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The Pillars of the Earth

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2017

About Andreas Salmen

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PC Review - 'The Pillars of the Earth' Book One - From the Ashes

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 22, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

The Pillars of the Earth is a 2-D point-and-click adventure video game adaptation based on Ken Follett's best-selling novel.

Buy The Pillars of the Earth

Daedalic's adaptation of Ken Follett's book, "The Pillars of the Earth," is a good adventure game with great storytelling. The novel has quite a large following and has already spawned a board game and TV series. Similar to the Telltale Games formula, The Pillars of the Earth game is comprised of several episodes, or books, to build a continuous storyline. From the Ashes is the first of three episodes, and while it may start off too slowly for some, it absolutely nails the visuals and atmosphere while crafting a cohesive world that keeps the player engaged. It suffers from some familiar point-and-click adventure issues, though.

Daedalic's approach to The Pillars of the Earth combines Follett's epic tale with the developer's proven skill in crafting beautiful adventures. During the first episode, we get to control three characters. We start out as a mason who's been searching for employment, but nightfall finds him stranded in a forest with his two kids and pregnant wife in tow. We soon change to Monk Philip, who's confronted with a strange death at the monastery in Kingsbridge, and then we meet little Jack, who's stranded with his mother in the woods as they fend for themselves.

From the Ashes carefully sets up the characters and spends just enough time so players get to know them, their motivations and relationships. The three disparate parts of the story soon intertwine and give way to a much larger storyline as we get a feel for the underlying mechanics. Even people who are unfamiliar with the book, like me, are eased into it quite nicely and are soon hooked on the intriguing tale.

It works beautifully from a narration standpoint, but it takes a while to move at a brisker pace. This may be bothersome, especially if you're accustomed to the faster pace of offerings from Telltale Games, where one is bombarded with frequent QTEs and fast-paced decisions. The Pillars of the Earth entrusts gamers with a storyline that's more complex than anything in a Telltale Games title. Even though it's presented as a story-driven adventure with mechanics that are similar to an interactive novel, it's an appealing point-and-click adventure at heart.

This means that gamers usually have control over the current character and can investigate 2-D environments with the mouse to search for clues and objects or talk to people. It spares us from crafting mechanics, but a small gripe is that we must locate certain items before we can progress, and that process can sometimes result in frustration. The game uses a hint feature that highlights all objects that we can interact with in a given location, but if you don't care for endless searches, the best tactic is to leave no stone unturned, no matter how unrelated it may seem at a time. The Pillars of the Earth respects the intelligence of its players more than any other story-driven title, but Daedalic could've taken it a step further by not artificially lengthening the game in this way. Perhaps the two upcoming episodes will improve on this.

From the Ashes provides clear objectives about the next tasks and small icons that we can use to speak about a topic with certain characters. Finding the correct person to speak to can potentially be confusing, especially in the monastery, where we're introduced to several characters who proceed to scatter across the map. Once you locate the correct person, it sparks an all-out search for the next guy we need to advance the story; this could've been easily solved by providing objective markers on the map.

When we finally get into conversations, we are presented with an interface that's similar to some Bioware RPGs. We have up to four topic choices, and we can sometimes perform story-altering choices, but the effect of the decisions isn't evident in the first episode. We'll have to see how this actually impacts us in future episodes.

At the end of each chapter, we are reminded of the choices we've made and what we achieved. If there are bigger consequences, they will likely play out in one of the later episodes. There is the question of how far the game will be able to stray from the books, although that's not an immediate issue in this episode.  Lengthwise, the first episode takes between five and six hours to complete; it's a decent amount of gameplay since this only covers one-third of the entire story.

On the technical side, the game performance is excellent. Characters and backgrounds look like a beautiful painting that's been brought to life. The dark and gritty colors portray the medieval English landscape beautifully, and the setup and animations do the rest. The voice work is good across the board and rounds out the package.

All in all, The Pillars of the Earth: Book One - From the Ashes is an excellent story-driven point-and-click adventure that mostly knows what its audience wants. This is reflected in the good gameplay and storytelling, and we hope some of the minor flaws and gripes will be addressed in books two and three, which will be released at the end of the year and in the first quarter 2018, respectively.

Score: 8.6/10

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