The game takes place in the year 2010, where the international conglomerate "Mega Media," headed by Hal Davis, funds a government-approved excavation of the Qin burial mound. The player takes on the role of a researcher assigned to this project. (In reality, the chamber of the terracotta army is the farthest any archaeological team has progressed.) One night, as the researcher is exploring alone, a sudden earthquake opens up the ground underneath, and the researcher tumbles into a deeper part of the tomb. While exploring the tomb, which is immense, he is privy to the observations of the ghost of a Chinese scholar, who was aware of the brutal nature of the emperor.
The game eventually leads to a goal the emperor sought in life—an elixir that can confer immortality. Possessing this, the player has a choice: give it to the dead-but-not-quite-gone Qin, who will revive; deliver it to Hal Davis; or pour it into a scale model of the planet. Each has its own result—the renewed emperor will re-take control of China, Hal Davis becomes immortal in a decaying world, or kick-start the renewal of the planet itself, respectively.
Many of the reviews of the time compared the game to Myst. MSNBC claimed that "In a world full of "Myst"-imitators, Qin: Tomb of the Middle Kingdom stands out as a product with a purpose." PC Gamer said that the game is "rendered with a meticulous eye for detail"  while Bernard Yee of PC World regarded it as "a better Myst than Myst itself."
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