Riven review: Polished puzzle-solving

Cyan Worlds returns with a remake of its 1997 sequel to Myst, and while its solutions may sometimes be esoteric, the journey is beautiful, peaceful, and intriguing.

Image via Cyan Worlds

Myst creator Cyan Worlds has been on a streak of both polishing up its classic Myst series and adding to its overall catalogue with similar environmental puzzlers like Firmament. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that after Myst and Firmament, the team turned its attention to the sequel to Myst, 1997’s Riven. This remake upgrades it into a much more explorable world full of beautiful scenery, and while the puzzle solutions and progression may be a bit convoluted at times, it nonetheless feels like a compelling adventure.

A daring rescue across dimensions

Riven picks up almost immediately where Myst left off. Players once again take the role of their adventurer from the previous game, now at the assistance of Atrus, whom they aided in stopping his nefarious sons in the first game. This time around, Atrus tells us of his biggest plight. His wife, Catherine, has been kidnapped and whisked away to her home world in the Age of Riven. Her captor is Gehn, Atrus’ father, and he was trapped in the Age of Riven where he became its conqueror, with his main ambition being to seemingly escape and restore an ancient D’Ni civilization. Atrus is convinced that if Gehn escapes, D’Ni or not, he would conquer other worlds as well.

With that, the player is warped into Riven with a plan to rescue Catherine and capture Gehn in a mysterious Trap Book which looks like a portal to another Age, but would instead be a prison (much like the ones that contained Atrus’ sons in Myst). Many of the narrative beats in this remake play out in a similar fashion as the original. The main difference is that FMV has been removed in favor of 3D models, and the world itself is now fully explorable and observable in 3D fashion as opposed to the stiff look and travel in the original. I kind of miss the FMV just because of its charm, but the characters look very well animated, so it’s not all that bad. Also, being able to look all around Riven is a treat, and there are even special events you can observe that will net you achievements or trophies, so it’s even more fun to explore and look for Easter eggs. Many of the endings also return, so there’s some measure of replayability as you go through Riven’s journey and choose certain paths and actions.

Solving an environment like you’ve never seen before

Players facing Gehn in Riven.
Source: Cyan Worlds

Riven’s shift into a more realized and explorable world didn’t just make it even more beautiful to look at, it also boosted the involvement in gameplay and puzzles. This world is gorgeous. Much like Myst, Riven features a series of islands that the player must explore and unravel. They all feature vastly different experiences.

The first island is a rock fortress containing temples with alien scripture, with vast and varied mechanical technology strewn throughout it like a steampunk factory powering the mechanics of the sacred grounds. It won’t be long before you slip over to another island full of jungles and a village that rests on fissured waters (that is, water with massive divots that you can even climb down into). Every island contains all sorts of varied scenery to explore.

Players working a special contraption in a puzzle in Riven
Source: Cyan Worlds

The mysteries within these islands are a-plenty. Riven’s islands are filled to the brim with puzzles to solve and curiosities to unravel as you work towards your mission of saving Catherine and stopping Gehn. There are plenty of things you’ll come across early that you won’t have the means to solve until you come back later with either new knowledge or items to assist you, so this remake very much preserves Riven and Myst’s classic gameplay vibe of “look at and poke everything.” That can also lead it to feel incredibly esoteric as it’s just plain difficult at times to know what you should be messing with and when.

One of the ways Riven alleviates its difficulty in puzzles and clues is with a returning easy-screenshot system from Cyan Worlds’ previous games. With just a button push, you can quicksave a screenshot that is added to a special folder you can access in game. By bringing up your notebook, you can look at all the screenshots you’ve taken and reference them as need be. That’s helpful for when you know you need to do something, and the knowledge or clues you need were at a distant place. With this system, you can screenshot clues and information easily and reduce the need for intense backtracking. Make no mistake, though, some of this stuff is hard to piece together regardless of the helpful system.

Get Gehn and get out

A temple in a ball cage in Riven
Source: Cyan Worlds

Riven is another beautifully assembled upgrade of a classic for Cyan Worlds, and it seems to play more wonderfully than ever. The puzzles and exploration feel immersive, even if it gets a bit unwieldy with a lot of back and forth between the islands as you come back to solve certain puzzles later. Even then, the returning Notebook system does a great job of aiding in the easy access of clues and information if you use it effectively. With that said, this is also just a beautiful game to explore and whether you’re a returning player or discovering Riven for the first time, it's likely to be a peaceful and intriguing experience.

This review is based on a digital PC copy provided by the publisher. Riven comes out on June 25, 2024, on PC, PCVR, and Meta Quest systems.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

Review for
Riven (2024)
  • The new environment is gorgeous and diverse
  • Puzzles and exploration are very immersive
  • Notebook feature is a lifesaver if used well
  • Story and mysteries are compelling
  • Multiple endings return for replayability
  • Characters are well animated
  • Some puzzles can be esoteric and confusing
  • Hard to know where to go sometimes
  • Kind of a shame FMV didn't return
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