they go? Where are you going?
Firmament was an extremely meditative puzzle solving experience. I applaud Cyan Worlds for continuing to design these games without flashy ruckus, time limits, or deaths to speak of. It’s a peaceful journey through vast and mysterious lands full of wild and interesting machinery built into beautiful natural surroundings. However, as is often the case with Cyan Worlds games, Firmament is also a test of patience and sheer experimentation. You could spend extremely long periods of time stuck on a spot in this game and the only thing you can do is either quit and come back later or figure it out. Nonetheless, it presents another mystery I felt compelled to solve and I feel that other puzzle-minded players will thoroughly enjoy the variety of ways you can use the Adjunct and unlock Firmament’s secrets.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Firmament launches on May 18, 2023 for PC, and at a later date for PS5, PS VR2, and PS4.
- Breathtakingly beautiful environments
- A fascinating core puzzle interface
- Great soundscape between noise and music
- Wide variety of exploration and interaction
- Puzzles can get confounding quickly
- There is no hint system if you get stuck
- Can be almost oppressively quiet at times
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Firmament review: A grand menagerie of quiet mystery
Oooh I forgot this was coming out..it has VR support too