Over the last few years we’ve seen various developers try their hand at the interactive novel genre. Telltale games is perhaps the most well known, achieving critical acclaim with titles such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and their own take on the Batman franchise. Daedalic Entertainment may not be quite as well known, but they do have an impressive slate of PC games under their belt including Deponia, The Whispered Word and Edna & Harvey. With Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, they have taken inspiration directly from the novel of the same name, and have created a whimsical world full of dazzling animations and interesting characters.
The Pillars of the Earth novel was published in 1989 and is set in the 12th century in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England. As the novel is quite lengthy (over a thousand pages), the game has taken on an episodic format and been broken into three “books”, consisting of seven chapters each. The next two books will be released at a later date, but will be free with purchase of Book 1: From Ashes.
The plot intertwines the tales of several different characters. There’s Prior Phillip, who is visiting Kingsbridge and finds himself at the centre of a plot by the church (or rather, his brother Francis) to interfere with the country’s politics. Tom Builder dreams of constructing a magnificent cathedral, but must also grieve for the death of his wife who and care for his remaining family. Mother and son duo, Jack and Ellen, have been living in the forest for many years and are suddenly thrown back into society after meeting Tom on a fateful night. Aliena, the daughter of a disgraced nobleman is also introduced.
It’s worth noting I have not read the novel, so I can’t speak for how faithful the game is towards the source material. However, players will have the opportunity to change certain events, offering a fresh perspective on what might have occurred had things played out differently. For those unfamiliar with The Pillars of the Earth, be warned that this game doesn’t feature any action sequences – it’s a slow driven narrative that centres around betrayal, religion, political drama and relationships. This in itself isn’t a negative trait as the story is thought-provoking and will keep you interested, but there are some who will find this particular style dull.
Like a lot of interactive novels, gameplay is limited. Most scenes revolve around you guiding a character through various screens and interacting with objects. You can gain insight into what a character thinks of an object; such as Prior Phillip noting the Kingsbridge Church looks rundown and past its prime, which adds a nice touch in immersing players into the world. Players are never left guessing what they’re trying to accomplish either, as the game carefully nudges you by displaying your next objective on the screen and dropping occasional hints.
It has a classic point-and-click adventure feel to it, though it isn’t without its faults. There’s often a lot of back tracking between screens, and in some of the larger areas it’s easy to lose your sense of direction. There is a map you can pull out but it’s very basic and doesn’t display the room you’re located in, making it slightly more difficult to navigate. Also, each time you switch between screens you’ll have to endure a loading screen. These are fairly long too considering the game uses 2D visuals, and they do pull you out of your immersion.
The Pillars of the Earth boasts beautifully hand drawn animations and environments, making it look more like a cartoon than a videogame. One particular scene that inspired me was the opening prologue, where snowflakes gently fell to the ground while Tom Builder was in a forest with his family. Animations of characters are smooth, regardless if you’re watching a cutscene play or controlling your character throughout the environment. I did encounter one error though where an NPC’s head moved downwards and off their body, but it was only for a few seconds.
Voice acting is also very solid, with characters sounding genuine and adding a sense of realism to the time period the game is set. At times it does seem like there are awkward pauses between characters during discussions, which made some of the longer conversations a little annoying.
Despite some minor faults, The Pillars of the Earth is a solid interactive novel. It features a rich world full of brilliant animations, solid voice acting, and above all a compelling narrative that should appease anyone interested in the subject matter.
- Beautifully drawn animations - Thought-provoking narrative - Solid voice acting
- Some backtracking involved - Awkward pauses during conversations