DEAR ESTHER vs. PROTEUS: “Who Walks Best?”

2012’s Dear Esther and 2013’s Proteus are two critically acclaimed indie games where you just sorta walk around… today I reveal who walks best.

I recently played two very similar games via Steam: Proteus and Dear Esther.

… to be fair, I only played each of them for about forty-five minutes …
… the good news is that 45 minutes is long enough to finish ONE of those titles.


Now, both games are “art” games where you wander around an island with minimal instruction. Both games are well-regarded indie titles in their own right. However, both games are totally different from one another… So, it’s time for a shootout. Let’s compare games:

Dear Esther ingame

(above: a house in Dear Esther, below: a house in Proteus)


Graphics: WINDear Esther
This is kind of a no-brainer. Dear Esther is a lot like walking around in Skyrim, if Skyrim took place in the northern UK, and every corner of the map was super detailed. Proteus looks like you’re walking around an 8-bit, first-person, Looney Tunes, candy-coated wonderland… and that’s not meant as a compliment. Dear Esther has some really great visuals, I can’t state that enough, it’s just absolutely gorgeous; whereas, Proteus’ super-basic nature was enough to test the patience of a Minecraft vet like myself from time to time.


Gameplay: WINProteus
Dear Esther isn’t really a game — granted, Proteus is BARELY a game — but at least Proteus is a randomly generated world that BEGS to be explored, because that’s the only way to progress the “gameplay”. Dear Esther is the opposite of that, it is basically the track-shooter embodiment of an audio-book- you walk around a gorgeously detailed, but ultimately boring, island from point A to point B while some b-rate voice actor spouts utter nonsense taken from a painfully pretentious, film-student-grade narrative.

Proteus requires you to wander around the island until you find a circle of fireflies (it sounds odd because it is) which progresses the seasons forward and moves you along toward the resolution (which is kinda great and I’m not going to spoil it for you), it’s not much, but it adds a modicum of interaction to the experience, even if there probably isn’t any replayability to it.

In the interest of full disclosure (and to completely invalidate my opinions) I did not finish Dear Esther, but from what I’ve checked in the forums, I didn’t miss any exciting twists, or even split trails with different outcomes. Seriously, ALL you do is walk down a path while the “game” talks to you… for HOURS.



Music: DRAW
Proteus has a really charming 8-bit-esque score that changes and dynamically shifts, fluidly adding and subtracting sounds as you encounter new environments, creatures and effects (rain, meteor showers, snow, etc), it’s an absolute delight to experience and explore – though it can’t ever quite escape being 8-bit. Conversely, Dear Esther has really, really great composed music (courtesy of Jessica Curry, who is findable on the iTunes) and ambient sound effects that really succeed in setting a mood… but then Dear Esther starts spouting its crap dialogue at you and it just ruins everything.

Both games are STRONG in their audio departments, but on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.


Story: WIN*Dear Esther   (*only because Proteus doesn’t technically have a story)

Proteus’s not exactly subtle, but ultimately heartfelt, interactive art piece is a fun, albeit structureless, exploration of life.
Dear Esther crams clumsy multi-character exposition down your throat as you walk around rocky cliffs overlooking gloomy waves.

Proteus asks you to reflect your own story; Dear Esther wants you to try to piece together theirs… but it’s still a story.


Overall: Proteus
It’s just a better experience. It’s weird and low-res but it’s a personal journey, a quick, charming (though probably un-replayable) trip through a pixelicious wilderness full of discovery that begs you to take something unique from the experience; while Dear Esther, for all its gorgeous aesthetics, is just pretentious garbage that doesn’t really need a player – you could make the whole thing a video and it would be the same experience.


Then again, what do I know? A whole lot of people rave about Dear Esther. Apparently the ending is cool.
Feel free to find and enjoy both games on Steam. They’re generally no more than $10 apiece.


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