The very first thing I noticed when playing the game - and I think most other players notice first, too - are the stunning visuals of the game. Everything in the world of Dear Esther is beautifully crafted with various textures and colors that surround and overwhelm the player. It is very easy to get lost in the dark world of Esther. Because there is no real other action in the game other than walking, the only function the player serves is really to explore the world around them. MacDonald warns gamers in her review, "spend your ten dollars (or £6.99) and expect an adventure game, and you'll be disappointed" (MacDonald). Pinsof sums up the game rather negatively, but accurately when he says, "all you do in this game is walk. You literally hold down the “W”-key for 70 minutes" (Pinsof). The click of the mouse and use of the "E" key on the keyboard, the keys that complete actions in Portal, only allow the player to get a closer look at something. This leads the player to believe the primary focus of the game is not to shoot or transport anything, but to observe and explore. The game was created, like a work of art, to experienced, as opposed to being created as something to defeat or entertain even.
Shot showing the beautiful, elaborate landscape of the game when emerging from the caves.
Dear Esther features a story element divulged to the player by a mysterious narrator. We hear short clips of a story that seem to fit together in some way, but still have gaping holes by time the game is over. In the beginning of the game, one of the narrator's blurbs describes a car crash, and later in the game, we find wreckage from what seems to have been a car crash surrounded by candles:
A characteristic unique to Dear Esther among many video games is its ability to elicit an emotional response from its players. The narrator's voice adds an undeniable element to the game. Pinsof addresses this in his review and says of narrator Nigel Carrington, "he adds a weight to the syllables that make them sink into your gut" (Pinsof). The narrator's loss and solemn mood is echoed throughout the game with its melancholy darkness, isolation, and generally dreary setting. The game is not happy and bright, but dark and sad. If the player loses himself in the story of the game, he will find himself absorbed in and haunted by the world of Esther, feeling sorry for the narrator, but relieved when he is free at the conclusion of the game.
Everything about Dear Esther draws the player in further so that they continue to walk along the rugged terrain. The beautifully crafted landscapes and details of the caves captivate the player while bits and pieces of the narrative itself are revealed by the world itself as well as the narrator. The game, as art, is a creation meant to be experienced with the ears, the eyes, and the heart.