Dear Esther is an adventure story without weapons, puzzles and other traditional video game mechanics which allow it to instead focus solely on the narrative and exploration instead. Controlling the main protagonist across a diverse range of environments you’ll step through unique locations with their own piece of the story that is slowly fed to players allowing you to piece it together one small element at a time. Originally released in 2008 as a free to play mod this first iteration was later turned into a full paid title in 2012. 5 years after this an enhanced version (Landmark Edition) would once again refine the graphic and visual elements of the game while retaining the same core story path.
Set on an island that is uninhabited known as Hebridean island players will walk between the landmarks of the island that include a derelict house, caves, shipwreck and a range of hilly terrain types that hide things just over the horizon. When reaching each new monument or location players will unlock a fragment of information about the island which reveals the island history in drip feed fashion. This slow release of information keeps players pondering about where the story is going and with hidden symbols blending in with mysterious figures it does pull you into your island adventure.
This island adventure is not just about seeing the sights though with an underlying story of your anonymous protagonist who reads letter fragments to his now deceased wife (Esther) as you progress. Uniquely the game alters the letter and audio fragments slightly between playthroughs that allow for 2 or 3 playthroughs to feel unique and required if players want the full story picture. Ultimately though you’ll be left with a blurred series of information that gives players the ability to draw their own conclusions of the events that lead to the death of Esther.
This includes considering the role that several characters referred to in the letters played in her ultimate death. Characters noted include Donnelly who was the first to chart the island, Paul a drink driver who caused an accident and a shepherd that once called the island home hundreds of years ago.
In time this leads to a story based around familiar emotions of guilt, love, loss and redemption which is part of players creating their own idea of events that unfolded. In addition players will find themselves questioning what their eyes see at times with locations, audio and story that makes you wonder what was real or imagined.
As mentioned gameplay of Dear Esther and Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is minimal when compared to a traditional video game with your only objective to explore the uninhabited island you find yourself on to collect the story pieces. This is also a mostly linear affair with players that move off the beaten path not getting significantly additional information than those that don’t. That being said the beauty of the island (particularly in the Landmark Edition) may prove to be its own reward for players that value this and don’t mind getting lost along the way.
- Explore a lonely island as you learn the story behind it and the roles of several characters in the death of Esther.
- Beautiful crafted world with a great audio soundtrack for atmosphere and storytelling.
- Poetic writing that will keep your mind pondering with some minor differences between playthroughs.
- More adventure than traditional video game with a story experience at the heart of game mechanics.
- For Windows, Mac, PS4 and Xbox One.
Review Platform: PC