Riven is a deceptive game with difficult puzzles. I can kind of see where it's in the same vein as Myst, but it is a different beast altogether. So different, that it's like an installment to The Elder Scrolls or Fallout. This is the first time I've ever played this game, despite having played its predecessor many times over the years. And what do I mean about deceptive? Let's start with that dark bulbous tree thing on the box. That's not in the main Riven age, and you can't even explore it! It doesn't come along until about halfway through, and you see it for about 5 seconds.
The design of this world is confusing. One of the first things you come across is a five-point room. There are only two exits to it, but it rotates. To make things more difficult, even if you can rotate it to another position, the door might be gated off. Which, if you want to restrict where people go, what's the use of a rotating room with 2 exits, when some of the possible exits are gated off anyway? Secondly, there are these golden domes. The way these are powered and accessed is illogical. You need to use a map of sorts to find things you don't know you're looking for (in a needle in a haystack way), then place marbles on a grid on the other side of the world! (That map is, by far, the worst map I've ever used.) You know there are linking books in these things (seen through the frosty window, and described in one of the few journals). While Myst kept its gateways to other worlds fairly hidden, they were more accessible (except for that spaceship). I get the feeling these were puzzles that were designed for Myst at some point, but got cut because they were too difficult, unpolished, or not sophisticated enough.
There are other examples of things that definitely should be written down somewhere, but must be observed from the environment. In Myst, while most of the books in the library were torched, the ones that remained gave a clue of how to work things in other ages. Not here. I know that environmental storytelling is all the rage these days, but Riven takes it to another level! It's over 20 years old! In most of the games I play, the wildlife is inconsequential, hostile, or used for resources. It's not like you're supposed to know what these things mating calls sound like, but an exception must be made here. There is much less of "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we had this here" design, and puzzles blend in well to the background.
Not only do animals live here, but people do too! And not only do you see houses and domestic implements, but sometimes the locals themselves! (Though, they are very shy.) It looks like a nice place, and it's hard to believe (or notice) that this place is/will be falling apart. I like how the game randomizes a few lock combinations (and the keys to those are written down). I've never seen a point and click adventure do this! Unlike the original, it's not like entering 2, 1, 4, 4, 1 into the lock will work for everyone. Yours is almost certainly (1 in 55) going to be different. Speaking of, I also like the "5" theme going on. If you need more than 1 of something, you're going to need 5. Why? This is the fifth age.
The adversary that Atrus spoke of in the last scene of Myst is his father, Gehn. Gehn learned the Art of his people (the whole transporting people to other worlds by using books thing), but he wasn't diligent. Gehn believed that he was creating worlds, not just portals between them. He was more interested in demanding reverence from the locals he encountered, and skipped over learning how to construct worlds properly so that they don't fall apart. In fact, they were so temporary and unstable, Gehn didn't name most of his ages, and numbered them instead. Riven is age 5, and Gehn has moved on to age 233 or so. Atrus and Catherine trapped Gehn in Riven 30 years ago, but their kids tricked Catherine into returning to Riven, and was trapped.
Your goal is to trap Gehn and get Catherine out. I'm not sure why Atrus didn't just let Gehn go on Myst Island, seeing as how that's what he did to his sons, and they had no problems getting trapped there. Atrus seems to be in the hostage business, and if I viewed him in that light, I'm not sure if I would trust a man who seems to do nothing else than trap family. Even if he is the good guy, I don't want to get involved with his personal business. But I'm a long way from home, surrounded by hostile aliens.
It's doubtful that I will remember Riven much. It gives a more natural and lived in world than Myst, but it is more difficult. It's like Broken Age Part 1 vs Part 2, but maybe even more difficult. It gives closure to what Atrus was always talking about at the end of Myst.