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

By Thom Compton 20.08.2017

Review for Ken Follett

Thanks to a copious amount of adaptions, it's not uncommon to see older material getting turned into newer entertainment. It's a solid practice, if Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Dexter are anything to go off of. Games have had similar success doing this, from Telltale's Walking Dead to the Metro games. Daedalic Games, probably best known for Deponia and publishing a ton of other point and click games, is tackling the popular books by Ken Follett, which have previously been adapted into a TV miniseries. Can this foray into historical fiction be as exciting to play as it's been to read and watch?

The Pillars of the Earth, as it stands, is the first of a three-part series Daedalic is working on. This entry seems mostly designed to place gamers into the world of old England, and to give them a sense of not only their characters, but their struggles as well. For those who enjoy some dark fantasy, you will be sorely without one half of that equation here. While this game is definitely dark, there's no fantasy to be found here.

Instead, the game takes the route of "painfully honest depiction of another time." In the opening moments, an impromptu child birth sets the tone beautifully, if beautifully is the right word. The Pillars of the Earth is an unforgiving place, just as England would have been at this time. There are no trolls, or dragons, or ogres to give the audience a disconnect here. This is raw life, and the game wins immediate praise for its willingness to handle the topic.

The game has a large enough cast, but primarily covers two characters. The first one introduced is Prior Philip. He falls into the game's next taboo of choice, which is religion, albeit an archaic look. He works for the Church of England, and the church is painted exactly as it was at the time, a major political force. Much of Philip's time is spent dealing with the bureaucracies of the church while trying to be a beacon of hope as dark times come knocking.

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

Next up is Jack, a young boy who is cautiously optimistic, but nonetheless extremely excited to venture into the world. His life has been spent hiding away from castles and villages, so the chance to wander into their midst is exciting. Both characters are extremely likable, as is Aliena, a third playable character who the player gets less time with than the other two. She is a kind woman who clearly takes pride in herself and does not allow herself to be bullied. A fourth character is briefly controlled, named Tom; a man who must give up his dreams to provide for his family.

The true beauty of the cast is how relocatable they are, and the moral dilemmas they face are fantastically realistic. Tom, Aliena and Philip all face difficult decisions that make them choose between what they want and what they must do. Each of them is essentially stuck between their goals and the wellbeing of others. Jack, on the other hand, is a young man coming to understand the world he is so enticed by might not be quite as lovely as he had hoped.

The voice acting is fantastic, across all characters, which is impressive considering the size of the cast. It really makes each character feel alive, and often dances the line of Disney quality. Some of the lesser characters, like Martha, are so superbly acted it feels like a waste not having them on screen more often.

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

The art style is both distinct and familiar, making it easy to feel at home with. The hard outlines of each character make them feel smooth, like characters who can step in and out of their own basic shapes. This courtesy extends to the larger set pieces like towns, as they are both approachable and finely detailed. There are times where the sheer amount of detail on screen actually causes a bit of slowness, but this is easily rectified by turning off the background animation.

The Pillars of the Earth manages to stumble, though, despite all the praise that can be easily lobbed onto it. Most of its failures come from a technical side, though there are some weird design decisions that hold it back. The technical issues seem to have a tendency to come and go, but are noticeable. For instance, when the player gets a clue, it's treated as an item, which they can take. The cue card that appears under the item sometimes doesn't show the item name at all. Instead, it's a few letters, none of which correspond to the item.

An example of this is a rosary. When given to the player, it should say "Rosary" or something along those lines, presumably. Instead, it reads "P -O", which obviously makes little sense. Again, this isn't an always-happens kind of problem, but it happens enough to be worth mentioning. Another issue comes in the form of characters speaking, specifically Philip. There are a couple of instances where the music is either too loud or the speech is too quiet, making it difficult to hear what Philip is saying. This is of little consequence to those who use subtitles, but otherwise it can be frustrating.

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

The primary design issue is the way the characters move. Characters do not move to the selected destination in the quickest route, but in the exact way the player points them to. This often leads to the character moving around the area in the longest way possible. Now, this might be expected. However, the characters walk at such a slow pace, it makes the simple act of pointing them in a direction annoying. Over time, one will need to figure out the best path to traversing each area. Factoring in the size of some of the areas that have to be traversed, their slow, lumbering pace is often downright irritating.

The other issue is the characters' mouth movements, which are often difficult to see. Philip's mouth has a tendency to barely move, while Jack's mouth is often covered by the collar of his shirt. This makes it difficult to know who's talking, at least if you don't use the subtitles. Some of the characters sound similar, further making it difficult to tell who is talking, as several other characters' mouth movement is also limited.

The Pillars of the Earth plays very much like a standard point and click, with some minor QTEs here and there. These come in the form of clicking the mouse when an on screen prompt is in a specific position. You will also have to make several choices, which, of course, dictate the forward momentum of the story. What's interesting is that these choices occasionally seem extremely important, and also completely irrelevant to the story moving forward. They do grant a bit more agency than other titles with similar mechanics, though.

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

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is a tremendously good story bogged down by minor technical issues and some occasionally obnoxious design choices. With two more books, though, this is one fans of historical fiction or adventure games simply cannot pass up. Even with the minor issues, it's one of the best point and click adventures to come out in quite some time.

Developer

Kalypso

Publisher

Kalypso

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

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   

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