Title: Ken Follett’s Pillars of Earth Episode 1: From the Ashes Review
Available On: Microsoft Windows, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Point and Click Adventure
Release Date: August 16, 2017
Formatting any other medium into a video game is always a difficult task, as many things get lost in translation. Books are no different. But Ken Follett’s The Pillars of Earth video game adaptation is well aware of its target audience, choosing the interactive narrative genre. The game succeeds in many places, just as the books did, but will certainly only appeal to the aforementioned audience it is aimed at.
The game is based on the 1989 novel of the same name, playing out as a point and click interactive adventure. Split into three separate releases, the first installment gives control of two primary characters and multiple secondary ones, all with interlaced stories, each told in chapters. Philip is an abbey Prior, a very calm and mindful monk, if not somewhat skittish. The other main protagonist is a young child named Jack, who grew up with his mother in a cave outside of society, living off the land. Despite this, the child is intelligent, learning to read with an old bible.
Pillars of Earth takes place in the 12th century, so despite the fact that it exists in a very popular genre, it has a considerably unique subject matter. The story revolves around the world and events of King Henry I of England’s death, and how he left without an heir. This leads to interesting adventures for our characters, including Philips decision regarding how to handle sensitive information he finds regarding the war.
Philip and Jack may be the main characters that are controlled in the game, but Pillars of Earth’s first episode manages to flesh out a fair number of unique characters and relationships. Ranging from a colorful cast of young and old monks, to the family that Jack meets in the forest, the Builders, each has their own distinct personalities. My current relationship is between Jack and Martha. Their innocent ideals and views of the world, despite living such a hard life, are always interesting to see. The ability to do small things to enhance their relationship, interaction wise, like cheering Martha up with a straw knight to protect her is also a nice touch.
But fleshing out these characters and relationships didn’t happen immediately though. Like any book, Pillars of Earth requires a fair amount of exposition and world building to care about the characters. It was about 2 hrs in before I really started to form any sort of relationship or semblance of interesting in any of the story.
Like most games in the genre, its gameplay elements are light, revolving around choices and small mini games. While I came to expect this, there were a number of issues with the point and click elements of the gameplay. The problem arises a vast majority of the time when I wanted a straight path to an objective. Even when clicking on something right next to me, my character would take an unnecessarily long path in order to get to it. Personally, I think the use of WASD would have solved the issue.
Alongside that, there were multiple instances in the game where the dialogue would skip in and out or would pause, throwing off the pacing of the conversation. Every other aspect of the design was considerably well done though. While the character movements are typical of a point and click game, the scenery is simply stunning. Each different scene feels like a painting come to life, with Snowfall and lush landscapes entrancing me at almost every turn. Pillar of Earth’s music did a magnificent job setting each scene as well. Whether it was a solum song – like the church choir would always sing – to mourn the death of Prior James or a menacing orchestra when confronting Prior Remidius, the music sets the tone of what is going on in the scene without a word being spoken.
From the Ashes is a solid first step for Ken Follett’s bold venture into the video game industry. While it may suffer from many of the issues that plague point and click games, and a few dialogue discrepancies, it will also benefit from its character development and world building in the coming episodes, making them even better.
Verdict: Ken Follett’s Pillars of Earth Episode 1: From the Ashes is going to appeal to the niche group of gamers that love reading as well. Otherwise, the slow build and uneventful gameplay will likely turn you away. Give this narrative adventure a shot if you have any interest in an interesting subject matter that is rarely done in the current video game landscape.
- Fleshed out characters
- Magnificent scenery art
- Establishing, beautiful music
- Pathing issues
- Dialogue pauses
- Slow, book like build up