Infocom's Return to Zork is a first-person point-and-click adventure. Gameplay revolves around exploration of different areas, collecting items, talking to characters, and solving puzzles. Combat is fairly minimal in the game. Often the player will have to combine a variety of odd items from their inventory to make a single item that will allow them to progress further into the game.
The game was originally released at a time when CD-ROM gaming on the PC was new. As a result, it uses FMV sequences liberally. The game features numerous references to the original text adventures.
The opening cut scene features the famous White House from the first text adventure, Zork I. The first few lines from the game also appear on-screen, starting with: "You are standing by a white house." After movement commands are typed in, (as part of the cut scene, not by the player), the mailbox outside of the house is opened. Inside is a message delivered through a Tele-orb. The player hears that they are a sweepstakes winner and that the man is "looking forward to..." but he is cut off before he finishes the message. The assumption is that the man is attacked by an unseen enemy.
The next part of the cut scene is a fly-through of a range of mountains, eventually leading to the Valley of the Vultures. The player receives another message via a Tele-orb from Wizard Trembyle about needing "a new battery", which is the first puzzle of the game, although the solution does not come until much later. This Tele-orb is carried by the player in their inventory and Trembyle contacts them at several points during the game to deliver hints, often in the guise of cryptic messages.
The next area is a lighthouse owned by a deranged keeper, who warns of the "Road to the South." This is where a puzzle involving different objects begins; the player cannot journey down the road but must find a way into the town of Shanbar.
After the player leaves the lighthouse, Wizard Trembyle appears again, saying "What a bore! Oh! That reminds me, did you hear the one about the appe...[laughter] about the appetite of the wild boar in the forest of the sp..." but the transmission cuts out. This is a reference to the Forest of the Spirits, a maze-like forest that the player visits in the latter half of the game.