Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

By Mike Sousa on October 23, 2016

In recent years, several games took a different step when it comes to the overall experience they deliver, trading complex gameplay for engaging narrative and exploration. This gave birth to a genre that would be known as “walking simulator” video games, and despite the simplistic gameplay it offers, it’s a genre that has attracted several gamers over the years. One of the pioneers was Dear Esther, which originally came to life on PC as a Half-Life 2 mod, and was later remade in 2012 for PC as a full-game. Now in 2016, an updated version known as the Dear Esther: Landmark Edition was released on consoles and PC.

Similar to other walking simulators, the main focus of Dear Esther is its narrative and exploration. The game takes place on an unnamed and deserted island, with the story being told through the narration of letters directed towards the titular Esther, which are triggered as the player traverses the island and specific areas and landmarks. Although we don’t know nothing about the main character, the people mentioned in the letters and the island, the narrator provides some context to everything you see and gives you a few hints about who you are, what’s your story and what you are doing here.

What’s more interesting about the story in Dear Esther is the fact that experience will be different each time you play through it. While you get some context to the overall story as you explore the island, don’t expect the narrator to spill the beans all the time. The narration might seem a bit random at times, with descriptions of abandoned houses and geographic formations, but in the end, that’s the exactly the purpose of it, as these provide a few hints that you can interpret it in several different ways. Ultimately, your imagination plays an important role in the story and offers different explanations to the game’s final act and ending.

While the game does a decent job with its narrative experience, Dear Esther falls short in terms of gameplay. While most other walking simulators feature gameplay elements that allow you to interact with the environment, Dear Esther is a game that doesn’t allow you to do anything aside from walking from point A to point B while listening to the game’s narration and soundtrack. This is made even worse due to the fact that the game doesn’t allow you to run, forcing to walk in a slow pace. It’s also, unfortunately, a short experience, one that the average player should be able to finish in one to two hours. Even if you go back to get a different experience and story interpretation, the game is barely a few hours long.

Despite the game lacking in terms of gameplay, it compensates with its graphics and soundtrack. Although we are talking about a remaster of a game released several years ago, the overall presentation is still quite impressive to today’s standards with detailed textures and realistic impressive sights. Like I said before, interpretation is the key to understand the story, and the amount of attention and detail that goes into the environment around you really helps you understand a bit more the whole setting of the game. The soundtrack remains as fantastic as ever with its ambient and environmental sounds, and Nigel Carrington delivering an exceptionally good and powerful narrative through his voice overs.

Final Thoughts

Dear Esther represents one of the origins of the exploration/walking simulator genre, however, the game is clearly showing its age. It was unique when it first came out, but as time passed, the genre has evolved and changed, making Dear Esther’s feel antiquated in comparison to other recent titles, such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Firewatch, Journey and several others. Despite its flaws, Dear Esther is still an enjoyable experience, but one I can only recommend to fans of the genre.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition was reviewed using a digital code provided by Curve Digital. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Interesting narrative-driven experience.
Interpretation and imagination gives way to different story perspectives.
Beautiful visuals and amazing soundtrack.
You can’t interact with anything, just walk.
No option to run instead of walking.
It's a relatively short game.
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