Voice clips and movies don't tell the whole story, of course. The majority of the plotline and story are conveyed through the journals of Atrus and Saavedro. As the game runs its course, you can locate missing pages from Saavedro's diary, which clarify his feelings and motives and also give clues to passing obstacles and puzzles. This is one of my favorite aspects of the game, and thankfully, the designers of Exile allow you to bring these journals along with you so that you don't have to consult a library as was required of the player in Myst. One small problem I had with the journals, however, is that sometimes the clues left in the diagrams don't help in solving problems, or aren't very easy to identify in the real world. Without spoiling puzzles and plot, just let it be said that I finished the game without using several of the diagrams.
The puzzles and mysteries encountered in the ages are solved using a variety of innovative mechanisms and systems. Each age carries its own theme and underlying concept. The age of Voltaic is themed in archaeology and machinery, with furnace boilers and electric generators. Amateria features hundreds of hexagonal stepping stones and a tempestuous atmosphere, along with a veritable roller coaster of rails and guides for a marble-dropper contained at the top of the central structure. Edanna is contained totally within a massive tree, within which many other unique plants and flowers grow. Because each is different in construction, the puzzles presented in each are also extremely different, which provides a fantastic blend of uniqueness to each of the worlds. Furthermore, should the player grow tired of solving one, he can retreat to one of the other worlds for a change of tack.
Here, lizard lizard lizard…
I believe the structure of the game to be an improvement over the prior volumes. In Myst, for example, the player is exploring the world without any real purpose other than to discover why he's there and what he can do to escape. In Riven and Exile, however, the player is given a clear objective that he typically must solve in baby steps. This, I feel, is an improvement. Particularly in Exile, the player has a strong impetus at the beginning of the game, and the wish to continue the game is furthered by the dropping of plot points and clues regularly through the game. Some might feel that the story would be choppy or cumbersome given the game's non-linear flow, but the diary entries and video clips are structured so that, aside from a few which are played only near the beginning and the end, the majority of the plot can be found at any time without the player having to worry about missing pieces.
One of Amateria's unique puzzles
Puzzle quality in general has also been improved upon since the first Myst game. No timed puzzles are in Exile, nor are there any puzzles involving locating a very well hidden switch. Granted, you might miss some details if you're not paying attention or looking all around (and up and down), but that's just careless observation, and not a case of camouflaged machinery or anything. Some of the puzzles, particularly in Amateria, are just really fun to solve, and then to watch the results of your solution come alive. It really gave me a sense of accomplishment.