Although short, Dear Esther delivers a though-provoking story with confidence and aplomb and its intoxicating atmosphere constantly invites introspection.
You wake up on an island. There are human-made structures, but their deteriorated aspect give the impression that nobody has lived there in quite a while. It’s almost dusk. As you approach a nearby lighthouse, you’re greeted by the voice of a narrator who tries to explain the situation, but you’re left with even more questions. But these questions (and their potential answers) are more than enough to propel you on a journey that will take you to some awe-inspiring places. Although short, Dear Esther delivers a though-provoking story with confidence and aplomb and its intoxicating atmosphere constantly invites introspection.
In Dear Esther, you assume the role of an unknown man who wakes up on a deserted island. The adventure is punctuated by a series of letters fragments that someone reads to his significant other. At no point is the identity of the writer identified and the letters refer to various characters you never met, so this encourages you to draw your own conclusions.
There’s nothing conventional about Dear Esther: you can’t make choices, there are no objectives to complete and even though you visit some truly amazing places, there’s little to no interaction with the environments. This is a linear story where the only choice you have is how fast or slow you want to explore your surroundings.
So while you set out to explore the desolate place, what you’re looking for isn’t exactly clear. Quite moments are interrupted by a character’s soliloquies which reveal more about the story. But Dear Esther’s story is potent because a lot is left unanswered. What happened exactly? Why are you there? Where’s the island located? Who’s Esther? Is the island really deserted? What happened before you got to the island? Who are you? Is the narrator reliable? Naturally, some of these are questions that you’ll have to answer by yourself. For the most part, I couldn’t understand a thing about Dear Esther, but the parts that made sense gave the impression that I was experiencing something truly special.
As I mentioned previously, you can’t interact with the environments. You can move and zoom in to investigate certain objects, but Dear Ester is more about atmosphere and the cryptic story. Therefore, it makes sense that some elements have been omitted completely. There are no enemies, puzzles or immediate objectives. But this minimalist approach is enchanting nonetheless and enough reason to keep moving forward.
And that’s Dear Esther in a nutshell. Of course, I decided to omit dozens of details, but with a purpose. Every new setting you explore, every area and every line of dialogue. All of those events are intrinsic to the experience and explaining anything about them would ruin their impact and the element of surprise.
Sadly, some minor issues negatively affect this powerful experience. Whenever the narrator starts speaking or when a song starts playing, there’s a minor slowdown. Also, entering a new area usually triggers a loading time. Although these sound like minor issues, they are worth mentioning because they take you out of the experience, which is a shame because the game works really hard to create a unique atmosphere and a convincing sense of immersion.
Dear Esther delivers a story with confidence and aplomb. The desolate setting, chilling sound design, exquisite writing and hypnotic vistas make Dear Esther hauntingly attractive.