Having never heard of Ken Follett or his series of historical fiction novels Pillars of the Earth, I went into Daedelic Entertainment’s video game adaptation without any real idea of what to expect. Turns out it’s a point-and-click adventure game set in 12th Century England, featuring stunning hand-painted backdrops and multiple playable characters with intersecting stories steeped in the grounded intrigue of medieval politics. It’s possible you’re sold already, but just in that pitch hasn’t swayed you, let’s delve a little deeper.
In book one (From the Ashes) you play as Phillip of Gwynedd, a monk visiting the priory at the fictional town of Kingsbridge, and Jack, a boy who lives in a cave in the woods with his mother. 12th Century England was a time of great poverty and war, and it’s not long before Phillip and Jack become embroiled in a plot against the king. It’s a story of how the actions of those in power affects the lives of the people, told through the eyes of those who have a far greater impact than they realise.
The game is broken up into seven chapters, each of them ending with a summary of sorts that lists your major decisions as well as your smaller actions. You begin playing as one character per chapter, but their stories soon begin to intersect, with the game then jumping between Phillip and Jack as required. The narrative being told is certainly a slow-burn, as you might expect of a game based on historical fiction, but by the end I was utterly enthralled. As the credits rolled I was frantically checking the Steam page to try and find out when the next books are set to release. As it happens there’s no set date, but Daedelic will apparently have more to say about books two and three at Gamescom later this month.
The animation is quite minimal, but the art on display more than makes up for it. This game is simply beautiful and succeeds completely in drawing you into its cold, unforgiving world of monks and bishops, kings and earls. Snow drifts across cold priory yards, proud flags snap in the breeze and flames crackle and spit in glowing hearths. It really is like immersing yourself in a novel, with the added interactivity allowing you to actually walk the walls of castles or descend into the Kingsbridge crypt.
Aside from the visual aspect, sound is the other main element bringing this novel to life. The voice acting is impressive across the board and the orchestral soundtrack adds a lot to the atmosphere. The sound effects too are of high quality, with the crackling of fire, the wailing of wind and trickling of water all immersing you further into this world. One issue that stood out was that the dialogue seems to have been recorded one line at time, which means there’s often unnatural pauses between sentences. It’s not a huge problem and isn’t the case with every single conversation but it’s prevalent enough to have an impact on the pacing of the scenes in question. On several occasions I found myself getting impatient, thankfully you can use left click to skip lines of dialogue.
It’s worth mentioning that, book one at least, is more visual novel than point-and-click. You are able to pick up various items and there is some rudimentary puzzle solving, but for the most part the game involves picking a particular option in a conversation and moving about key locations. Shifting the focus away from traditional point-and-click gameplay may be an issue for some, but for me the quality of the writing and characters was more than enough to keep me hooked. The game is also easily digestible, only taking around four hours to get through all seven chapters. Purchasing book one grants you a season pass, meaning you’re looking at approximately 12 hours all up when each book is released.
If you’re sick of dragons, elves, zombies and superheroes then this realistic point-and-click visual novel is the perfect antidote. It’s more Vikings than Game of Thrones, and earns your interest through the strength of its plot and depth of its characters. The music is in equal parts haunting and beautiful and the gorgeous backdrops are guaranteed to impress. It’s the most ambitious project yet for Daedelic and it shows, I just hope it gets the attention it deserves.
Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth was reviewed on PC using a Steam code provided by the developer.