Many of the puzzles are challenging to the point of being downright frustrating. Myst III often literally feels as much like an IQ test as a game. To aid you in uncovering the story and solving the puzzles, you'll find journals and papers throughout the gameworld containing hints, and the game manual also features a useful hint section.
The way the puzzles are set up can pose some other problems. You can find multiple puzzles to work on at once, which can make it difficult to discern which objects and manipulations are related to each other. Also, if you get stuck on certain puzzles, you won't be able to explore any further areas or advance the story, which means there's basically nothing to do in the game for the time being. Of course, that's a strong motivation to solve the puzzles, and "running up against a wall" can be part of the fun in an adventure game, but it can also lead to boredom or frustration. When you do solve the puzzles, though, you can get a real feeling of satisfaction.
Since there's only one way to solve each puzzle, the game's replay value is somewhat limited, though the game itself is pretty large and should keep you occupied for quite a while. Plus, there are multiple endings, and you get a "making of" documentary as a bonus. This documentary is much longer and more interesting than the one included with the PS2 version of the game. Then again, the Xbox version of the game also retails for more than the PS2 version.
One of the greatest appeals of the Myst series has always been its ability to immerse you in visually memorable fantasy worlds. That's certainly true of Myst III, a game with the rare capacity to evoke a real sense of wonder as you explore its surreal locations. The rocky island of J'Nanin lets you visit rooms carved out of gigantic tusks that gracefully arch high above the ground. The age of Amateria looks some sort of Chinese amusement park set on an alien world, complete with a bizarre "ride" that offers one of the visual highlights of the game. In Voltaic, you'll wander among alien machinery and across narrow, rusting catwalks suspended between imposing sandstone walls. In Edanna, you'll clamber over, under, and through enormous intertwined plants, twisting stone walkways, and driftwood arches. What makes Edanna particularly strange is the way the plants mimic machinery, unfolding to create spindly living escalators, or twisting to focus the sun's rays as if through a lens.
Impressive visual details abound throughout Myst III. The game's machines feature elegant, archaic-looking gears and spindles, its winding stairways are adorned with embossed decorations, its eerie seaside grottos glow green in the sunset, and its gigantic plant life looks alien but is still reminiscent of real flora. The occasional animations are well rendered, and some of them look quite amazing in their oddity and colorfulness.
With a few minor exceptions, all this is rendered beautifully by the Xbox. Myst III also does a decent job integrating live actors into the prerendered backgrounds, though the video can look a tad grainy at times. Another problem is the fact that the journal texts are a bit small and blurry--you might find a few of them hard to read on a standard TV.
The imaginative worlds of Myst III aren't for everyone.
The game's music and sound effects add to the vividness of the worlds you explore. The impressionist, ambient score quietly and effectively sets a melancholy mood with distant percussion and chimes and weeping strings. The sound effects are equally reserved. You hear just enough to make the worlds feel alive, but not so much as to spoil their sense of otherworldly solitude and loneliness.
In the end, much of Myst III's appeal depends on how much you like puzzle solving, since that's the focus of and key to progression in the game. If the mere existence of a problem fires your determination to solve it, then the game can be highly entertaining. Because Myst III progresses at the pace at which you solve the puzzles, it lacks any sense of sustained drama or tension, let alone action. Some players will surely find it all rather dull or frustrating. Still, this relaxed pace can be refreshing. Ultimately, what's most impressive about Myst III: Exile is that it combines intellectual challenge with scene after scene of enchanting beauty.