Unlike the previous games in the Zork franchise, which were text adventures, Return to Zork takes place from a first-person perspective and makes use of video-captured actors as well as detailed graphics; a point-and-click interface replaced the text parser for the first time in a Zork game. The overall gameplay style was somewhat similar to Myst, although Return to Zork predated Myst by a few months. Unlike Myst, which had no extraspatial dimensions of functionality, Return to Zork featured multiple ways of interacting with each object in the game world, as well as with several non-player characters also present in the world via a menu which appeared on the left side of the screen.
Among the actors who appeared in the game were a number of instantly recognizable (by face, if not necessarily by name) character actors as well as a number of well-known younger actors: Robyn Lively of Twin Peaks as "The Fairy", Jason Hervey of The Wonder Years as "The Troll King", and Sam J. Jones from the 1980 film Flash Gordon as "The Blind Bowman" and A.J. Langer of My So-Called Life as fellow Zork explorer Rebecca Snoot whom the player encounters on several occasions.