Editorial Note: Uru: Expansion Pack 1: "To D'ni" has been incorporated into "Myst Uru: The Path of the Shell" (the expansion pack for "Uru: Ages Beyond Myst") and has also been incorporated into "Myst Uru: Complete Chronicles" which contains Uru in its entirety.
The Uru Live experience will continue through GameTap, and will release for the Holiday 2006 Season.
By now, most people know the sad tale of the development of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, and what befell it. However, it’s worth recounting because this story helps in understanding why the first Uru expansion pack, “To D’ni”, came to be, why it’s free, and what’s in it.
Uru has been in the makings for around six years or so. The idea of a Myst game with a realtime engine and online interaction between players was a long-term project of Cyan – so much that they allowed Presto Studios to develop Myst III – Exile to permit Cyan to have more time to spend on Uru. As I understand it, Uru was always intended to be a purely online experience.
Sometime in the middle of last year, the beta testing program for Uru was pulled, and a decision was made to retool the game so that it had both offline and online components. It was also ordered to be ready for Christmas. A great flurry was undertaken and finally the offline version of Uru was released in the stores last November. Customers were urged to sign up for Uru Live, which was ultimately intended as a paid subscription service but which would initially be available free.
For my money, Uru suffered somewhat from its shaky birth. The fact that it was never intended as a standalone offline game meant that it was probably never intended to have a well-realised, closed story; and the storyline (such as it was) for the offline game seemed pretty hasty, contrived and unsatisfying. The gameplay was also tantalising too, with many elements clearly intended to link into the ultimate online game.
People were also a little disappointed that after being promised they would finally see the great underground city of D’ni, we didn’t get to go there in the offline game (save for a few small dead-end areas that gave unsatisfying glimpses of the city whilst playing no real part in the offline game).
The online game was slow to get going. There was a delay of several days before anyone was given access to it; and even then only small groups of people who had registered were allowed in to see small areas of extra content. Servers were slowly ramped up but the experience was plagued by technical problems and limited capacity. No-one from Cyan or Ubisoft ever used the word “beta” – they preferred to use the term “Prologue”. But it was clear that they were woefully underprepared to go live. Many people defended the glitchy setup, and said “What do you expect from a beta?”. That missed the point – people expected that if the game was on the shelves and people were being invited in to the Live component, beta testing would have been completed and the game would be serviceable.
For whatever reason, even with no charge imposed, registrations for Live were a small percentage of the number of paying customers that would be needed for it to be a viable proposition. Maybe your average Myst player doesn’t like online multiplayer games. Maybe broadband penetration was less than was assumed (customers were told they needed broadband to play, although this was clearly not true). Maybe word of mouth about the poor quality of the online experience got out and people were waiting until the bugs were ironed out to sign up. But the end result was that in early February, Cyan and Ubi announced that the plug was being pulled on Live and that efforts were instead being channelled into producing expansion packs for the offline game.
And that’s where we come in with “To D’ni”, which is now available as a free download of around 180MB in size from various download sites.
Don’t let the relatively small size of the download fool you. “To D’ni” actually contains more content than you might think, principally because it unlocks a lot of material that was included on your Uru disk but was not accessible in the offline game (unless you went messing around with the files and hacking your game, which many did in frustration while waiting to get into Live, and many more did after Live was cancelled). If you weren’t in Live, there’s a whole lot more to see, including a substantial part of the city of D’ni. If you were in Live, there is a lot that you will recognise, although there is a little more plot tying it together.
Cyan went to great pains to make the original Uru Live concept a credible story that evolved in real time (well, as credible as any story about discovering an ancient highly evolved civilisation in a huge cavern below New Mexico can be). The story was that the D’ni Research Centre, a privately (but very well) funded organisation, was opening up the city of D’ni to new explorers, and reviving the various ages written by the D’ni. You were one such explorer. However, there was conflict about the pace of the restoration, and also its philosophy. Several naysayers were making vague portentous prophecies as to what might happen. When Live was cancelled, the DRC website (www.drcsite.org
) made mention of withdrawal of funding and stated that the DRC was leaving the cavern. However, it appears not everyone has left…
First access to the expansion pack will probably give you an initial thrill, followed by frustration. Poking around, you will discover new linking books on your bookshelf, a new link to a new area in the Cavern, and a whole new array of clothes in your closet. You will also be able to link to the Ferry Terminal in the City. But you won’t get far, as a line of barricades left by the DRC blocks your progress.
