Dear Esther Review

Dear Esther is a single-player, first-person walking simulator exploration video game developed and published by The Chinese Room. It first came out in 2008 as a free mod for the Source game engine, and in 2012, it was commercially released after redevelopment.

The game is available on Microsoft Windows, OS X, PS4, and Xbox One.

Plot and setting

Dear Esther tells the story of a lonely, troubled man who has lost his wife, the eponymous Esther. The player finds themselves in an uninhabited island in the Hebrides and has to walk around and explore the island. You learn about the story by listening to a series of letters that the man wrote and addressed to Esther, and as you explore more of the island, you get to uncover more of the story as a letter fragment that relates to the area you are in.

As you listen to the man read his letters, it’s clear that he was deeply troubled by the loss of his wife, who is revealed to have died in a car crash. You can almost feel his grip on his sanity slowly slipping away, as his letters sound more and more distant and strange as you go deeper into the game.

At first, the man describes the island and its history with complete, beautiful, and richly decorated sentences. Later on, you find that his commentary becomes much more impassioned and incoherent.


There is very little gameplay in Dear Esther. In fact, if you are expecting your usual adventure video game, you’d be disappointed because that isn’t the focus with Dear Esther; rather, it’s a game that tells a story through beautiful writing, visuals, and audio. 

Your only task is to explore the uninhabited Hebridean island that you have found yourself in, all the while listening to the anonymous man read out his letters to his dead wife, Esther. Each playthrough of the game reveals new audio/letter fragments, and you will find that the narrative is slightly different every time.

Apart from the man and Esther, there are several other characters you will hear about in the game through the man’s letters. First is a man named Donnelly, who had charted the same island in the past. Then, there is a man named Paul, who is suggested through the commentaries to be the drunk driver in the accident where Esther died. There is also a shepherd named Jakobson, who appeared to have lived on the same island sometime in the 18th century.

As you walk around exploring the vast island, you will come across remains of buildings, an old shipwreck, and a cave system where the walls have oblique graffiti and images that resemble circuit diagrams, chemical diagrams, neurons, and bacteria.

There is no background music that plays throughout the game. Instead, you get to listen to winds blowing and the waves crashing. Besides, this leaves you with fewer distractions; you can take in the beautiful, acutely-detailed world of Dear Esther.

At various points of the game, you will see a figure in the distance walking away from you. But before you can reach them, they always disappear. The deeper you go into the game, the more unclear and blurred the identities of the characters become, and by the end of the game, you will have to draw your own conclusions of the story.

Can it be considered a video game?

Ever since Dear Esther came out as a free-to-play Source engine mod in 2008, there have been many arguments as to whether it falls under the category of a “video game.” This is because Dear Esther doesn’t have much gameplay, and the experience majorly relies on its writing and the design of the game world.

For this reason, many gamers claim that Dear Esther is an interactive visual storytelling experience rather than an “adventure video game.” This is true to an extent because there are no elements you would usually find in a game – no puzzles to solve, no clear objective you have to work towards, no tools or equipment you can pick up/buy.

However, you cannot deny that Dear Esther is an extremely immersive experience that pulls you in deep enough with its strong, compelling, and emotional writing, and its majestic, beautifully-detailed graphics.

Dear Esther may not be a traditional video game that you are used to and maybe more of an experimental form of a video game, but it would be a loss to miss out on the unique and moving experience it offers.

Game Trailer

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