Dear Esther started the game genre of walking simulators. It is a first person exploration game that has no running, no jumping, no enemies, no shooting, no puzzles nor any form of survival. It is a game full of perfect moments, beautiful music and reflection. It wants to touch your heart and wants to show that video games can be much more than just achieving a mission.
Dear Esther: Landmark Edition released in 2017 is the final version of the game that had a 2012 release of a mod that was shown the first time in 2008. Although graphics have been improved for the current version there are places where you can spot their age. It is most obvious with plants that are not properly rendered in 3D. They are flat and can be irritating when you first encounter them. The rest of the graphics still holds up pretty nice. The water with its effects is beautiful to look at. And the caves even to this day look gorgeous and alien.
When you start your 60-90 minutes journey your environment looks bland like you would expect from a remote English island. Once you reach the first cave more colors will be used to carry the story. The cave system in particular has many impressive color schemes that turn your previous bland journey into a visit of an alien planet. Neon colors, mushrooms and crystals reinforce that feeling.
While you continue on your journey the narrator gives you pieces of a sad story about loss that is wrapped into a macabre story of slow death. The latter story dominates the first two of four chapters. Unwrapping of the sad story starts in chapter 3 and leads to its conclusion at the end of the game. Having intertwining stories requires you to listen carefully to the narrator because important parts can easily get lost.
The male narrator never fails to tell each of the over 30 story bits convincely. He has a calm and warm voice. Each time he talks music will accompany him. The music pieces carry the mood. They provide a voice to the feeling of loneliness and desperation you can feel throughout the story and delivered through all the little and big things scattered in your environment. Piano, violins and cello are used solo or together for the mostly sad pieces of music. There is the occasional female chorus or some distorted voices.
Ambient noises are also chosen very careful. There are different kind of winds like you would expect on a cost. There is the crunching sound of you boots, the noise of anchor chains and the almost surreal noises of water in the caves.
Dear Esther is a game about moments. There are sad moments, beautiful moments, tragic moments, disturbing moments and serene moments. You will find yourself looking from a cliff, staring at the moon over a picturesque landscape or marvelling about the colors of mushrooms in caves. You will finish you journey and experience the final moments of the game.
When you finally reach the end of the game, all previously experienced single moments will melt into one single sequence. The narrator, the stunning music and the conclusion of the story will touch your heat. Dear Esther is short but but it delivers perfectly orchestrated first person exploration game. Double thumbs up from me.