Discovering what to do is by no means obvious and demands some patience. Players would be advised to revisit the five principal Ages from the offline game. In doing so you’ll discover some new items of clothing scattered around, and hopefully happen upon the carefully hidden clue that will start you on your new journey.
Since the free expansion pack is basically Cyan and Ubi’s way of apologising for the loss of Live, much of what you ultimately see was available to players of the online game, although you will have to work a bit harder to gain access to areas which, previously, you could walk straight into. The major puzzle is also very similar to a puzzle (of sorts) which was available in Live. There is still more to see for players who were in Live (for example, you can access some parts of the City that were previously unavailable) but there is nothing like (for example) another Teledahn or Kadish.
The X-Pack contains lots of pretty goodies (clothing, avatar customisations, new decorations for your personal age (Relto)), and a lot of new ground to cover in the Cavern, but actually contains very little in the way of puzzles. And unfortunately, most of the puzzles are not terribly logical. It is really just a matter of guesswork to figure out where to look for your first hint as to how to progress beyond the initial stages. This then presents a second, more logical, puzzle, which opens up a bit more new ground, and presents a third puzzle, which is also reasonably logical. Once this is unlocked, however, the next puzzle requires a lot of interminable searching through a large area for diffusely scattered objects, and precious little in the way of clues as to where they might be. It’s like looking for needles in haystacks. You know they’re in there, but you just have to look in exactly the right place to find them. Once you have solved that long, involved, multi-part puzzle, there is a final rather silly puzzle to reach the end game. Someone who was in Uru Live and completed the main online puzzle there will probably zoom through the main puzzle in the X-Pack, due to some strong similarities. Others will take longer, but at least you can look at the scenery.
It's hard to put a number of hours on the game. It took me a couple of hours to solve the first puzzle (or perhaps I should say, it took me a while to FIND the first puzzle!), but once I did the rest of the game fell out very easily and I finished it in about three hours. However, that was partly because of things I knew from Live. If I hadn't been online, some puzzles would have taken much longer, and I would have spent longer admiring the scenery.
The release of “To D’ni” was initially slated for early March, but was held back until this week for quality control purposes. This seems to have resulted in a reasonable quality product. For someone who had been involved in Live, it was a relief to be able to wander through the city and neighbourhoods without the interminable lags and crashes that characterised my online experience; although the game did sometimes pause very briefly in places which is something I had not noticed before in the offline game. Uru in general makes big demands on your system, so make sure you meet specifications. You will need Uru installed on your hard drive to play the X-Pack, and you will also need your Uru CD – so those of you who gave it away to mates, ask for it back!
I also went into the X-Pack from the perspective of someone who had finished the main offline game. I anticipate that if you installed the X-Pack before you'd finished the main offline game, you might well get confused with the new storyline diverting you from your tasks in the main offline game. I haven't tried starting the expanded game from scratch with a new character, but my advice to people would be to finish the main game first before installing the X-Pack lest confusion result!
Although the storyline is reasonable for a small add-on to a larger game, it still has a cobbled-together feel about it – again, no doubt because of the nature of its conception. Cyan and Ubi are to be congratulated for salvaging something from the Live debacle and ensuring that we are given access to the City. It is a shame, however, that the X-Pack is basically scenery and pretty though inconsequential add-ons, and that the puzzles are primarily frustrating hunts through vast areas with little in the way of clues behind them.
Cyan have promised a second X-Pack in a few months time, to release the rest of the content that had already been completed for the online game. We’ll have to pay for this one, although if you haven’t yet downloaded the first X-Pack it will reportedly be bundled with the second. Hopefully, now the pressure has been released somewhat, Cyan can put some more time into a more rewarding gameplay experience. Pretty scenery and avatar customisations are all very well, but Uru is not The Sims. Players of Myst games expect an array of challenging but logical puzzles, and a well-integrated storyline. I would hope that the second X-Pack can deliver on both fronts.
My score: 3 out of 5