Dear Esther immerses you in a stunningly realised world, a remote and desolate island somewhere in the Outer Hebrides. As you step forwards, a voice begins to read fragments of a letter: 'Dear Esther...' - and so begins a journey through one of the most original first-person games of recent years.Read full description
'A deserted island... a lost man... memories of a fatal crash... a book written by a dying explorer.'
Dear Esther immerses you in a stunningly realised world, a remote and desolate island somewhere in the Outer Hebrides. As you step forwards, a voice begins to read fragments of a letter: 'Dear Esther...' - and so begins a journey through one of the most original first-person games of recent years.
Abandoning traditional gameplay for a pure story-driven experience, Dear Esther fuses its beautiful environments with a breath-taking soundtrack to tell a powerful story of love, loss, guilt and redemption.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition has been remade with the Unity engine, featuring a full audio remaster, and the addition of a brand-new Directors' Commentary mode, allowing players to explore the island and learn what inspired the game and how it was crafted by The Chinese Room and Rob Briscoe.
As one of the pioneers of the modern walking simulator, Dear Esther is what introduced me to the genre. Now, I know walking sims are controversial in gaming communities some love (I sure do) and some hate them. One thing you cannot deny is that Dear Esther pushed the Source engine to its limit, on a visual level. Never has a Source game looked so good, from the seaside mountain ranges to the luminescent caves. This game is a pleasure to play through, if only to take in the scenery. The story is where it's going to lose people. Some might call it lacking and pretentious, I think of it as mysterious and creative. All of the story is given to you through narration, which is triggered when passing certain waypoints. The narration reads like a letter (dedicated to a certain Esther), which takes more and more sense as the story moves along, and comes to a surprising and emotional ending. If you don't mind the lack of proper gameplay and the abstract storytelling, definitely pick this one up. It's an interesting experience to be sure
I have to admit that the walking speed in Dear Esther was maddening at first... Ok, it's still maddening. But I think it is part of the challenge of making a game like Dear Esther, with the kind of subtlety, commitment, and imagination that it requires. If the player could run, there'd be no game here at all. But as you walk through this desolate island, you can't help but marvel at the natural beauty of the setting. The caves in particular are magical. And so is the music throughout. Unfortunately, the story itself is not nearly as captivating. I couldn't say why exactly, but I was thinking more about what it would be like to be there in person than about what the game was trying to tell me. Something as fleeting as the ghosts was missing, and I couldn't say what. Perhaps this kind of story has just been done too many times before? Or maybe it was too subtle? Or too linear? With a walking speed this slow I doubt anyone would have the patience to explore more, though. In any case, Dear Esther got me thinking... Not about the story necessarily, or what happened, but perhaps it doesn't matter?
The notion whether Dear Esther is a game or not has been under debate since its release. Many people see this game as just a walking simulator without any gameplay, however, having played through it myself, it doesn't appear to be the case. This game like many others, tells a story, however where it differs is that while the majority of other games tell the story through some form of gameplay, Dear Esther tells it through exploration. As you explore the beautifully designed environments, progressing through the game, you build the story from the narrative, where the environment is used to reinforce those ideas. I have had my hands on the original Dear Esther for years, where it had stayed on the tail-end of my backlog of games. Seeing the Dear Esther: Landmark Edition pop-up in my library piqued my interest. I had no idea what the game was about before I played it, the only thing that I heard was that it was short. So one evening, I decided to sit down and play though it in one sitting. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Although this is a short game, it definitely tells a powerful story. Playing through a second time to listen to the director's commentary was also thoroughly enjoyable, and it was very interesting to hear how the game was designed to reinforce the story.
If you are the kind of gamer that enjoys walking simulators and experiential games in general, then Dear Esther may be for you. If you're the sort of gamer who focuses on mechanics, turn back now. Dear Esther's story can come across as pretentious at times, but the game has stuck with me and I quite enjoyed my time with it. Players should be aware that there are mods available that might help make the experience more enjoyable.
The debate centers around not the games quality but it's standing as a game at all. Fortunately for a review there is no reason to wade into this but the reasons why there is a debate come down to the fundamentals of what this game is. Skin deep Dear Esther is simply a story told to as you wander around an empty island, exploring abandon structures and glowing caves.It is important to understand this before playing this game, you will not be physically interacting in any way, this is all about the story. So how is the story? Well, frankly I found it a little pretentious and overly vague but those are things that it uses to draw in some people. While I gained very little from the experience others have found much more depth, including some hidden secrets on the island, and this is where any merit this game has will be. Each time you play the game you will get different parts of the story which is an ok mechanic but in Dear Esther it flounders for two reasons. First of the world doesn't really change in any significant way so visually multiple play thrus quickly become rote, despite the impressive graphics. The second, and related flaw is the dismal movement speed which means way to much time is spent walking in silence. I can not recommend modifying the game to allow for increased movement speeds if you decide to play this game (a quick search will give plenty of results for easy ways to do this). If you're the kind of person that loves digging into and trying to find the meaning in vague stories but aren't looking for the interaction seen in most games then Dear Esther will be something you really enjoy. Otherwise you'll probably want to pass.
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