At last I can say I played this! I did enjoy the fact that it was short and it really does look beautiful and the audio work really impressed me. I can't say that I really understood entirely what it was "about" and I appreciated the spatial design in how it was able to wander around in the "right" direction most of the time.
Once I finished it I immediately replayed the first chapter with the director's commentary turned on (thanks "Dear Esther Landmark Edition" I paid too much money for!). I'm glad I did because it clarified a lot of things for me, mostly about what the creators where trying to do and what their goals where. In a nutshell, they were aiming for an ambiguous narrative such that each player would have to make up their own mind about what was "really" going on. To achieve this, the audio clips that play were not the same for everyone (dunno if it was "random" or what) such that two people would have very different experiences. There was also some randomization in the props that appear in the world, which I thought was particularly interesting, but more on that later....
Purposefully wanting to design something you want your audience to struggle a bit with while providing enough that they can come up with a reasonable/sensible understanding is a tricky line to balance. I know this because I witnessed a student team struggle with that same idea. I wish I could have told them to play Dear Esther and to listen to all of the developer's commentary. I assume they played it, but I don't know for sure and not having played it myself at the time I wasn't able to help them pin point what Dear Esther was doing, why, and whether or not it was effective.
It took me a bit, but I also learned to appreciate the dead-ends different areas have that did not have an audio snippet as a "reward". I was really expecting that they would trigger, but more often than not I'd get to the end of a long detour to not hear anything. Then I noticed there was stuff lying around that was meaningful/relevant to the story. A broken car door. A pile of soggy books, all the same, and so on. I wonder if those props were "randomly" placed there to coincide with the story bits I was listening to? My guess is yes.
This looked so intriguing that I bought a copy blind...from abroad. This is not usually how I buy games. Especially the blind part. Well, unless they're super cheap....
I'm a few missions in (and 9 strikes, missions is not the same as strikes..) and I think I'm starting to get the hang of this game. It has required me to go into the menus to read a lot because the tutorial-style text that is meant to explain things is really poor at explaining things. For example, at one point the character's (they're all my assistants, I'm playing the commander of a city) all started talking about how we could now merge units, that we could merge 2 units, that it was a shame we couldn't merge three units yet, but that we could merge 2 units and that it was all a great improvement. I had no idea what merging units meant, how to do it, what it cost, etc. I wasn't able to find any info in the units-related menus... Eventually I discovered a menu with some help/glossary-type text and there...it said something to the effect of "merging units happens automatically when they're next to each other". Oh. I still didn't know what THAT meant, but I was able to figure it out later during a strike.
There's a lot of things like that in this game - that you sort of realize by having to pay careful attention to things you thought would have been explained either directly or more clearly.
The game plays as a sort of tower defense game where you place towers in your city. Your city is a set of concentric rings that have empty slots where you can build the towers. You also have to leave room for residential areas, parks, and a power plant. The idea is that you're running a city, and you need to keep your population happy and growing. As expected, you can upgrade all the things you build and as your city grows and you level up (you, the commander character) you get access to new units (towers) and other stuff?
So, there's base building/development and then strikes - which is when you fight off waves of invading monsters. Here's where the concentric (4 rings) circles that make up your city come in. Enemies come at you from any direction and you can rotate the city's rings such that the towers are in the path of the oncoming enemies. If two towers line up (radius-wise) and they're of the same type, they "merge" into a better version of that tower.
In the beginning I was REALLY getting annoyed during the strikes, because although there's an indicator of the direction of approaching enemies, I had towers that were fighting off-screen enemies and, due to the camera perspective, you couldn't see any enemies on the bottom of the screen. I though that was a really dumb idea and I was sure there must be some way to change the camera view. I pressed all the buttons. No luck. I pressed all the buttons some more, no luck. I checked menus for configuration options. No luck. Then I tried the second stick (right stick) and there it was - move the camera around! So, now - the strikes are a lot more interesting...and playable.
I'm not enjoying how chatty the characters are though...and there's unexplored gameplay there for now - each character has a special power or two, which I haven't looked into and I only realized I had more than 6 characters because I got a message before a strike asking if I was sure I wanted to field a character who was very tired. I was able to swap him out for another character...but then I realized I didn't have backups for anyone else...so I'm not sure what happens if they all get tired?
Played a few hours with my son the other day and I'm really interested in figuring out all the stuff the game has going on. There's an overarching rogue-like/lite structure that I'm intrigued by, and it helps that the base twin-stick shooting is fun.
The overall structural stuff I'm curious about are:
a. You spend money to get upgrades that are permanent. Are they really? (we're not sure, but we haven't gotten that far such that early levels SHOULD be really easy)
b. You can spend money to upgrade weapons - but we think that's only for your next playthrough?
c. Weapons also level up, but that's only during a play session - we're not sure which is the stronger effect: weapon leveling or the permanent upgrades. It's hard to disentangle them...
d. After the first boss, you can choose to start from that point - we're not sure yet if that's a good idea, why would you NOT want to do that? We're not sure if starting at the boss means starting at a power-level appropriate for that level? (e.g. with weapons that have levelled up to a point that similar to what you'd get if you'd played all the way to that boss).