We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
PC games software Reviews
15,670 Reviews PC Advisor Gold Award

Dear Esther review


Manufacturer: The Chinese Room

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

A lavish first-person game that swaps out violence for introspection and scenic walks.

Perhaps the very definition of ‘not for everyone’, this maudlin, action-free, abstract and gorgeous to behold exploration game has nonetheless managed to become a commercial success within days of launching. Proof, if proof be needed, that there is a real and profitable appetite for non-conventional games after all.

Dear Esther is a short game about wandering across a Hebridean island while an unnamed narrator hints obliquely at what brought him/you there and the fate of the titular Esther. There is no shooting, there is no jumping and there are no visible people. There is only you and the island. There also isn’t much in the way of clear answers, but instead implications and fragments from which you can construct your own interpretation of your situation and what led to it.

That’s one of the draws of the game – a thoughtful, if occasionally over-florid, change from gaming’s usual torrent of breathless exposition and posturing cutscenes. The other draw is the look of the island. Dear Esther, while steeped in sadness, offers one of the most beautiful environments that videogames have ever mustered.

The island, rich in vegetation, glimmering ocean surround, moonlight and, in its underground sections, eerily luminescent subterranean rock formations, is an incredible sight to behold. Even if the scraps of narrative were removed entirely, just the remarkable, ultra-detailed and highly evocative look of this place would tell a story of its own.  Dear Esther will paint possibly the most striking in-game images you’ve ever seen across your monitor.

The game does need to be approached in the right state of mind and the right environment. Turn off all distractions, don a pair of headphones to feed the pretty-but-bleak skeletal piano soundtrack and the narrator’s increasingly manic commentary directly to your ears, and allow yourself to feel like you’re wandering a remote cliff-top path on your own, lost to your memories and regrets. That is Dear Esther’s power, that palpable sense of place and situation, and it’s a genuinely vital change from the pop-up baddies, scripted melodrama and hectic sprinting that characterises even the most painstakingly-realised of other game environments.

Dear Esther

But it’s for just that reason that it’s deeply unwise to recommend Dear Esther to any and everyone.  Anyone who’s ever recoiled from the phrase ‘art-game’ will find plenty to sneer at here, while even the more open-minded may bristle at the fixed, slow ambling pace and the tendency toward purple prose. It is an almost deliberately boring game, a careful mood piece – so don’t go in expecting sudden shocks or moments of revelation.

Plus, while the remarkable island would seem to suggest freedom of movement, there is ultimately only ever one direction you can head. This seems, in a way, underusing such a spectacular construction, but Dear Esther does have a final, emotive resolution and to turn into a free-roaming exploration game would rob it of its power and risk reducing it to a very pretty screensaver.

The issue of pricing looms large too, even if in the best of all possible worlds a game could be judged solely by its quality rather than its value for money. £7 is certainly a high price for a game that will take a maximum of two hours for a full playthrough, but the counter-argument  (in addition to the fact that repeat playthroughs will turn up different dialogue and even events) is that this is an experience that, if you’re suitably receptive to it, will stay with you for weeks, months, even years beyond that. Close your eyes and you’ll be back on that bleakly beautiful island, wracked with loss and guilt for uncertain crimes and unseen people.  

Dear Esther Expert Verdict »

OS:Microsoft Windows XP / Vista / Vista64 Processor:Pentium 4 3.0GHz Memory:1 GB RAM Graphics:128 MB, Shader model 2.0 or higher DirectX®:dx90c Hard Drive:2 GB HD space Sound:DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

A journey of mood and sightseeing rather than action, Dear Esther is one of the most remarkable games of this or any other year. Very much not for the impatient or the proudly lowbrow, however.

  • The War of the Worlds review

    The War of the Worlds

    The War of the Worlds channels classic game design to present classic literature, but perhaps should have stayed buried in the past.

  • Far Cry 3 review

    Far Cry 3

    The mighty jungle

  • Amensia: A Machine For Pigs review

    Amensia: A Machine For Pigs

    Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs review - A horror game that's much more than the sum of its chilling, offal-splattered parts

  • Gurk II review

    Gurk II

    Affectionately hardcore old-school roleplaying on new-fangled Android phones.

  • The Stanley Parable review

    The Stanley Parable

    The neverending story of a man, an office, an empty life and infinite possibilities.

IDG UK Sites

Apple WWDC 2015 rumours: iOS 9, OS X 10.11, Apple TV & more

IDG UK Sites

Why I think the Apple Watch sucks and you'd be mad to buy it

IDG UK Sites

Kung Fury VFX behind-the-scenes: how Fido blew up everything for this year's most over-the-top film

IDG UK Sites

What will Apple launch at WWDC 2015, with one week to go? Apple TV, Macs, Beats Music, iOS 9, OS X 1......