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"Come back."

Dear Esther is a mod built with the Source engine (the same used for Half-Life 2, among other games). While designed in First-Person Shooter format, it is in reality more of a sparse, linear narrative with complete emphasis on the plot. This is a story that you quite literally walk through - nothing is trying to kill you, and there are no puzzles that you must solve to progress. Unless, of course, you count the plot.

A remake was released in 2012 featuring vastly improved graphics, remastered audio, and a much more intuitive level design for the environments (one common criticism of the original mod).

The remake with improved graphics is available on Steam. The old version can be found here.

The official website.

WARNING: Due to the nature of its narrative, it is all but impossible to describe the tropes in Dear Esther without spoiling the crap out of it. If you have not experienced it yet (and we highly recommend you do,) do not read any further.

Dear Esther contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Arc Number: 21. "There are twenty-one connections in the circuit diagram of the anti-lock brakes, there are twenty-one species of gull inhabiting these islands , it is twenty-one miles between the Sandford junction and the turn off for home. All these things cannot, will not, be a co-incidence!"
  • Arc Symbol: Gulls, cans of paint, paper boats, circuits, molecules, car parts, sonogram pictures...
  • Beautiful Void: The island is haunting in its emptyness, juxtaposed against its Scenery Porn.
  • Border Patrol: "Come back. Come back. Come back."
  • Determinator: The narrator forces himself to continue his journey despite fracturing his leg and having it become infected, using willpower and a lot of painkillers.
  • Gainax Ending: The ending is as mysterious in its resolution as the island is in its exploration.
  • Hearing Voices: The whole story is told via a faceless narrator reading letters to the eponymous Esther.
  • Insurmountable Waist High Fence
  • Island Full of Crazy: Just what do the bizarre symbols all over the caves and rock faces mean?
  • Mind Screw: What makes it even harder to tell what happens is that the basic events of the story change depending on playthrough. Even with such simple matters as how the narrator reached the island; sometimes he is a willing hermit, seeking solace, where in others he is a sailor who has been marooned.
  • Mysterious Watcher: Occasionally, off in the distance, you will see dark figures observing you, or walking the path themselves.
  • Narrator: "Dear Esther, I sometimes feel as if I've given birth to this island..."
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Not exactly a horror game, but the lack of enemies and activity serve to make the island very haunting. The creepy music in the caves doesn't help much.
  • Ontological Mystery: Why are you visiting this island? Who is the narrator? Who is Esther? Who built the mast? Who painted all these molecules and messages on these surfaces? Is the island real or is it a dream? The game constantly prompts all these questions, and never quite gives concrete answers.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Subtly done. In every new playthrough, some objects and elements will appear in different locations and bits of the narration will change.
  • Sanity Slippage: The narrator's memories begin to blur together as he walks through the island.
    • "The moon over the Sandford junction, headlights in your retinas. Donnelly drove a grey hatchback without a bottom, all the creatures of the tarmac rose to sing to him." [1]
  • Scenery Porn
  • Silent Protagonist: He does have very noisy shoes though. It's not entirely clear if the Narrator is the same person as the protagonist too, but if they are, then he's quite chatty.
  • Sinister Silhouettes: Every now and then you'll see a shadowy figure standing or walking around in the distance. If you're quick enough, you can run right up to them, but they won't respond to you and will sometimes even vanish instantly.
  • Soft Water: It's not like there's any way to take damage in the first place, but the tiny pools at the bottom of certain chasms would not protect against the falls they are meant to break.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Dip your head below the ocean's surface and you instantly drown. Later inverted when you can stay underwater in the cave pools for as long as you want.
  • Story to Gameplay Ratio: On the highest end of the scale, only one-upped by the Visual Novel genre. This game is essentially a short film with occassional player control from the first person perspective. Reviewers have actually praised this use of story, but question whether this is a "game".
  • Title Drop: Several times during the narrator's readings.
  • Violation of Common Sense: There are a couple points in the game that require jumps (or falls, rather, in the absence of actual jumping) no reasonable person would ever make.
  • Wham! Line: "He tells me that he was not drunk at all."
    • "I will look to my left and see Esther Donnelly, flying beside me. I will look to my right and see Paul Jacobson, flying beside me."
  • Unreliable Narrator


  1. "All manner of symbols crudely scrawled across the cliff face of my unrest. My life reduced to an electrical diagram. All my gulls have taken flight; they will no longer roost on these outcrops. The lure of the moon over the Sandford junction is too strong."
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