Title: Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Based on Ken Follett’s world-bestseller, ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ retells the story of the village of Kingsbridge in a whole new interactive way. Play as Jack, Aliena and Philip and change the events of the book through exploration, decision-making and dialogues.
12th century, England: In a time of great poverty and war, a small town begins the construction of a cathedral to claim wealth and security for its people. In their struggle to survive, lives and destinies intertwine. Philip the monk becomes prior of the small abbey of Kingsbridge. At the same time, a boy called Jack is raised in the woods by his outlawed mother. His apprenticeship as a stonemason paves his way to become a gifted master builder. Together with the disgraced noblewoman Aliena, Jack and Philip begin the construction of one of the greatest cathedrals England will ever see.
The Pillars of the Earth brings to life the book of the same name written by Ken Follett. Whereas the book is divided into six parts, the game is instead split into three. For those who haven’t read it, the world of Pillars of the Earth is a bleak one, full of sadness, sudden deaths, and dashed hopes. In midst of this, there are spots of optimism and humour that allow you to hope that these characters will get the happy ending they deserve. Pillars of the Earth is set in 12th century England during several key historical events that the characters play a part in. Though the setting remains the same, the game presents players with opportunities to make their own choices and diverge slightly from the original storyline. Where some choices simply change the dialogue, others seem to have some lasting impact throughout the rest of the game, which can result in an ending that’s different from the book.
The sprawling plot follows many characters, but the one thing they all have in common is that unlike most other games, none of them are special in any way. The three characters you will play as are Philip, who is a monk, Jack, a young man trying struggling to keep him and his mother alive, and Aliena, a young woman of nobility. There is no chosen one or great saviour, and all of these characters are just everyday folk trying to survive. The Pillars of the Earth deals with many complex themes, from ever-present political schemes and the early church’s impact on everyday life, all the way to buildings were constructed in that time period. However, the main storyline revolves around cathedrals, particularly the process of constructing one and how its construction affects the lives of those around it. The cathedral is the backdrop for the drama that occurs in the game, with characters fighting to get it built or using it as a means to seize power.
Players jump through the story playing as different characters, acting out various scenes from the original book. New settings and characters are introduced as the game builds up a new world before you. Granted, some chapters (i.e. characters and storylines) are more interesting than others, which made me lose interest at times throughout the game. As a whole, the game moves quite slowly. The translation from book to game did not work out quite well as you jump around from scene to scene, setting to setting, playing different roles in the world. I found this same problem in another game by Daedalic – Memoria. While the story was interesting, the jump between storylines and characters led to some confusion. Also, if I was playing through one storyline for a while, I would sometimes forget what was happening/where I left off in the other storyline. This also resulted in some problems where if I left the game too long, I’d forget everything all together.
In addition, I found that there was a lot of telling over showing – something that books and games alike should try to avoid. There were a lot of significant events that would happen in the background and instead of my characters living through it, I’d jump back into the storyline and be updated through narration or conversations. I think this impacted how I experienced the story as well. Though discovery through items, observations, and conversations can have its merits, I would have loved to have worked through some of the big events that were happening around me.
As a whole, the game’s art and dialogue won me over. The style of art is very similar to a cartoon you might see on television with an almost painted look, while the characters almost resembling animated cartoons and the environment itself is extremely detailed and well drawn. The colours are easy on the eyes and help maintain the atmosphere and mood of the scene. Though the action distracts from the background, it’s hard to miss how much the art really helps make this game more visually stimulating when the story is moving along slowly. This also made exploring interesting. As a point-and-click game, the environment is ripe for exploration and discovery as players can examine details and items that may help move the characters’ story forward. Players can further interact with the environment using items in their inventory or from the surrounding area in order to solve puzzles. The way the game’s world is built through art really adds to these elements.
What really impressed me though was the voice acting – the chosen voices helped build the world and the story. Many of the voices, along with the well-written dialogue, helped bring the characters out of the pages. They breathed life into the game. I appreciated that all the voices were so unique – you knew who was talking at any given time just by listening to them. It helped that every voice fit its character so well, and the emotion, tone, and timbres worked to build the game’s tone and atmosphere.
All in all, I don’t know if I’d recommend the game to everyone. I appreciate that the story was given room to breathe, but that also came as a detriment to the pace of the game. I think if you enjoy adventure story-based games, this may be of interest to you, but if you want it to be fast-paced, and immediately gratifying, it’s probably best you look elsewhere. In the end, The Pillars of the Earth is a story you have to work for and earn. Though it is well worth it in the end, the journey getting there may not be appreciated by everyone.
A copy of this game was provided by Daedalic Entertainment in exchange for an honest review.