mariussmit's Dear Esther (PC) review

Dear Esther, You flew straight over my head and I couldn't jump

When the hype kicked in for Dear Esther I felt very unsure about it. While I was intrigued by the claims I was reading about the game's presentation and narrative, my excitement was tempered about the claims that the game did not have much, if any, gameplay. Ultimately I was convinced when I showed my wife a trailer of the game and observed her excitement as a non-gamer. At her behest Dear Esther was purchased, and after playing a chapter she has not touched it since. I, on the other hand, have taken the 2 hour dive and will try to explain what you can and cannot expect from Dear Esther.

You are guaranteed a beautiful landscape that is meticulously crafted for visual delight. It is clear that the designer polished every possible detail to ensure that the scenery is stunning from every one of the viewing angles that the game allows. All of this is done using the Source engine, which makes me fairly sure that the experience will scale nicely to older machines. The only downside in terms of the visuals, is the fact that the camera feels slightly detached (this may be on purpose) and the viewing angle tends to create a fish-eye effect. If you are careful with the zoom button, you shouldn't feel the need to vomit off one of Dear Esther's many cliffs.

You also get the ability to navigate and admire this landscape. What you do not get, is anything more in the way of interaction. If Dear Esther was a point-and-click adventure, there would only be "move to" and "look at" commands. At the very least, it would have been interesting to pick up and examine some objects, but whether by design or financial constraints you are constrained to observation and the aforementioned nausea inducing zoom.

And ultimately there is a story, delivered through earnest narration and a subtle yet affecting score. Dear Esther's story however, is more poetry than prose. The narration plays in randomized clips that are ambigious with the supposed intention that you will interpret them for yourself. Do not expect Dear Esther to explain itself to you.

With this being said, it is clear that the design principles of Dear Esther are geared toward making it better art. Whether it succeeds at being art I'm neither qualified nor inclined to answer. The same design decisions do not make for much of a play experience, and it will be up to you to decide whether you are OK with that. Personally I found Dear Esther to be like a colourful street festival, I got swept up in the buzz and looked at the colourful displays, but ultimately, I didn't buy anything.

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