The Pillars of the Earth is an interactive novel based on the book of the same name by Ken Follett. The story will be released in 3 books with 7 chapters respectively. Books 2 and 3 will be released in the coming months.
The bulk of Book 1 From the Ashes gameplay is made up of selecting dialogue choices and finding clues within areas of a map. It is an interactive novel, after all. From the start, you’re given access to the different characters’ inventory. The inventory can be made up of items you find, as well as interesting plot points that can be used to further dialogue with specific characters. The implementation of knowledge and plot points with the inventory is one of the cleverest design decisions for Pillars of the Earth. By doing so, the pacing never feels too slow. It also reinforces the idea of knowledge being power.
The presentation is done rather well. The areas look and feel like an interactive picture book, however, do not let that fool you into thinking this is for children. The story is mostly filled with adult subject matter. It’s minimal use of environment can also be used to brilliant effect as displayed in the games’ opening sequence. One of the characters begins to tell a child a story of building a cathedral. The mostly unchanged backdrop begins to morph into the inner workings of the described building. It’s really beautiful at times, and increases the level of immersion just enough to almost make you forget it’s still a game. The music fits the tone of the story perfectly, with only some parts coming off as a bit too dramatic for the scene. The casting of the voice actors is perfect. Whether it’s the innocence of a young girl, the harshness of a knight, the cunning of a rival bishop, the brogue of a mason, and the reluctance of a god-fearing prior, every character is handled with the utmost care. Not much animation takes place in conversation so the majority of feelings being portrayed by the actors is through the voice. There are some very well-done cut-scenes that will show a bit more animation, but for the most part it’s all in the voices.
None of this really matters if the story isn’t worth checking out, and luckily for the player The Pillars of the Earth has all of the pieces to make for one grand story. Taking place in 12th century England, the story starts with a mason and his family out in the woods, but doesn’t really catch its stride until getting into the inner workings of life as a prior during this time. The death of Prior James at another monastery has set Prior Philip on a path into the world of politics. He becomes a sort of mediator to all of the many chess pieces moving to gain more control over wealth and power. Many of the decisions made by this character will have weight in the coming books. He isn’t the only character the player will be taking control of, but seemed like the most interesting with a lot of the conflict falling on his reluctant shoulders. At times, it can feel like a historical Game of Thrones, and this is in no way an insult.
All in all, The Pillars of the Earth Book 1 From the Ashes has the perfect set up for one of the best adventure games to come out in a long time. With a strong, interesting story, clever use of gameplay, and great acting The Pillars of the Earth Episode 1 is a solid 9 out of 10.
Here is Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth Gameplay Video:
Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth Book 1 From the Ashes is now available for PC, Mac and Linux on Steam, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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