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

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PC Review - 'The Pillars of the Earth' Book Three - Eye of the Storm

by Andreas Salmen on March 27, 2018 @ 2:00 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.

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Say what you want about episodically released video games, but the suspense that builds up to the final episode cannot otherwise be replicated. Some may prefer the freedom to play through the experience in one shot, but episodic games also allow for that if one has the patience to wait until the full game has been released.

Daedalic's ambitious storytelling project The Pillars of the Earth, based on Ken Follett's novel of the same name, was released in three episodes, or books. The first two books, From the Ashes and Sowing the Wind, did well enough in establishing characters and developing the story to the point where we're invested enough to look forward to the conclusion in the third book, Eye of the Storm.

While this is a review of the final book, it is inevitably influenced by the two preceding parts, and the score closely mirrors a final score for the entire game. This makes sense, as the books cannot be played separately anyway, so we will take this final installment to set a final score for all of the episodes combined. We will reserve a section to discuss how the third book performs in comparison to the rest, and spoilers are avoided wherever possible.

The overall story of The Pillars of the Earth is incredibly multilayered. War is looming over the region of Kingsbridge and Shiring, a naïve monk tries to avert war, a church burns to the ground, and a young woman is promised to a soon-to-be tyrant. If you're familiar with the book, you'll know that these seemingly different stories and people are closely interwoven in a story of faith, intrigue, love and violence. What works in a 1,200-page book is not necessarily suited for a video game, so it was a nice surprise when Daedalic's first two entries proved to be a satisfactory conversion of the fiction into an interactive novel.

Book One started off rather slowly as it carefully placed chess figures on the map. While it may have been a sluggish start for some, it took much-needed time to introduce the array of characters and names. It did an excellent job of laying a foundation and made sure that motivations and developments were clear, which is important in games that expect you to make decisions. Since we're still learning the lay of the land, it's unclear what impact our choices will have further down the road.

Book Two picked up the pace and transitioned the main focus of the story from Knightsbridge to Shiring and back again. Builder apprentice Jack tries to rebuild the previously burned cathedral, monk Philip is writing a book that challenges the church, and Aliena is defying her duty to wed the tyrant William Hamleigh, who's about to take the land that used to be her family's. We're witnessing a country amidst war, where previous alliances are enforced or broken, and everyone fends for himself or herself. Much more is going on, but it also begins to stumble a bit.

Changes of scenery are more frequent but short-lived and consequently don't have much of an impact. The second half of Book Two felt rather rushed to advance the story, but it slowed down at the end for dramatic effect and a heart-wrenching ending between two major protagonists. The pacing was off in many instances, and that continues and is even more apparent in Book Three. Additionally, the frequent use of the same locations grows a bit old. Of course, this is dictated by the original story, but it can be tiresome to walk through the same areas over and over again. The scenery remains largely the same over most parts of both books, making it feel very repetitive by the end. It was nice to see that that prior decisions have a downstream effect. A few side characters can die if we made the wrong choices.

The last book finally allocates some time for new areas in France and Spain, walking the Santiago de Compostela until we eventually return to the known quantities of Knightsbridge and Shiring to prepare for the grand finale. It does a decent job of tying up loose ends, but the ending is told in even more rapid succession than the rushed second half of Book Two. While a lot is happening at once, including some interesting plot twists, there isn't enough room for the characters to react and for players to explore the developments before the final credits roll. You're also more than likely to see a happy ending regardless of your choices, which can be good or bad, depending on your expectations.

As expected, we saw more choices play out and impact the overall story, which was nice, but not as impactful as I had hoped. The highlight is a trial that comprises the last hour or so of Book Three, where a central protagonist has to answer for his alleged crimes. Decisions that seemed to be the best choice at the time turned out to be way worse in hindsight. It's not an entirely fresh idea, as Telltale has thoroughly explored that concept, but it was certainly the standout point of the finale.

Of course, the gameplay didn't change in Book Three. We still take control of three different characters, and there are some minor excursions where we get to control a side character for a limited time. The mechanics include classic point-and-click adventure controls, solving basic puzzles, interactive novel-style elements, slightly branching paths, and a few Quick Time Events thrown in for good measure. It still works reasonably well, especially since the visuals of The Pillars of the Earth are still absolutely flawless and gorgeous. They're one of the main reasons you should experience the game in the first place. There's an incredible attention to detail, and the eye-popping scenery looks like an oil painting that's come to life.

If The Pillars of the Earth nails one thing, it's the presentation, and that includes the very competent voice acting and music. It isn't as cinematic as a story-driven 3-D experience, but that doesn't make it less epic. In this final chapter, we encountered two minor issues with right-clicks not working and animations not being displayed for very short periods, but overall, the game ran smoothly and without any major issues.

I expected Book Three to be the best of the bunch, since it marked the end of the story. Evaluating the game as a whole, I felt slightly let down by the rapid-fire pace of the final entry, which detracted from the impact of the character development, decisions and plot. It's not a bad conclusion, but it felt more rushed than the two prior books. Book One and Book Two were about equal in length, clocking in at five hours apiece.  Book Three lasted about three hours, making the last entry significantly shorter than the other episodes. There are optional side-quests and decisions to unlock additional achievements and alter the story, but chances are that after you've played The Pillars of the Earth, you're done with it.

Apart from the repetitive nature of gameplay and environments and the aforementioned pacing issues, there is not much to dislike in The Pillars of the Earth: Book Three – Eye of the Storm. If you enjoy point-and-click adventures and visual novels without the need to solve puzzles, this is certainly a trip worth taking. Gorgeous visuals, strong characters, and good writing make this a very engaging story for fans and newcomers alike.

Score: 7.8/10

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