30 Reviews in 30 Days, Day 20 – Dear Esther
Okay, so this is going out late, but as I have not gone to bed yet (even though I probably should have), this is still day 20. That being said, my 20th review is on something that can only loosely be called a game.
There was a fair amount of hype surrounding Dear Esther’s release. Many people were saying it was something every gamer needed to “play,” while others were unimpressed. I picked it up cheap during the last Steam sale, curious to see what it really was.
Thing is, even after having finished it twice, I am still not sure what to make if it.
Not Really a Game
Dear Esther is more of an interactive experience than it is a game. You control an unnamed character who is exploring what appears to be an uninhabited island while narrating letters he has written to Esther. As the story progresses, there are a few things you learn: Esther is dead, the narrator appears to have been her husband and he seems to be struggling with dealing with the death of his wife. As you wander about the island, different areas will trigger different readings from the letters, and you will learn more about the island and, possibly, the story behind Esther’s death.
And that is it. There are no puzzles to solve. There are no enemies to defeat. There are no items to find, short of some of the various markings and areas that trigger the next letter. You wander around the island, finding different things that lead to different explanations from the narrator, wondering just what is going on. Even when you come to the end, you may find yourself as I did wondering if it truly is the end.
While Dear Esther may not have some of the normal trappings of a game, a couple of things are there. Graphically, it does look impressive, especially as you make your way into the luminescent caves on the island. The music is also good, as are the sound effects, what there are of them. It is short; you can complete a play through in less than an hour. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as you may find yourself wanting to play again as I did, and that second play through will not quite be like first, as even if you walk the exact same path each time, you are not guaranteed to hear the same letters. It is also possible to complete the story while skipping entire areas of the game, meaning no experience will be quite alike.
Is It Worth It?
A review is supposed to convey to the reader whether or not a game is worth playing. Problem is, I have a real hard time answering that question when it comes to Dear Esther. I still am not sure what to make of the “game” months after playing it, and while I could definitely see myself running through it again., I am not sure I can truly say I liked it. The best I can say is it is an experience you will not soon forget. If you can get it for a good price and this kind of experiment intrigues you, Dear Esther may be just the thing for you. If not, do not try to convince yourself to play it just because so many people say you should. If that’s the only reason you decide to play it, you will more than likely be disappointed.
I can tell you this game is unlike anything I have played before, and that is a compliment. At the same time, it has not hit me quite as hard as it has many other reviewers. Dear Esther gets a 6 out of 10.