Dear Esther seems to be the epitome of a walking simulator as there literally is NOTHING else to do but walk. Normally, I love an amazing narrative embedded in a story, however, if I’m being completely honest I cannot even judge whether or not the narrative in Dear Esther was good or not as I just feel completely detached from the game. It was incredibly hard to be immersed in the game, and I was constantly checking my phone to see when I could finally stop playing. Much of this, to me, lies in three main elements:
- Dear Esther capitalizes on a discovery kind of fun, yet limits your ability to discover on your own terms
- Dear Esther relies on a TON of words to communicate the overall narrative and it constantly removes you from the gameplay experience
- Dear Esther seems to carry a rather confusing theme early on which does not feel cohesive
As to the first point, I feel that a game that capitalizes on exploration and a discovery kind of fun needs to allow you to explore on your own terms. However, everything in Dear Esther seems to be constrained. Your walking speed and honestly even the areas to venture in (for the most part) are pre-determined by the game, and so it feels like you’re going through the motions, rather than actually exploring anything. For an exploratory game, there seems to be very little exploring, and instead, it’s ONLY a walking simulator, stripped of any most other elements, and to me, this removed me from immersion as I was… literally just walking (an activity I already find boring in real-life)
The walk of boredom (literally have to just walk for so long with nothing happening)
For the second point, I think Dear Esther, though sometimes there is a lack of text on screen, when it does have text on screen, there is A LOT of it. Navigating the story feels like reading an essay sometimes, and it’s really difficult to stay immersed in a walking-based game when you constantly have to pause and read a paragraph.
Some of the text cues in-game
Finally, Dear Esther’s overall genre and the theme is extremely ambiguous as someone going in with no prior experience playing the game, or any like it. The graphics tend to communicate that Dear Esther is a horror game, but the only scary part of the game seems to be the thought of having to play it again. I was able to deduce that it might be some sort of ghost story game after doing some digging online, but I truly couldn’t wrap my head around any cohesive theme. The gameplay didn’t feel horror-like though the setting did, and so it felt like themes were clashing against each other in the execution. Being confused as to what I’m even supposed to do led to me constantly breaking out of my immersion and looking for a way out of playing the game.
Overall, Dear Esther, at its core is a walking simulator, and seems to be nothing else. Though I only played the game for about 1-2 hours, I couldn’t feel immersed in the game for longer than 5 minutes at a time, and was unable to deduce a clear theme/story/ reason to continue playing. I also would note that I am definitely not the target demographic for this game, however, as I tend to have an extremely short attention span and so I need something to keep me preoccupied while I’m moving (at such a slow speed).