Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth (Xbox One) Review

By Albert Lichi 15.08.2017 3

Review for Ken Follett

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth follows the first book of the famed series of the same name. The developer, Daedalic Entertainment has already made quite a name for itself with such narrative-driven adventure games like Silence and Deponia, which feature striking artistic designs and animated characters. When adapting the beloved historical drama, Daedalic applied the same deft and craftsmanship from its past efforts to deliver a very unconventional story for a modern video game. As someone completely unfamiliar with the works of Ken Follett, this review will only reflect the functionality of the game itself and not the context as an adaptation of the novels.

The story of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is one grounded in reality. It is a very dry and matter of fact world that is very much steeped in our world's history. There are no fantasy aspects to be found in this game at all, and the drama here is taken very seriously. The consequences from the player's choices are felt in a real and believable way that suit the subject matter of political intrigue and the operations of the church during medieval England.

The tone is perfectly set at the start of the game, with a pregnancy delivery going awry, and it's established that this is going to be a very bumpy ride for all the characters. These include Prior Phillip, the monk who gets a bit in over his head and is sought to revive the struggling monastery; Jack, the boy who lived in the wild with his mother and is only just becoming acquainted with civilized men; and Lady Aliena, the noblewoman who falls from grace after rejecting a lord's marriage proposal. The narrative begins fairly slow with Prior Philip, but as the plot begins to make traction and the points of view shift between Phillip, Jack and Aliena, this is when Pillars of the Earth's drama takes hold and becomes utterly gripping.

Screenshot for Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth on Xbox One

This is a very mature story and is written and acted in such a way that feels authentic to the period. Hearing some of the lower class characters use really old-timey medieval slang and obscure vocabulary is a lot more entertaining than one would think, and it must be attributed to the stellar voice cast. A special mention must be given to the actor who performed Prior Phillip, a pure character who is caught in a truly compromised situation and is desperate to stay on the path of god. Phillip is the heart of the story, and the fact that Pillars of the Earth has a branching choice system means having to face the harsh realities that come with those choices. It is easy to feel for Prior Phillip, and it becomes sad, as this simple man is put to a challenging test of character.

In the case of Jack "The Child of the Wild" Jackson, he goes from a simple life of living in the woods with his mom, to reading literature and doing kid stuff, like playing with his crude makeshift action figures. The story makes a point about his transformation from childhood to becoming an adult - it is poetic that on the day he kills his first deer it also happens to be the day he is thrusted into the civilized world. Like signifying the end of his innocence and becoming a man, he learns the craft of masonry and what it means to work for survival. Lady Aliena is the third and least played character in this first part of a trilogy, but her role is clearly going to be much further expanded upon in the next batch of chapters when they release.

Screenshot for Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth on Xbox One

The art direction in Pillars of the Earth is superb. It often resembles a high quality motion comic and has highly detailed vistas that are evocative of the recent Castlevania animated series. The animation itself for the characters is a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from 2000s era Flash cartoon, to something almost TV quality animation. The figures in scenes are not the most emotive, nor do they express a wide range of body language, since it seems Daedalic might have been banking on the voice actors to convey the emotions of the character vocally to make up for the lack of variety in the animation. Expect a lot of characters standing around in simple poses and rarely changing, or only staying in a single animation loop the entire time.

Pillars of the Earth plays like a fairly standard point-and-click adventure game, but with direct control over the characters. The various verbs, like "observe," "use" and "talk" are mapped to the face buttons, with the item wheel mapped to the right analogue stick. The Xbox One controller works quite well with this set-up, and the only real flaws are more to do with some questionable game design and interface flaws. Once in a while, Pillars of the Earth will feature wide and massive yet beautiful matte paintings to serve as the backdrop, and they may be populated with dozens of NPCs. It can be a bit tricky to navigate such a small, slow-moving character surrounded by others to get where they need to be.

Screenshot for Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth on Xbox One

It can also be very hard to tell who is speaking when there are many characters in a scene and the camera is pulled back, and given the restrained and grounded art style, the expressions and lip movements can be almost unnoticeable. Many dialogue scenes feel really long at times, which may be in part due to technical issues, since the game loads audio and animations in a weird way, which leads to long awkward pauses during exchanges, while an NPC slowly follows through with a simple animation.

Curiously, Pillars of the Earth has a ton of loading in it. There really is no excuse for why a game like this that relies so much on just two-dimensional art and sound has frequent and egregious load times between screens. The locations can be fairly sprawling at times, with many points of interest, and the simple act of exploring to test out items on characters or objects becomes really tedious, since there is so much loading. There is also a lot of slowdown, which typically happens after screen or scene transitions. This is still very much playable, but these technical issues are a distraction in an otherwise gripping narrative.

Screenshot for Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth chapters one through seven prove to be a high quality point-and-click drama that is steeped greatly in historical accuracy. This is a very classy kind of game, with mature themes that treats the audience like an adult, and is probably going to be worth it for anyone who is a fan of the original novels or interested in medieval England. It must be reiterated that this is a very gritty and grounded story that never enters the realm of fantasy the way Game of Thrones does. There isn't even really any on-screen action or violence; much of the drama comes from the characters and the choices the user must make, and the subsequent consequences they entail. Hopefully, Daedalic Entertainment will keep the thrills coming with the follow-up chapters, and maybe the load times and slowdown will be addressed by then, as well.

Developer

Kalypso

Publisher

Kalypso

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

The art direction looks amazing.

Definitely piqued my interest! It's on my Steam list now... Can't wait to give it a shot Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

i had no idea what to expect with this one. went in totally blind not even aware of the genre and i was enthralled through out.

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