RIVEN is an absolutely gorgeous game, with a staggering attention to detail, but it has been for quite some time, in dire need of a UI overhaul.

A point-and-click 640x480 interface was fine in the mid-1990s but it's not going to gain a positive reaction for the modern gamer encountering this title for the first time. One review of Riven's iOS port describes the graphics as 'ancient' but they were absolutely jaw-dropping when the game first released in 1997 and I'd argue they still hold up as believable even though the UI they're a part of is quite dated by modern players' standards.

So why play Riven now?

Simple. It's the closest that any Myst game has come to a fully-realized fantasy world. It's Myst's equivalent of J.R.R. Tolkein's "Lord of The Rings" - slow-paced but remarkably rich in atmosphere and tiny details. It's not our world but it's one that feels credible and real, one that has richness and texture and history to it.

The story is strong and at times nearly masterful in its use of environmental storytelling, and when that extends to FMV, the FMV is actually fairly good. Rand Miller is competent still as Atrus, Catherine's actress (Sheila Gould) is likewise well-handled, and the game has a stellar villain in Atrus's father, Gehn (John Keston) who comes across as coldly menacing.

Puzzles are few and often highly difficult, but they're logical and although they often require plenty of wandering around to obtain the information needed to put things together, the strength of them here is that absolutely every single puzzle BELONGS in that world and never once does one of them feel arbitrary or tacked on.

Sound design? Superb, everything from the sound effects to the music score which remains arguably the apex of Robyn Miller's soundtrack work.

The world of Riven has five major regions and its own political/social history with both its indigenous culture and the colonialist culture of D'ni imposed on top of it (and subsequent resistance movement), its own detailed ecology with intriguing flora and fauna, and geology, its own occasional odd physics rules, even its own native Rivenese language, roughly derived from a mixture of elements of language material in New Guinea. Which makes it the series' second fictional language after the D'ni language - which also appears here. The D'ni numeric system is also introduced in this title, and yes, you'll be expected to understand a little of it even though it's a highly inventive rotating base-25 numeric system.

So yes, this is absolutely a substantial game with a massive level of depth and thought poured into its design. Even the title. Riven. Riven means 'torn apart/asunder'. Which describes the family relationship between Atrus and his father, the societal divisions on the age of Riven, even the physical structure of the age itself that's starting to break apart. The logo for Riven even has an oversized 'V' in its center splitting the name of the game. And V is a Roman Numeral 'five' and Gehn's use of five as a motif is everywhere in Riven - an extension of his obsession with D'ni culture given that the D'ni numbers are base 25 (5 by 5) and Riven has five major areas, filled with details in fives, like five-pointed engraved stars, a set of five domes, etc. And the name of the age and game, Riven, has five letters - split in half by that V.

So yes, Cyan thought this all through.

Cyan spent four full years making this, four years with 25 staff, a new studio space, and the latest technology for the time. They used Softimage, plus some custom shaders and tools built on top of it, and ran it on a batch of SGI workstations that were then the highest-end PCs possible to buy short of supercomputer custom builds. They cost $50,000 each circa 1994, and Cyan today refers to them as "expensive doorstops".

Even with such a cutting-edge rendering system, the gameworld was a true behemoth of intricate 3d data, and most frames of Riven took around 2-3 hours to render - at least two hours typically for each of the game's 2500+ stills.

Riven was a $10 million project for Cyan, roughly 15 times the production cost of 'Myst'.

Riven would go on to top the annual sales charts of 1997, the best selling PC game of that year.
The game sold roughly 3.5 million copies.

Myst fit on just one CD-ROM, but Riven? Riven was split onto five CDs or, in a slightly less compressed variation, one DVD. It was not a small game.

If Myst takes players around 10-15 hours to complete with no hints, or 4-5 in absolute best case, Riven often takes 25-40 hours without assistance, or 7-10 at minimum. It's not impossible to beat Riven but it's a genuine challenge and pretty hopeless if you aren't focused on the game and immersed in its world.

I saw one family member skip past the opening cinematics on the iOS version. That was a mistake. Don't do that! If you're impatient enough to be doing that... you're not the sort of person who will make it very far here. The opening scene with Atrus, pretty fully lays out in some rough form the entire outline of the game and central objectives. What Atrus is doing, what you need to do, and why.

