Uru: Path of the Shell Hands-On Preview

We take a look at Ubisoft's upcoming expansion pack for Uru: Ages Beyond Myst.

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Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
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Check out some of the beautiful environments in Path of the Shell. Double-click the video window to view full screen.

Graphical adventure games were forever changed when Cyan's original Myst was released years ago. Myst introduced a new style of adventure games where you explored a huge, colorful world on a quest to save it, but rather than interacting with other characters you instead explored and manipulated the world itself. Several years and several successful sequels later, Cyan and publisher Ubisoft released Uru: Ages Beyond Myst in 2003, a visually impressive game that offered beautiful graphics to go with a series of challenging, cryptic puzzles. The game had originally been announced as a massively multiplayer online game that would be expanded with subsequent content additions and expansion packs, but the online mode was scrapped in favor of free episodic updates and the occasional retail expansion. Uru has already been expanded upon with free content. Path of the Shell will be the final content update and the first Uru expansion that will come in a box.

You can expect to encounter more puzzles and more beautiful vistas in Uru: Path of the Shell.
You can expect to encounter more puzzles and more beautiful vistas in Uru: Path of the Shell.

We were able to try out a few areas in the upcoming expansion, including the oceanic realm of Ahnonay and the mechanized deserts of Er'Cana. Like in Uru, you'll begin your adventures with the aid of the mystical Relto tome--a powerful sorcerous book that transports you to a hub area from which you can jump through space and time to different "ages"--the different worlds of Uru. Pursuant to the story of the original Uru, you'll continue to play as an adventurer who had been mysteriously drawn to a desert oasis and then eventually to the Relto tome where you helped to correct imbalances left by archaeological crews that had been exploring the different ages. In the original game, your primary goal was to seek out a series of magical tapestries hidden throughout the ages; in the expansion, your goal will instead be to seek out a series of magical shells.

The expansion will have a few new features, like the ability to swim. This ability seemed to come in handy in the age of Ahnonay where we saw what resembled a huge river that ran through massive rock formations out into the sea. Like with Uru, the ages in the new game will be mostly silent (you won't really see any other characters bustling about the ages, since these are the deserted remains of a civilization long past), but you will at least see ambient wildlife, like Ahnonay deer that crop the sparse grass and fish that swim in the water. One of the puzzles you must solve in Ahnonay requires you to reach a small island with a control panel, but the current around the island is too strong for you to swim against, so you must find an alternate path.

Like Uru, the game will have almost no interface--but it will still have challenging puzzles.
Like Uru, the game will have almost no interface--but it will still have challenging puzzles.

We were also able to explore the age of Er'Cana, which essentially resembles a huge, mountainous desert with what appeared to be an enormous and ancient factory lodged into a rock formation. In order to reach the entrance to the factory, we were required to commandeer Er'Cana's derelict railway car by fiddling with a set of rusted gears and levers until the machine finally creaked into action and glided across the desert on a raised railway track. Like with Uru, Path of the Shell will feature a minimal interface limited only to your mouse pointer, which you can use to click on objects to interact with them. There is still no character inventory, and as such, no inventory-based puzzles; most of your challenges will still require clever manipulation of your environment instead of using the red key with the red door.

Like Uru, Path of the Shell seems to look quite good. Though the environments we saw were perhaps less fanciful than the purple forests and rotating waterfall towers of Uru, they still seemed colorful. Mechanized objects, like the Er'Cana train, also bore considerable detail, as Uru players might expect. The expansion seems to be coming along quite well, and it is scheduled for release later this year.

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