Games often strive to tell us a great story, as well as giving us an amazing gaming experience. Some games such as the various Telltale series’ have got that one step further and almost completely swapped the actual gameplay for simple story telling, yet still, manage to keep the person playing involved all the way through. The Pillars of the Earth is a novel by Ken Follett, released in 1989, and now Daedalic Entertainment has taken on the job of turning it into a game. The question is not only how would this work, but would it be successful?
The Pillars of the Earth: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: 15 August 2017
Price: £31.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
The Pillars of the Earth is split into three parts, with Sowing the Wind and Eye of the Storm to come in the future, but for now, players have seven chapters to complete in the game. Your hand is guided at the start, with the tutorial in the form of a prologue, which is also where the story begins to be told to the player. The year is 1135, and the place is England, and the tutorial begins in a snowy forest with a struggling family. Tom, his pregnant wife Agnes and their children stop to rest, being short of money due to Tom looking for work. The dramatic tutorial sets the tone for the rest of the game, which is full on and intense nearly all the way through, which makes for an exciting experience.
Along with Tom and his story, we are also introduced to a monk named Phillip, who is trying to help out the monastery at Kingsbridge, and Jack, a boy who has grown up in the forest with his mother. All of these stories intertwine together in a fantastically told tale, based in a world where war is about to begin and each character is drawn into being involved in one way or another. Obviously a 1076 page book cannot possibly be completely translated into a game’s story, so the game does not delve into the story as deep as the book and certain details and character traits have been left out, particularly the explicit content regarding some of the characters actions, which is probably for the best with the game being aimed at a much larger audience.
The game does well to portray a very historical story that would probably (largely) not appeal to a mass gaming audience. It does this by literally letting the player be a passenger, and letting them watch the story unfold before their eyes. The Pillars of the Earth is marketed as a visual novel, so think of a point and click style game where choices have consequences to what happens in the game, but you are largely just watching what happens in front of you with very little interaction. It sounds like it could be boring if fast paced and involving gameplay are your thing, but if you are genuinely engaged by a good story, then don’t let that put you off.
The point and click gameplay is simple enough; you walk towards something and interact with it, whether it be an item, a person, an animal or whatever, and then you carry on. Some items will need to be picked up and used, where as others can just be viewed, but the game points you in the right direction with what you should be doing next with your quest. To help you out even more, hitting a button shows up everything you can interact with in a place, which is really handy when you aren’t sure what to do or want to check you’ve played with everything. It is basic gameplay that works fine, but it is the story you will be playing for here, not the gameplay itself.
Across your seven chapters, you go to different locations, all of which are grand and detailed, even in the cartoony style with which the game is designed. Big buildings look impressive and characters faces look detailed, even if the lip syncing is more than a little off at times. The other problem with lots of locations are the loading times and loading screens, both of which there is many, and the fact that the game struggles to load into a place each time, so expect a little stuttering when loading into a new scene or location. On top of this, the character’s movements often feel a little weird and disjointed, not looking 100% natural. This isn’t a big issue, but it is noticeable.
The game is set to a beautiful score of music, each piece more dramatic and atmospheric than the last. The characters all have voices you warm to as if they are really affected by what is going on in their story, which is nice to hear, even if the conversation is sometimes moving along at snail’s pace. The fact you spend a lot of time watching the drama unfold means you become invested in what is happening, like when you watch a film or a TV series, but this time you have a say in what happens (to a point). The six or seven hours it will probably take you to complete the game is the perfect amount of time to spend with it, without it feeling too short or dragging on too long.
A story about religious unrest, political arguments and power hungry people may not sound appealing to everyone straight away, but I say give The Pillars of the Earth a chance. If you want to be told a story you’ll remember, listen to this one. It isn’t without its problems; you’ll get fed up of loading screens, dodgy character movements and slow conversations, but the intense story telling and grand locations and soundtrack outweigh these problems. It’s the first part of what promises to be a great game.