Gehn is there ruling this world as a tyrant. He expects Atrus to return but this plan hinges on the fact that he does not know who you are. Find a way to trap Gehn somewhere outside of Riven (using a provided linking book). Rescue Catherine (Atrus's wife) so she can evacuate the Rivenese people and then return home to Atrus. Finally, signal Atrus to return with a link out.

There are other ages accessible during Riven, but they're very limited in scope compared to Riven itself. One is Tay, the Moiety/rebel age, another is Age 233 (Gehn's lab). They're pretty fascinating in their own right - Tay is so memorable that the view of it even is the singular image that appears on the box cover - and as a player I wished to see more of these other worlds as well as more of Riven itself.

In all, Riven was an extraordinary work of interactive art. It was astoundingly immersive, even enchantingly so, for its time and when Cyan remakes it in the near future - which they're doing - I imagine it'll wow people all over again.

Myst, when it first emerged, was beloved by critics, within gaming and outside of it. Rolling Stone, Time, other magazines that weren't even gaming-focused celebrated Myst as a maturation of video games to being a more fully realized art form. This acclaim helped spur further massive sales, which in turn triggered a burning backlash among many male gamers and 'gatekeepers' of gaming who did not understand or respect Myst's success.

So when Riven showed up and did what Myst did again, but even better in many areas, there were plenty of people, typically younger male gamers, predisposed to hate on its inevitable popularity.

Myst as a series is somewhat classifiable as fantasy/interdimensional steampunk but it avoids the pitfalls of steampunk which can risk glorifying a Victorian era culture. Riven is fairly clearly not doing so - its message is clearly anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, pro-freedom. In this way it uses the steampunk theme as a means to critique, not celebrate, historical wrongs and abuses of power by the white male European/American establishment.

This game is a product of the '90s but its story holds up as basically acceptable today even in a culture that's shifted a bit since. It's not a logical target of the left and in fact the one noted attempt to 'cancel' Myst games was made by a group of right-wing red-piller people online pretending to be woke leftists in a deliberate effort to make the left look absurd by targeting a rather innocuous series.

Any of this sort of criticism of Riven or the broader Myst canon usually came from those who don't know most of it all that well... and who typically dislike it for other unrelated reasons (hate puzzle games) and are looking for, grasping at straws for, something to hurt the series with and be offended by. Some way to persuade others not to play any more "Myst" games.

Any claims that Riven is 'racist' because you are asked to assist not only a white guy at the outset, but also a native culture, or 'sexist' because you're helping a woman, is I suspect less Cyan making insinuations about the weakness of men, indigenous societies, or women, or any particular group, or their inability to solve problems entirely on their own, and more a pragmatic reality of game design in which the player is the one expected to actively drive the story forward and not have things 'happen' around them all the time with no involvement on their part.

I'll also note here: Roughly 60% of the Myst playerbase and fanbase is female. The Myst MMO has a female player avatar as the default, which is nearly unheard of in gaming. Most cultural opposition to Myst games stems from the mainstream bro-gamer establishment, which is upset that these games were so successful in appealing to an audience beyond them.

I wish the criticisms had focused squarely on the reality (this sort of game is slower paced than other types of games, and the puzzles are sometimes too obtuse) and not on spurious and oft-disingenuous culture-war arguments. Those arguments were never the downfall of the Myst series anyway - the short attention span of the modern player was.

The intrinsic nature of this series as slower and mentally more difficult, requiring a high level of patience - not any particular controversy, where ultimately what led to not only the Myst series and the broader adventure genre, slowly receding into the background of gaming after Riven.

So... bro gamers won. Myst's general brand of gaming is niche and no longer widely relevant. That said: It's still possible someone will push something *sort of like* Myst into the zeitgeist again someday. It just requires a few fresh puzzle mechanics and good execution. As genres come and go in cycles, so Myst opened up a subgenre with [potential] mass appeal if done right, a genre that won't ever fully vanish but is for now, sort of resigned to obscurity.

