Walk forwards. Listen to narration. The end.
There are a lot of pretentious art games out there that try to be "meaningful" but end up feeling very artificial and empty. This is one of them.
The best way to describe Dear Esther
is in the title of my review. You walk along a set path, which dips and turns from time to time, but is still linear in design. Narration plays over as you do. You barely have any freedom to explore. Eventually, you reach your destination, and the "game" ends.
There's so little else to say about Dear Esther
itself, that I'm instead going to proceed to compare it to better "art games". The Path
is an art game where your character is told to walk along a path to a house, and doing so earns you the bland happy ending. Not doing so results in a very long trip through the endless forest where you can discover many things at your own (slow) pace, and even see the personal thoughts of your character, in poetry form. The Path
exists only to tell a story and reveal character, but does so much better than Dear Esther
, where you literally only proceed along a set path. The irony.
, which recently has sold over 250,000 copies, gives you a large house to explore. You can pick up objects and read things at your own pace, exploring the house in any direction - north, south, east, west, upstairs, downstairs. You decide the order at which you do it. The house feels real and lived-in, believable and atmospheric, like you're exploring a real place. Dear Esther
doesn't give us that. It's not about exploration. It's about following a path.
I'm fine with games that tell stories or try to provide a non-game-like experience, with no challenge, no puzzles, no combat, no platforming. Gone Home
was great. I even liked The Path
. Both had freedom to explore and felt like I was doing something, and that I was in an interesting, open place that felt alive with detail and opportunity. Dear Esther
bored me to tears. It's not only not a game, it fails as an interactive story. It's an art installation. An art installation in playable form. If it was a free browser-based game, that would be one thing, but they expect you to spend money on this (at least, the updated version). My advice: if you truly want a story-based experience, spend your money on Gone Home