Several years ago Daedalic Entertainment announced they’d be adapting Ken Follett‘s The Pillars of the Earth into a graphic adventure . This came shortly after German publishing company Bastei Lübbe, who happen to be Follett‘s German publisher, became Daedalic’s majority shareholder.
The Pillars of the Earth has been adapted into a miniseries and a board game. And the idea of a video game was intriguing. How does on go around adapting that doorstopper of a novel into a game?! Especially because of its slow pace. It’d make sense as a strategy game, where you manage a town and build a cathedral, but an adventure game?! The choice of genre was intriguing to say the least.
It was a bit of a trial by fire but Daedalic have come out unscathed from it.
What’s The Pillars of the Earth about?
The Pillars of the Earth came out episodically, the final part came out some months ago. The game was divided into three books (From the Ashes, Sowing the Wind and The Eye of the Storm) with seven chapters each. Each book will take about 4 hours to finish, making The Pillars of the Earth quite meaty. And it’s a relief to play an episodic game where you actually get to do stuff.
The story is still there. Kingsbridge and the building of its cathedral. However some of your actions might lead to different outcomes. The destination is the same, but the route is a bit different. And some things are skipped, the sexual violence in the book has been toned down, for example. But it also gives you a wide berth when it comes to things you can or can’t do.
You play as three different characters (though there are times you play as other characters), Prior Philip, Lady Aliena and Jack. At the end of an episode you always get a screen with the choices you’ve taken. Nothing new here because this is something that happens on episodic games. But these choices actually produce some small changes. For example, in the book the relationship between Jack and Alfred was more contemptuous but in my game while they were strained Alfred wasn’t as much of a jerk as he had been in the book. It doesn’t stop there, your actions might mean that maybe someone who survived the novel could die in the game, and viceversa. Sure there are things you can’t avoid, but you can still change many little details and that’s always interesting.
The game plays like a standard graphic adventure game, but there’s a change that took a while getting used to. There are no inventory puzzles at all. While you will still get items and use them you don’t have to combine them at all. That was strange, but I got used to it in the end. There are also some QTEs, but it feels like they have real consequences. There are also some sequences that play like a visual novel, where you get the characters travelling and you get to choose the path they take.
The game also looks gorgeous. Not that any of Daedalic’s games have ever looked bad but it feels that with The Pillars of the Earth they went above and beyond. It’s definitely one of the prettiest 2D adventure games you will see. The character designs are great but the backgrounds are just stunning. The skies look particularly pretty.
And that attention doesn’t stop there. The music is also incredible, and so is the voice work. Daedalic has managed to get an amazing cast, and funnily enough Ken Follett is part of that cast. He voices the Cantor in charge of the priory choir and he doesn’t sound bad at all.
It’s no secret that I love adventure games, I’ve written plenty about them. However, when it comes to Daedalic I just couldn’t really get into them. I respected their efforts but in the end those games didn’t resonate with me. I still played them thinking “Maybe the next one will be the game that catches me.”
And this was the game. The Pillars of the Earth is what episodic games should be. It doesn’t give you a story that takes an hour and a half to enjoy. It’ll take twice as much time, and you’ll end up soaking into the details, while also wondering what would happen if you do certain things differently.
Part of me hopes this isn’t the end of games like this one. I want Daedalic to adapt more best-selling books into games, or the other Ken Follett books set in Kingsbridge. That’d be great.
Angry Spaniard, adoptive Irishman. Writer, reader, tea drinker and video game player/designer.
Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth is an interesting and refreshing way of experiencing the story of the book. Apart from looking amazing, the game does interesting things to keep you emotionally involved. If you liked the book, or adventure games, then give it a try without fear!