As for whether Myst or Riven 'killed' the adventure genre, I'd argue they kept the genre in the public eye longer and more prominently than it otherwise might have been. Other truly innovative adventure titles were routinely tanking on the sales charts by 1997, including even the excellent 'Grim Fandango' which is often considered one of the best in the category. Riven's status as a sales hit helped prop up the perception of continuing success for the broader puzzle/adventure category and possibly made it seem 'still viable' at least a bit longer, perhaps even helping the likes of not only additional Myst titles but circa-2000 classics like 'The Longest Journey' and 'Syberia' get off the ground.

And even today, long after the genre's supposed 'death', there are puzzle/adventure titles being made, usually by the indie developer scene that has boomed since the mid 2000s and that has taken inspiration from the genre and from Myst, and pushed the category in new directions.

This genre is in no way dead, only dormant and currently resigned to the background, the land of indie gaming.

Riven was arguably the peak for Cyan as a game studio creatively, but it was also the start of Cyan's decline commercially. Myst blew the world away in '93 and Riven, despite being intricately detailed and deep on a whole other level, was only half as successful on sales charts.

I personally get the sense, having discussed my Myst obsession with others, that many of them couldn't get through Myst itself, much less Riven, which was the wider problem with this series. Myst was hard enough that many more casual gamers roped in by the then-amazing artistry of it never finished the thing, and Riven was harder than Myst was. Which meant no Myst title of any kind after Riven actually ever managed to sell even two million copies.

Riven, then, was the last time Cyan had a big hit doing their thing. They've never again managed to recapture that cutting-edge lightning in a bottle. Myst and Riven were both impressive acheivements that pushed the art of gaming forward into a range of realism that had previously not been reached. Cyan was never able to pull that sense of technological novelty off that again, and no matter how much effort went into their art direction, storytelling, puzzles, or sound design, the world had largely moved on and lost interest.

"It's not only phenomenal gaming, but a work of art." - Just Adventure (100/100)t
"This game is a masterpiece and worth every single penny." - Game Revolution (100/100)
"It's a perfect game for fans of this type of adventure and deserves to be every bit as popular as Myst." - Quandary, 10/10
"This game is so good that if I taught a class on interactive fiction, I would use it as my example of how to create a great quality game." - Adventure Gamers, 90/100
"I really loved this game, even more than I enjoyed Myst, but I would advise adrenaline junkies to stay far, far away." - Gamezilla, 9.2/10
"That dazzling indulgence for your eyes, coupled with the all-consuming sound effects, make this such an enjoyable world to wander through" - Adrenaline Vault, 9/10
"If you enjoyed Myst, you'll thoroughly enjoy Riven." - Gamespot, 78/100
"Even if you enjoyed Myst, you'll have a frustrating time with this sequel."  - PC Gamer, 4/10

Consensus of all reviewers: 83/100

The puzzle design was the overwhelmingly singular drawback to Riven for most critics who had bad things to say, as puzzles in Riven, though they fit the world seamlessly, by nature of that decision could be hard to separate from non-puzzle elements, and given the sheer size of Riven's central gameworld, pieces of information that players had to put together could be scattered far apart, making it difficult to put them together and often requiring a lot of backtracking. The 'marble' puzzle near the end makes sense but is deeply problematic in that it requires much backtracking and for many players much trial and error in placing certain marbles in the correct exact spots. As with Myst, be prepared to take notes and maybe map some things out.

The good news is the world remains beautifully crafted and dense in detailing even though you'll go through some areas a bunch of times by the end.

The second drawback to Riven is a more modern one that is seen often in reviews of the iPad port: The game's UI is ancient, low-resolution, and clunky, by modern players' standards.

Set these two problems aside and most every other aspect of Riven still fully holds up.

My view:
-Puzzle design (6.9/10, due to above mentioned problems)
-Controls and UI (5.6/10 now, it's still minimalist and intuitive but any UI of this type today feels limiting.)
-Storytelling (9.3/10)
-Art direction and environment design (9.8/10)
-Music score and sound design (9.7/10)

Overall: 9.1/10, but perhaps a bit clouded and skewed upward by nostalgia.
Reviewers of Riven in 1997 said: