Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Platform: Xbox, PC, PS4,
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $29.99 on Steam, $39.99 on console
Inspired by Ken Follet’s bestseller, The Pillars of the Earth stands as the latest addition to the world of adventure games on the console and computer. The game is being released episodically, with book one now available to play. The Pillars of the Earth takes you on a journey through 12th century England through the eyes of a commoner, a monk, and a noblewoman. Being based on a worldwide bestseller, something tells me that the interweaving of history, intrigue is going to be solid. But what about the gameplay? Graphics? How does one make a book not only come to life but playable? Daedalic Entertainment answers those questions with this new adaptation.
One of the main characters you play as is Brother Philip. Being set in 12th century England, Christianity, particularly of the Roman Catholic flavor, is a very prominent part of the story and its setting. A Bible is carried by Brother Philip. It can be used on various items which make Philip read a passage of Scripture that relates. I checked this and it actually is really well done. Scripture is also used as a way to influence people by Brother Philip. Truths of Christianity are shared and discussed by characters. Faith in God and respect for His power are big themes. However, the message of Jesus’s gift of salvation is never mentioned and the focus is placed more on giving glory to God. Some of the spiritual things discussed are indeed true of Christianity, such as we are the Church, God gives us grace, and God deserves glory but Jesus is never explicitly mentioned, and only shows up in Church decorations.
Blood is seen at various points in the game and physical abuse in the priory is alluded to. Fighting and war are points of discussion. You kill an animal while hunting as one of the characters.You hear about and see the beginnings of a siege on a nearby town. The refugees of the attack will describe some of the events that took place. There a quite a few deaths in the game.
The Lord’s name in vain is taken a few times. B**** is used once. One character is the sole reason this game received a “strong language” rating—he says more f-bombs in 2 minutes than you will hear during the rest of the 15+ hour experience.
If you spend a lot of time eavesdropping, two of the novices at the priory briefly mention a harlot they can sleep with in a nearby town. Again, ONE CHARACTER is the biggest reason this game got “sexual themes” as a rating. He will do more sexually violent things in 2 minutes than you will experience the rest of the game. He is sexually abusive, gropes a woman, and threatens rape against at least 3 people. All in under two minutes. It’s not shown in a good light at all and you can choose how you address his behavior.
A character you run into is a drunk. Wine is a frequent everyday beverage, but no character is seen being drunk.
Never giving up hope and being willing to go out of your way for what’s best for everyone are big themes in the game. Being willing to push forward and not give in to misery is also a big takeaway. Many of the characters do exhibit Christian traits such as humility, honesty, kindness, courage, helpfulness, compassion, and reverence for God. The Pillars of the Earth also deals with what happens when different people have different views of what’s right and how the consequences of those choices impact everyone later. There is a number of times when a “right choice” turns out to be a mistake, and your character will try to do everything in their power to reconcile that. That ability to admit to being wrong and trying to fix what’s been broken because of you is a lesson I think anyone can take to heart.
Book adaptations are hard. They just are. Adapting an already great work into another medium entirely is a task in and of itself let alone having to create the game, design the characters, figure out the gameplay, and so on. As someone who has not read The Pillars of the Earth, I don’t know how accurate or detailed it is compared to the book, but I can tell you how the game was to play.
Starting out, I can tell you that The Pillars of The Earth is an experience. It’s not quite the moody emotion-fest of games like Life is Strange, but it is no doubt a drama. Deeply rooted in the realities of the 12th century, the situations faced by the main characters are often exceptionally tough ones. Especially as the game goes on, the stakes only feel higher and the mistakes only feel easier to make. It’s somewhat in the vein of games like Beholder and This War of Mine in that you feel for other characters and things will just happen. Just. Happen. Opp—this thing happened, and now they’re dead. Opp—your character was being a little too adventurous and now you’ve burned down a whole building. You have to make a lot of choices that often have a total grayscale to them. There’s no real right answer, only the most right-seeming one.
In book one of The Pillars of The Earth, you mainly play as one of two characters and briefly play as a third during the prologue. There are seven chapters of varying length. You’ll visit different locations, speak to different people, solve different puzzles and see the world through two different pairs of eyes. During the prologue, you play as a struggling builder who is stranded with his family in the woods during winter. It gets real. Fast. If you’re already in tears at the end of this segment, just hold tight. It’s not all like this.
