Riven (Remake)


Review by · July 3, 2024

It’s 1997, and you just sat down in the computer room on a summer evening to relax and stay up late playing videogames without worrying about school. You boot up Riven and enter a dimly lit, expansive stone chamber, seemingly underground yet not cramped or claustrophobic. Intricate carvings extend around pillars and over archways that frame a large, ponderous writing desk. A man sits, intent and appearing as if he hasn’t stopped writing for some time. He looks up and immediately expresses, “Thank God you’ve returned. I need your help.” He continues writing, mentioning the background you should know and offering his journal by way of explanation because he can’t leave his work. Our mysterious author is sending us to a place named Riven, and we’re not going there with a way out. The book looms large, and you practically fall into it as the image on its right-hand page fills your vision until you’re suddenly there, in the place you saw on the page.

Despite decades passing and interest in the Myst franchise waning with some of the later titles, the team at Cyan appears intent on living up to the series creed that “…the ending has not yet been written.” The studio is alive and well, supporting indie developers with Cyan Ventures, and releasing new titles like Firmament and Obduction. Iterations of Myst Island (of varying quality) have appeared consistently since the series started. And now, after over a quarter of a century, Riven has a remake. There’s a great deal of history that you should know, but I’m afraid that…it’s best to experience it for yourself. Still, I’m happy to record my experience and impressions as a repeat visitor.

I hope I conveyed a fraction of the mood in Riven‘s opening above and all the fantastic hooks and breadcrumbs there. It’s difficult to recreate that intense, first-person sense of immersion and exploration from the first two games in the Myst series: that sudden landing in a quiet but intriguing place begging to be explored. It’s a bewitching combination of beautiful spaces to explore and smart, attention-supporting game and puzzle design decisions that drive you to observe and understand the world. It’s a quiet space—whether on Myst, an Age, or one of Riven’s islands—where you and your imagination can wander, and the rewards for your discoveries are satisfying. Namely, the reward is a rich narrative about a mysterious Art allowing the user to write linking books to real places, seemingly creating worlds, and around the last few individuals wielding this awe-inspiring power.

The critical question remains: How did updates and repairs go on Riven in the intervening 27 years? Unlike the titular Age, the original game, though clunky due to it pushing the limits of then-current systems, was stable and considered an example of what was possible in gaming and technology. Does this new version enhance the overall experience and make it more engaging and accessible, like Atrus’s attempts to stabilize Riven to save Catherine and the inhabitants? Or does it feel like reactive attempts to fix an imperfect foundation, like we’d expect from one of Gehn’s experiments? For me, the Riven remake is a resounding success on several levels, akin to revisiting a favorite childhood destination after a long absence and finding it updated but still feeling like itself. It could be a case study in game adaptation and preservation, reminding me of how Cyan partnered with a museum replica company to create Riven artifacts when the original game was released.

Within the first few moments of arriving on Riven, I was struck by how gorgeous it looked. The original game made full use of every available 1997 resource—such as full-motion video—to achieve its stunning looks, and as such, it spanned five discs (bonus point, since five is a significant number in the in-game world). This remake looks exactly like my young and positive impression of those graphics, even so many years later. The many types of water, in particular, look like nothing I’ve ever seen. The gameplay allows you to take time and enjoy the vistas, going from the original’s static point-and-click interface to a largely free range of motion in the remake, the better to look around with. There’s minimal inventory and one item you control with the R key to investigate the environment. Each island is its best self, providing all the more encouragement to explore. Even Gehn’s Age 233 gets a glow-up and looks eerie, but more distinct and less terrifying.

A sweeping vista with Riven's telltale gold dome in the Riven remake.
Well, that’s new. I’m gonna journal about this!

Though worthy of high praise, the visuals in this new Riven do not universally impress across platforms. Naturally, VR graphics are a different standard than a “flatscreen” PC game, but immersion and graphics are so important to the core experience that I need to mention it at least in passing. This is most obvious with the character models, which seem less detailed compared to the environments on PC, though in footage I’ve seen of the VR experience, these character models seem to fit in better. Otherwise, Riven has always been a graphics-heavy experience, so bear that in mind. I didn’t have any problems with my default settings, but I would expect some stuttering or potential issues if I were to crank up the settings, so depending on your setup, adjust your settings accordingly!

Recreating Riven in any form is undeniably a triumph due to the loss of original assets. All the work started from the ground up, and it started long before Cyan got involved with a fan remake called the Starry Expanse Project. I can’t imagine the monumental effort they undertook to recreate those assets and program the game from nothing. Cyan opted to collaborate with the group, utilize their work where possible, and hire a representative from their team to see the project through. Some fans who have been unhappy with Cyan’s previous work may disapprove, but for me, this feels like one of their best recent efforts.

Plot and puzzle solving are inextricably linked in Riven. The plot relies on you making your way across the islands and finding ways to fulfill your aims, and there is no way to do that without solving puzzles to gain access to information and new places. You have two main objectives, made clear during that first conversation in the library: Rescue Catherine, author of Myst Island and Atrus’s wife, and trap Atrus’s power-mad father Gehn, who has been stuck on Riven (despite his ability to Write) since Atrus and Catherine last left. The original game had puzzles fantastically integrated into the pathways getting to and around the islands, with different and appropriate puzzles depending on whether you’re investigating Gehn’s attempts to escape Riven and lord over the locals or navigating the traditional Rivenese domain. Puzzles in this updated version are similar to the original, and for the ones that have changed, the intent was likely to create a sense of flow or cohesion.

I have two favorite changes. First, I love how they expanded the role of the star fissure. Originally, there was one fissure with the potential for others, showing just how unstable Riven as an Age has become. In the remake, reading Gehn’s journal teaches you about several other fissures that he has attempted to seal and harness for his escape (maintaining the detail that he sent other Riven natives in before him to ensure it was safe—he did this with the one fissure in the original). You even get to briefly venture through the starry expanse, which is beautiful with the updated visuals. The second change involves following the clues left by the Moiety—the Rivenese who oppose Gehn—to find their hideout. The original puzzle made excellent use of the natural Riven environment while hijacking one of Gehn’s projects—teaching D’ni numerals—to convey hidden information about where the Moiety is hiding. I ultimately decided I liked the updated version because, while the secret information is easier to discover and loses a little from a narrative perspective, it still makes use of the natural environment, streamlines gameplay significantly, and gives more detail about their struggle.

I’ve often marveled at an idea as familiar as “books transport you to other worlds” transforming into narrative game experiences where you rarely encounter another soul, but a rich tapestry of actions, consequences, and interactions unfolds through your exploration. Yet, Riven has always accomplished this. I’ve been fortunate to replay most of the series with a newcomer, and that sense of wonder absolutely survives as the games age; this new version is worthwhile and definitely the most beautiful way to experience it.


Gorgeous visuals, puzzles require work but feel more cohesive, books.


Some may find exploration gameplay style too slow, some graphical hiccups, so many numbering systems.

Bottom Line

Riven remains an enchanting place to visit, though not everything appears exactly as it was.

Overall Score 88
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Hilary Andreff

Hilary Andreff

Officially, Hilary focuses on proofreading and QA here at RPGFan and has been with the team since early 2017. You can also find her on the occasional podcast, doing a music review, or helping make a news post once in a while. Unofficially, she responds immediately to any talk of a Quintet game or the Shadow Hearts series and is known for pushing RPGFan's graphic adventure coverage. She may be one of the most likely staff members to make a friendship speech.