Played on Windows
Also Available on macOS and PlayStation 4.
25 years ago, in 1993, Cyan released Myst and it was unique, impressive, and something truly different for a video game. It’s an experience where the player could explore a number of unique worlds and had to solve puzzles to advance a story and open up new locations It was so successful it spawned a number of sequels turning into a very powerful franchise. 25 years later, I’m playing Obduction, also from Cyan, which came out a couple of years ago. So how is it?
Well first, let’s deal with the Myst Franchise connection. Obduction seems to be an entirely new game from Cyan, unrelated to Myst’s lore. That doesn’t mean that Obduction hasn’t been heavily inspired or related to Myst, it’s just that Obduction doesn’t appear to be in the same universe or canon as Myst.
Obduction starts rather innocently. The player walks around a campground on a trail and sees some lights over a body of water, if they are looking in the right direction. As they walk, the lights get closer and seem to come directly up to the player, shining brilliant and taking them to another land.
It’s an interesting and simple opening that helps teleport the player to a foreign world, even if it looks like the old west. From there the player is now able to explore and experience the new world attempting to uncover its mysteries.
From there the story evolves, and I hesitate to really go into the main story too much for two reasons. First, the story is what you’re coming for in Obduction. You will solve puzzles but each puzzle reveals more lore for you to look at. The true point of Obduction is that you get to learn more and more about the strange land you find yourself in and potentially what is going on. You could even say the final puzzle is understanding the full story and what is going on.
On the other hand, I have to admit, I had to look up a few things from other fans to understand pieces that I missed along the way, or was in big exposition dumps. Everything I’ve seen and the answers I’ve gotten seem to fit, and I think the game is complete in its story, however, I won’t admit to fully understanding it without some reference guide open in front of me.
Still, I enjoy the story of Obduction a lot. There is one character you can communicate with, though similar to Myst, you mostly see it through videos through a door opening and the only interaction you have with him is by pressing a doorbell to summon him. There’s no direct communication with anyone and you’re limited to discussions where the NPC is telling you what to do with no interaction. Still, this is Cyan, and it’s to be somewhat understood. If you had access to this character, pretty much the question I would ask is “Why don’t you do it for me?” as they know most of the answers and tend to give steps in cryptic fashions.
Sadly you never get to actually interact with this character other than summon him
Though that does become a bit of a problem. They’ll tell you to do X but won’t give you any hint on how to do X, and the fact is, they should because they would have done the opposite of X at some point, so to not give some further instruction is quite annoying.
Now, I understand the gameplay here for the most part. The idea is to collect information and use it to solve stuff. It’s rather entertaining, the moment when you get a spark of inspiration and figure out how to reach a new area is great, and putting together a complex solution gives a great feeling of accomplishment. At the same time, near the end of the game, I would have killed for a checklist. To beat the game you need to do four specific tasks, and each requires a rather large number of steps to do each one. The problem is, if you put this game down or stop before the end like I did for one task, you can easily miss something critical. There’s one step I needed to do in a world before I finished the game, and sadly, I didn’t realize there was anything left to do in that world, and I was stuck for a while staring at my screen.
Before we discuss the puzzles and flow of the game, I do want to talk about the worlds you travel through a bit more. Now leaving the story to one side, I have to say the worlds in Obduction are really impressive. I really liked the environments that you explore and well…. I got stuck a few times because I didn’t notice a hallway the first time through a room, I eventually figure out the layout of these lands rather quickly. There’s a lot of different locations, which is a fun experience, and I really enjoyed seeing new locations appear before me as I got further into each location and tried to figure out what to do next.
The first world you find and the only one I’ll discuss in any detail is a world that feels a bit like a wild west ghost town. It has a home at the beginning, but also railroad tracks, and a number of empty buildings. It’s rather well designed, and I enjoyed walking through it a few times.
It’s a dead world surrounded by an alien one.
