My recommendation to anyone thinking about playing this game is to go into it with the proper mindset. It is not so much a game in the traditionally understood sense of the word. Rather, Dear Esther is an almost entirely cerebral experience. It works on the player in much the same way a good painting will effect an observer who sees in the art not merely a window looking out on our own world, but that same world slightly altered by the surreal, and thus bringing to light things about ourselves we might not otherwise see. That said, Dear Esther, by it's very poetic nature, is one of the most immediately captivating games I have encountered; I do not believe it should be overlooked simply because it does not conform to the usual way in which people have come to view video games.
Overwhelming is the sense of solitude on this gloomy, desolate Hebridean island. Heavier still is the desperately sorrowful soundtrack, by Jessica Curry. In style, it is similar to film composer Christopher Young's most sparsely written music, and plays as a more effective voice in this introspective journey than does the admittedly potent narrator. I often find game music lacking in its ability to plunge beneath the fabric of a game and tug to light its individual and vibrantly beating heart, but this is a rare instance where such a feat is accomplished. Haunting as any chamber music has ever been, the score to Dear Esther will probe the emptiness within each of us, and get us contemplating questions most prefer to ignore.
This is a relatively short journey, requiring the gamer to simply progress across the island until they have reached a lone radio mast. There are no decisions to be made, no objects to interact with, and the fragmented narration of the main character plays out as you progress. The epistolary narrative renders the intent of the story in a vague light, like a sequence of events seen through shimmering tears. It is debatable what Dear Esther is actually trying to say (and I believe it to have been done that way intentionally), but anyone willing to open themselves to the voices haunting this Scottish island are certain to draw some very strong conclusions.
To me, the story deals primarily with unspeakable loss, and how we set ourselves up for even greater heartache (potentially leading even to madness) if God is not our anchor in all things. I, for one, see the issue of personal transcendence (as it is articulated at the end of the game by the main character's leap from the radio tower, who then begins a ghostly flight across the moon-dappled sea, followed by a black fade) to be illustrative not of our ability to achieve such a spiritual shift on our own, but exactly the opposite: There exists within fallen humanity a perpetual, aching cry to be delivered, redeemed--to transcend the shattering effects of our sinful natures.... But humanism cannot accomplish this miracle, nor any form of man-centered religion focusing on personal moral performance or upon the sincerity of their emotions as they are connected to a certain belief system. The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only atonement by which we can be saved from all this death. He is the only peace, the only Truth. The end result of all other efforts at redemption lead only to chilly shadows and vacuous spaces brimming with regret.
Hopefully sharing my personal interpretation of Dear Esther does not come across as a clumsy effort to proselytize (if that were the case, I would certainly have given the gospel in its fullness), but rather illustrates the power and versatility the player can expect to experience by such an unconventional game as this.
For anyone looking to plunge beneath the surface within themselves as they embark upon the solitary journey to the radio tower, Dear Esther offers surprising treasures that periodically flash their brilliance even years after the experience has ended.