Originally released as a novel in 1989 and later a TV miniseries in 2010, Ken Follett’s most popular book, The Pillars of the Earth, gets re-imagined in 2017 as a narrative adventure game for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Taking place in England during the twelth-century, The Pillars of the Earth tells a drama-filled tale from the perspective of three unique characters. You have Philip, a well respected monk visiting the priory in the fictional city of Kingsbridge. There’s Jack, the son of an outlaw who lives in a remote cave with his mother. Lastly there’s Aliena, a young, disgraced noblewoman.
While they each have very diverse backgrounds, they’re not heroes or heroines destined to save the world. They’re humans with their own problems and goals, doing their best to succeed in the world they live in. Speaking of human problems, you literally have to help your pregnant wife give birth in the middle of a forest (during winter no less), in the first 10 minutes of the game. It’s intense.
Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is clearly a very adult game, filled with mature themes and issues, such as politics, faith, and economics. These themes are fully realized throughout each chapter as Philip, Jack and Aliena work together to better Kingsbridge through the construction of a revolutionary new cathedral. The dramatic story and deep characterization are only enhanced by the interesting gameplay.
Daedalic Entertainment made it so players aren’t just left clicking themselves into oblivion. For instance, Philip can use his bible to interact with things. Players can use the bible to get different responses from people and objects or cause new interactions to take place. This feature is often utilized when looking for clues or solving puzzles.
Another interesting feature is having the characters think about things. By right clicking on the world around them, the player can see brief thoughts and silent comments from whoever they’re controlling. This was probably one of my favorite elements of the game as it allowed me to get to know the cast more intimately. Where one character may see a giant, heavy rock, another sees a stone that’s good for masonry. Getting to experience each character’s view of the world really helped me connect with them more.
Players also have the option of navigating the story as they see fit. This non-linear element of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth adds a lot of value to the game as it offers an incentive to play the game again. As seen in the screenshot above, Philip can choose to either lie or tell the truth.
Players also have the option to say nothing at all, too. While this does spawn an occasional hidden outcome, most of the time the NPC will just ask you the question again. Players worried about making a social faux pas or pissing someone off needn’t worry. Ken Follett’s book-turned-game allows you to save anywhere at almost any time.
While the graphics are nothing to write home about (hand painted though they are), they feel fitting to the style and tone of the game. When I think of the middle ages, drab and dreary is generally what comes to mind. The voice acting though, is top notch. Each character seems to have a voice that matches them perfectly. While that’s obviously by design it’s still impressive and a crucial aspect of every narrative adventure.
I only wish the game wasn’t so sloooooowwwww. Originally a 1000 page novel, the story itself is the epitome of a slow burn. It takes a while for things to really get interesting and you often times find yourself wanting the current conversation to be over already. But the story isn’t even the slowest part of The Pillars of the Earth. Walking is. Physically moving from Point A to Point B takes far too long. Thankfully, players are able to skip much of the travel time in larger areas by double clicking on the destination to load it immediately. If you need to walk from one side of the cathedral to the other however, be prepared to wait as the characters take their sweet time. This is especially painful when trying to explore a new area or talk to multiple people.
Life in the Middle Ages apparently sucked, but this game doesn’t. It’s nitty. It’s gritty. It’s honest. Issues aside, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is a great game that truly earns the time and attention required to play it. If the next 14 chapters are anything like the first seven, it’s going to be one hell of a tale. Book 1: From the Ashes is available now on Steam. Book 2: Sowing the Wind is coming out this December with Book 3: Eye on the Storm releasing in early 2018. All three can be purchased at once with the $30 season pass. If you break that down by book, it’s quite a deal.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
An Intense Story
Gameplay - 7/10
Plot - 9/10
Design - 8/10
This is a great game but it's not for everyone. It needs time and attention to be fully appreciated. If narrative adventures are your thing or if you're simply a history buff, consider giving this one a look.