Eventually, though you’ll figure out a few tricks and open up the rest of the world and start to find technology in a couple of places. Giving what feels like an old dying world a touch of technology feels interesting and some of the unique setups surrounding the technology is fun to explore. The same is true for all the worlds you visit, each one has a unique design philosophy, as well as an architectural style. It’s the level design that stands out in each area, and I have to admit, I enjoy walking through each location.
So let’s talk about the gameplay. The first thing and the most surprising to me was the game allows you the ability to walk anywhere you want. You can walk around and explore the environment to your heart’s content, and it started me thinking. With a large enough definition, was Myst the first walking simulator? I think I could argue it was just with more of a slideshow feel than true walking. Of course, that’s not meant as a negative, just the majority of these games are walking around, exploring environments and trying to figure out what to do next, and Obduction feels like it fits in with that same category of games.
However, if you do want to go the traditional Myst root, instead of standard WASD movement through the world, you can choose to play with a point and click interface and manually move through the world by pointing at nearby locations. It seems limited to certain location nodes, and most of these are rather close.
Now it might be possible that the second movement system was put in place due to the fact these games allow VR control. However, I turned it on for less than ten minutes and quickly turned it off. There’s a real problem with the point and click interface.
You see, as a theory, it’s not bad, however, there’s too much movement required in the game. I found while exploring I would often have inspiration that would take me across the entire map. None of these were very long treks, maybe 5-10 minutes at the most depending on where I was going and if I had to transition worlds, but the point and click interface seemed to put me at a heavy disadvantage. The movement steps seemed to be too short on the movement, and without a map that allowed me to quick travel, I quickly realized how long it would be to get around with the point and click interface.
That’s not to say there’s a right way to move in Obduction, but I would say that the game was designed with free movement in mind allowing you to go where you want, and the point and click is for more traditionalists who want the old school control scheme.
How the player finds the puzzles in Obduction is going to be hard to predict. The game starts with a limited number of locations and puzzles. You can only explore a couple of areas until you solve the first puzzle. After solving that puzzle, it will only open up a second area which has more areas to search but again limits you by requiring you to solve a second puzzle, and then finally, there’s a third puzzle that limits what you can do before you get the true freedom to explore anything you want.
However the pieces to the puzzle are well designed. This is a device that will rotate the above object.
The good news is that while the early puzzles are interesting, they’re more about exploration and playing with mechanics, than deep thinking, and as the game is doing linear progression, the good news is that players should be able to find each puzzle and solve them in order.
Sadly, that’s not always the case, as mentioned above there’s a lot of puzzles in Obduction and not all of them are as obvious as others. The biggest piece for me is to think about the chance of players organically finding the solution to all the puzzles. The majority of puzzles in this game are relatively easy to both find and solve and can be done so organically. As you walk through an area, you might notice X and Y, but don’t know what they’re for and then eventually find a reason for both pieces existing in the same place.
The problem though is that there are a few logical leaps that I have to admit I didn’t catch. There’s a way to open a specific door, that I understand in hindsight, but the first time I walked by a specific feature that is needed to help me with it, I thought it was for something else. There’s a second puzzle that required a clever step that I missed out on. I spent about an hour in a single room before realizing that opening the room had the majority of the puzzles in it.
For me I found Obduction frustrating because I often wasn’t sure what was left to solve. The one NPC that does talk to you gives you relatively vague nudges in directions after the first couple of problems, but once you’ve solved the original set of puzzles he seemed to give you generic advice. I found that I was locked into a situation where I missed a junction as mentioned before, or didn’t realize what I was seeing. In the early game, this isn’t too bad, because with only a few locations I could reach I was able to stare at them and eventually found the missed opportunity.
However, as the game proceeds, there are a lot more locations to explore, and when I was exploring a massive world with the same missed path, I don’t think I would have caught the missed location without someone specifically pointing out where I forgot to go. So, the solution I found to break myself out of the mire I was stuck in was looking online at a guide.
