Dear Esther: Landmark Edition
Top Critic Average
If you played the game originally, there might not be much reason to come back to Dear Esther, though the most loyal of fans may get enough mileage out of the Director's commentary I mentioned earlier. In this case, you play through the game with the narrator being swapped out with those of the artist, composer and writer as they discuss various decisions that went into the design. It is a nice touch for a game that has a lot of artistic value and it is interesting to see some of the thought that went into some of the game's more memorable moments and scenes. All in all Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is still an interesting experience, though its release around four years later does show the game's age a little. There are better examples of the genre out there now (including The Chinese Room's own later release Everybody's Gone to the Rapture), but Dear Esther still deserves a look if you haven't seen it yet.
"The combination of art, narration and a beautiful soundtrack composed by Jessica Curry that fits every moment of the game solidified Dear Esther one of the most beloved and iconic video games around. With its long-awaited introduction onto Xbox One and PS4, console players can now enjoy the intimate experience first hand with in-depth commentary from key members of the original team at The Chinese Room".
While touted as the first member of the “walking simulator” genre, there is something to be said about the mood and tone that Dear Esther evokes through what you see and hear. As a chill and explorative experience, it delivers a coherent narrative more than another recent hit (or miss) No Man’s Sky. Even if you don’t know what you are doing, it is a structured, and directed, storytelling experience.
If you have never played Dear Esther before the $9.99 price point is well worth it. You’ll get a memorable, emotional experience and once you’re done, you can do it all again with director’s commentary.
Clocking in at just over an hour, the experience provides a great look into the beginnings of the narrative exploration genre. I just don’t find the look to be entirely compelling on its own merits.
While Dear Esther is still a fine game and one that should probably be experienced by fans of the genre, the fact remains that it is still almost a decade old. Games that have since released, such as Firewatch, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and even games like Journey and Abzu, offer so much more than what Dear Esther provides. Even The Chinese Room’s own follow-up, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, has more going for it. But don’t let that sway you from experiencing the original walking simulator, and seeing the story that is told on this mysterious island.
The experience of Dear Esther would be identical if it was presented as a short story, or an on-rail VR video. The lack of interactivity only further exposes the flaws which have been created through forceful transition of Dear Esther from paper into a videogame format. But despite all its flaws, it is still an interesting ‘thing‘ to experience, especially if you want to see the beginnings of the walking simulators first hand.
Dear Esther certainly creates some striking scenes with its graphical and aural combinations and there are some deeper elements to uncover if you're dedicated to going through it multiple times to seek them out.
'Dear Esther' helped spark a trend of narrative-focused indie games, and it's great to see it celebrated in such a nice package. The 'Landmark Edition' is the best way to experience The Chinese Room's gorgeous adventure, and the developer commentary is a fantastic addition. It's well worth the price of admission, whether one has played the original or are just experiencing it for the very first time.
Dear Esther's appeal is directly tied to the player experiencing it. While it is a masterclass in graphics and sound, the game itself is practically a blank slate. It's like a puzzle with only a handful of pieces. The player isn't obligated to put it together, and they're not in the wrong if they choose to ignore it entirely. Still, this is a uniquely bold experience that pushes the medium in new directions. There are people out there thinking about it, asking questions, and really exploring what they just experienced. That is what's most important.