The real first chapter takes you into the shoes of the main character of book one, Brother Phillip. He’s a faith-oriented, pragmatic, and wise man who comes to visit an old friend at a decaying cathedral. His exact character is in your hands, but in mine, he leaned towards being more kind and open-minded than judgmental of the priory’s situation. I’d really suggest just playing, speaking, and exploring as you see fit through the first round just to see what happens. There’s little truly “right” way to play things. Daedalic Entertainment fabulously made the gameplay feel incredibly natural, and the objectives you have to complete feel fitting. This isn’t Nancy Drew style where all of a sudden you have weird buttons and levers to press to open up some room to something and now it’s not as based in reality as before. No, no. You just talk to people and find out things pretty casually. If you explore everything and talk to everyone, you’re likely to get everything you need to make things progress as they should.
The way you get around large areas, like towns and keeps, ruins the immersion a bit, as you’ll suddenly go from walking around third person to seeing yourself as a little icon on a big map. But overall you always feel like the character you are playing. Chapter one is undoubtedly the longest one to play. By the end, it’ll be sad to leave who you’ve played for easily 5 or 6 hours. If you want a little extra spiritual touch (or were too curious, like I was) use Phillip’s Bible for EVERYTHING. Yep, everything. It’s incredibly well done and ties into who Phillip is a good deal.
Next, you’re introduced to your second main character. As a little redhead named Jack, you live in a cave with your mother and scrape by. From there, you’re thrown into a desperate attempt at survival alongside a family in need as well. It’s a rather sudden change in character and setting but you can adjust quickly. It’s really the only character switch that will feel unnatural in the entire game, which is saying something, because it happens a LOT later on. My favorite bit of this chapter is when Jack hears this creepy as heck noise in the woods (Ya know, in the dark ages when it could be ANYTHING) and is all like” Eh, I’ll just check it out.” My inner paranoid mother was very alive and well in those 5 minutes.
From here, the chapters will vary in length and setting. During which, you’ll pass from character to character rather easily. The story will only get richer and things more intertwined. Stakes get higher, people get more dramatic, you feel things, you want to punch things, and you deal with things you caused in earlier chapters. Hurrah, hurrah—this game is amazing. It’s very story based, so it’s a little difficult to give a future player a play-by-play review without any sort of spoilers. I would highly recommend not looking at any sort of walkthrough or having any expectations as you go in because the details and the unexpected touches in this game are what really bring The Pillars of the Earth to life.
The Pillars of The Earth reflects a dark, depressing, and incredibly uncertain time in England’s history. When the monarch was up in the air, the church was wavering, and people everywhere are questioning if things are being done right at all. You as the player can see how the dwindling of hope and the people’s’ uncertainty about even the next day impacts everything around them. The story of this game is incredible and is a true historical fiction. There are characters that make see the best in the 12th century and some characters that will remind you that this game is still set in the Dark Ages. There are times you will feel your stomach turn and times that even the smallest bit of light makes everything worth it. It’s so well-written that, maybe just maybe, it was based on a book where the story was the biggest thing that mattered—I know, crazy thought. (Honestly, though, I had the epiphany that it had to be a book once I got done player chapter 3. Look at Sydney doing great research for her reviews. 10 outta 10.)
Gameplay wise, The Pillars of the Earth is overall solid. After each chapter, you get an overview of what you did and what choices you made. It really does make you feel like what you did matters, which is becoming a rare feeling amongst “choose your own adventure” games. The story still remains pretty similar, but just enough will change that it’s worth going back and making different choices. You feel incredibly engrossed in the world you’re playing in. Granted, sometimes on bigger maps you have no idea where you are for a moment, but other than that it all feels real.
In terms of what this game not do so well, the graphics are good but not crazily wonderful. The art is truly beautiful at moments, but sometimes you feel like you’re playing a weird medieval episode of Liberty Kids.
There is a character who, in almost 5 minutes, completely angered me. I’ve had few characters get under my skin that much but he was just…oh gracious! If he hadn’t have been handled by the game as well as he was, I genuinely would’ve stopped playing. His constant mistreatment of everyone and his sexually abusive nature would’ve just been too much for me. But I guess he’ll just be a genuinely hateable enemy come book two.
In conclusion, I don’t know how many words can do this game justice, but I loved it. If you love well-told stories or solid adventure games, it is so worth the experience in every way. You will feel, you will almost cry, you’ll feel triumph, and you’ll feel like you’re making a difference in a time long forgotten. The Pillars of the Earth awaits.
The Bottom Line
The Pillars of the Earth is a masterpiece that was challenging to review because the reviewer unexpectedly fell in love. And if you love stories, feels, or time well spent- you will too.