There’s a list of what you need to do here, but it’s not checked off, and you don’t carry it with you. Sadly.
Honestly, I find looking at a guide online to be a problematic solution. When I play a puzzle game, the minute I do that, I find that my motivation to solve the problem myself is weaker, and the option to go back to the guide is stronger. Obduction made me refer to the guide rather early, and it’s a shame because once I had the crutch, it was hard not to look at it more often.
Still, there were times I tried not to look up a solution. There’s an entire counting system that is required by the game, but if you don’t learn it from a specific location, you won’t be able to learn it at all. It’s hard to really judge if I failed, or if the game could have been more user-friendly.
Ultimately Obduction is going to be very similar to The Witness. How well you mesh with the game is more a question of how well you can put yourself in the developer’s mind. If you can think like the Cyan team and the puzzle designer, you might be able to easily move forward and solve most of the puzzles. While most puzzles do not require a context outside of the game, a few are still annoying enough that I have to wonder if there was a better way to teach the player a new ruleset for the game.
There is one positive to Obduction, a number of puzzles are randomly generated codes. While the process to get the solution is the same each time, the solution I might have for a puzzle can be different than the solution other people will have for the puzzle. So to properly solve the puzzle for other players, one must walk them through the solution instead of just handing them a single code. For that, I’m appreciative because it means that one has to lay out a multi-part solution and a player can read just the part he’s missing.
With everything said, I will have to talk a bit about the end of the game, there are actually two endings to the game. The good news is there’s a clear point when you “end” the game, and it doesn’t seem to lock you out of trying the alternate ending, however, the ending is similar to the story. Strange and while it can be pieced together, the player is only given parts to a larger picture at that point, and they may need to explore the world to find all the surrounding pieces to understand the ending.
However, I like the ending quite a bit and it gave me hope because I found that even if I struggled a bit with the puzzles, I wanted to keep exploring this world. I really hope we see some sort of sequel to Obduction, whether it be the upcoming Firmament or another game.
You see for all the discussion on how the puzzles are set up, the strongest part of Obduction is that it’s excellent at taking you and making you feel like you’re in another land with puzzles to solve and a story to piece together. If you are willing to forgo action and adventure, and instead take your time and explore a new world, Obduction does everything right. It’s one of the reasons it deserves the term walking simulator because the walking around in the game is the best part. Seeing something new or finding a new room always filled me with a desire to look at everything in it and think about what the purpose of it was before returning to try to find the next puzzle.
At the same time, there are a few flaws with the game that really tarnish it. The fact you need to keep a running tally of what you have accomplished is a shame. There are a few tedious parts where you might have a full solution but are forced to spend 10-15 minutes doing something just to get everything into the right place to solve a piece. There’s a couple of puzzles at the end that requires 10-15 minutes of set up even when the solution is obvious and that can be frustrating. The fact that after you beat three or four puzzles you become so overwhelmed with options and information that you might not know which pieces are important and critical information might drop because it’s not immediately apparent is a little frustrating.
There’s one other issue, and the fact is, this is a one time game. Once you beat Obduction there are not many reasons to return. You can walk through the land, and I really want to get a VR headset one day to check it out in them. However I know all the solutions and puzzles, so while it might look even better, the experience to play through it will be about the same.
Still, it is a good spiritual successor to Myst and for that, I have to admit I like Obduction, and really want to see more. I just think that it limits its core audience much in the same way Cyan’s previous games have done in the past. If you enjoyed Myst, you’ll like this game for sure, but that also cuts the other way. If you really detest Myst, Obduction probably won’t change that.
I give it a
Final Thoughts: Has all the beauty and grandeur of Myst, with all the same flaws. An excellent experience though it’s only able to really be played through once, and can be frustrating, it still is a classic puzzler.
Stats: 12.3 hours played, 15/15 achievements earned.