5.1: Slates

The Slates are the much-trumpeted innovation in Myst V: End of Ages which allow players to have a hand in the Art of Writing—by drawing glyphs on them which instruct the Bahro to manipulate the environment in some way. And they’re quite fun—until it comes to the puzzles.

For a start, there is only one glyph in each Age which will instruct the Bahro to manipulate the environment—rain in Noloben, steam in Tahgira, wind in Laki’ahn, and time in Todelmer. The relevant glyphs are not difficult to find—they are usually etched on a prominent rock face or something similar. And every Age has a task in which the glyph has to be used for a puzzle to be completed—Laki’ahn even has two. And that is one of the problems. All of the four main Ages are based upon the same game dynamics, namely writing the Age’s manipulation glyph on the Slate to complete a task (and remember, as I’ve already pointed out, Tahgira and Noloben only really have one task). In Tahgira and Laki’ahn, you actually have to do this several times, because you have to complete the puzzle in question while this environmental manipulation is active—it lasts for 90 seconds, and if you don’t finish the puzzle in that time you have to start the steam rising or the wind blowing all over again. This becomes more than a little tedious after a while. I can understand the aim of transporting each Slate to the Keep in order to free the final Tablet—but when every Age basically requires you to manipulate the Slates in the same way, it strips individuality from the Ages and their puzzles. You’re just waiting for the puzzle which I have to use the glyph for—and that level of predictability is also uncommon to the Myst saga.

This level of predictability might have reduced if early on in the game you were given a list of glyphs which could be used on the Slates—and in each Age you have to figure out which is the most appropriate for the task in hand. Remember, for example, Saavedro’s bedroom-cum-study in J’nanin, which sets the player up with crucial information for the Ages which he or she will visit. That would remove the ‘here’s the glyph, when do I use it?’ predictability, but the overall problem of puzzles having to be solved by glyphs on Slates would still remain—although perhaps that would be alleviated if you didn’t have the feeling that everything was being handed to you on a plate.

Furthermore, in each of the four main Ages there are four or five pedestals, and the aim is to move the Slate from A to B to C to D (to E) in every Age. Once more, this tends to make the mechanics of each Age a little too similar. Of course, in the previous games, you were principally looking for the linking book out of each Age (though not in Myst IV: Revelation, interestingly), so the ultimate goal was frequently the same; but in Myst V: End of Ages the actual steps of the journey too often similar. Again and again the task is, ‘how do I find out the glyph on that pedestal?’ Most tasks lead to that same goal, and after over a dozen pedestals, they all start to look the same.

I’ve also read, on several discussion groups, of people accidentally drawing the correct glyph required to complete an Age well before it was discovered in game play—and even of someone reaching the Keep in Todelmer by drawing a smilie on the Slate. The number of times I’ve read of someone drawing a random pattern and being transported to a illegitimate pedestal, and then reverting to a saved game so they get to the pedestal legitimately, is simply untrue. Any game which has such a flawed and imprecise mechanism built into can’t be on the right track.

The Pedestal-To-Pedestal mechanic, coupled with the Task Which Uses The Manipulation Glyph mechanic, definitely weakens the puzzles and tasks of Myst V: End of Ages. And on top of which, in both Noloben and Laki’ahn we are confronted a pressure-pad puzzle: how can I exert pressure over there when I need to stand over here? The solution entails leaving the Slate on the pad for the Bahro to pick up—the only difference is that you need to draw a different glyph on the pedestal each time—‘snake’ and ‘sing’ respectively. And come to think of it, the opening puzzle in Tahgira—with the cracking ice—also rests on the same ‘pressure’ principle. But the point is: the same type of puzzle occurs in three of the four main Ages. To summarise:
  1. In every Age we have to transport the Slate from one pedestal to the next, and to the next;
  2. In every Age there is at least one task which uses the Age’s environmental manipulation glyph;
  3. In every age the goal is to get the Slate to the Keep;
  4. In three out of four Ages there is a pressure-pad puzzle.
And that is far too much repetition for my taste.

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5.1: Slates