Dear Esther: Landmark Edition Review

Richard Walker

If ever the ongoing 'are games art' debate needed a poster boy, then Dear Esther would be it. Actually, it's an experience that defies the label of 'game', in as much as you don't really do anything other than walk from one point to another. It's the game that originated the so-called 'walking simulator', but the truth is there's more to it than such a reductive way of describing Dear Esther suggests.

Starting life as a mod for Half-Life 2, Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is the definitive version of The Chinese Room's signature game that got remade for PC in 2012. This iteration has been rebuilt with Unity and spruced up to look the best it possibly can, and indeed, Dear Esther looks genuinely quite beautiful on consoles. Strolling through swaying grass as the coastal wind picks up, Dear Esther is one of the loveliest walks you'll ever take, especially in a video game.

The antithesis of every game where things go boom on a regular basis, playing Dear Esther is relaxing and meditative. It has no time constraints, no other objectives beyond making it to the end, no user-interface, and above all, no pretensions that it's anything else other than what it is; what it sets out to be. Dear Esther is unapologetically different, its story delivered only in narrated portions, found objects and the painted scrawlings on the island's craggy rock faces.

There are other items and objects of interest you'll stumble across during your ambling across shorelines, through gorgeously lit caves filled with crystal formations, organic spires of rock and hanging stalactites, rocky streams and desolate hillsides, but you're unable to interact with any of them. Every single button simply zooms in so you're able to appreciate Esther's landscape in greater detail, and simply soaking it all in is a joy in itself.

Dear Esther isn't for everyone, and some may discard it as ponderous, boring fluff. But to do so is completely missing the point. Approach Dear Esther like you would any other game, and you're going to come away disappointed. Think of it as a unique experience, a mysterious island in the outer Hebrides harbouring secrets and beautiful sights to behold, and Dear Esther makes sense.

Upon a first run-through, Dear Esther's story might not make much sense, however. It's something that becomes less obscure upon repeated visits, as you make the connections and piece together the narrated chunks of the story. It's also a narrative that's open to interpretation and Dear Esther's ending and events that have transpired don't have a definitive answer by any means.

The Landmark Edition's bonus Directors' Commentary with creative director Dan Pinchbeck, artist and designer Rob Briscoe and composer Jessica Curry helps flesh things out, offering a variety of insights into Esther's influences, narrative complexities and other details that you might otherwise overlook like the randomly-generated props, symbols and narrated segments. It also postulates theories and recounts brilliantly interesting anecdotes about the game worth listening to.

Dear Esther's achievement list, meanwhile, has been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, so each chapter is punctuated with an achievement, while the rest are rewarded for venturing off the beaten path and exploring a bit. There's also an achievement for playing the game with the Directors' Commentary switched on, which we'd heartily recommend anyway, even if there was no achievement attached to it. A good, solid list that suits the game.

The pace slow and considered, the soundtrack spare and affecting, Dear Esther is unlike anything else you're ever likely to play. Layered with symbols and meaning, it's also a game that demands to be played again and again. Play it through once and you'll only get a piece of the puzzle. Play it again and you'll discover even more as you explore the island and decipher its secrets and subtleties. The Landmark Edition also demands to be played with the Directors' Commentary activated, its revelations genuinely interesting and insightful.

Whether you consider Dear Esther a game or not, it's a singular experience that's more than deserving of your time. And Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is the most beautiful, definitive version of the game you can get. Go on, give it a go. See how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition

It seems odd to give a game like Dear Esther a score. If I were rating it purely on its artistic merits, I'd give it 100. As a game, its unique qualities mark it out as something that deserves to be played and experienced, but if you're hoping for something action-packed, you're barking up the wrong tree. Dear Esther: Landmark Edition is a great game that transcends what a video game can be as a medium; a perfect marriage of artistry and ideas that you absolutely need to delve into.

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Jessica Curry's score is stunning, coming in at exactly the right moments to enhance the sense of wonder or amplify the game's more surreal, dreamlike moments. The rest of the audio is wonderfully atmospheric, bringing Dear Esther's island to life. Nigel Carrington's narration is also superb, the warm, deep timbre of his voice perfectly fitting.


Dear Esther's craggy Hebridean island is simultaneously beautiful and corrupted, its shores polluted, its crevices littered with items that by all logic shouldn't be there. Look hard enough for the story etched into the rock and scattered inside the stone cottages, and you'll get more out of it.


Hmm. Now this is a tough one. You don't so much 'play' Dear Esther as experience it. You walk slowly across its precipices, soak in the views, uncover objects and get swept up in its hidden layers. Explore and enjoy. That's it; plain and simple. It is what it is and it does exactly what it sets out to do.


Dear Esther is incredibly short, lasting just over an hour at the most. But its island is a place you'll want to visit again and again on multiple occasions. One playthrough is selling the game short; it deserves much more from you and gives back plenty in return.


Serving their purpose, this is a list that rewards exploration and listening to all of the narrative beats the game has to offer. Play the entire thing with the Directors' Commentary on and you'll also bag an achievement as well as some unique insight. Nice.

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