The Pillars of the Earth is an interactive novel based on the book of the same name by Ken Follett. Book 1, From the Ashes, was released on August 16th, 2017 to much critical acclaim. Now Book 2, Sowing the Wind, is the second installment of the 3-part series.
Being the second part of the series it certainly feels like there’s not much hope for the people of Kingsbridge by the end of the book. Prior Philip finds the Devil. Jack finds love. Aliena and Richard find their father. The story, with all its twists and turns, finds a way to challenge each character. Just like most trilogies, the second installment ends with its characters in even worse circumstances than they started with. Most choices seem to have a largest impact on the short term. This leads to less player agency in the overall narrative, but stronger character arcs. One shining example of this is playing as Aliena trying to barter in the markets. On the flipside is Prior Philip constantly being walked on by the nobles. It’s unfortunate that the dialogue choices are sometimes not said by him out of fear. It makes sense narratively for his character, but it feels more like just watching a cut scene than having any real impact. This is probably more indicative of adapting a novel into an interactive medium than a failure on the part of the developer. The issue still stands, although, his vulnerability is expressed through gameplay rather than a monologue. Players looking for the opportunity to craft their own unique experience may feel this direction is a bit disappointing.
Sowing the Wind takes full advantage of its beautiful art design in its presentation. Most of the areas have the camera fixed in the same spot as From the Ashes with gradual changes all throughout. This is most prevalent in the construction of the cathedral that started at the end of the first book, and the markets which started up to assist in funding the project in Kingsbridge. The fixed perspective easily illustrates the passage of time and the changes in the world. One scene with Tom Builder running from left to right in the background as Aliena and Martha carry on a conversation in the foreground is a great example of how the game creates a believable atmosphere reminiscent of the silver screen. Although, it is common to have the mouths of characters not sync up properly during conversations which can be a bit jarring during intense scenes.
The stakes have been raised. The Devil came to Kingsbridge in book 1 and now war has come. The slower pace inherent in the design of point-and-click adventure games can cause certain scenes to feel as though they are unable to maintain a sense of urgency that comes with the chaos of battle. Still, the game shines as an example of what strong writing can do to hold it all together. The small exchanges between characters forcing them to match wits, go into full detective mode, and making good choices based on the information the player has gathered is still what drives most of the gameplay. It’s this formula that works 90% of the time, but fails to capture the madness in some of the more intense parts.
The point-and-click style adventure feels good on a controller/gamepad, but a mouse is the best way to go. If you have a touch screen then you’re going to be in even better shape. Using a controller can increase the level of immersion for the player by forcing them to walk around instead of just clicking on everything. However, paths can be hard to see during segments when the camera zooms out far enough to cover an entire town. It is much easier to make a wrong move that results in a Game Over screen. Thankfully, checkpoints are consistent enough to prevent you from redoing too much of the same stuff.
Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth: From the Ashes is a beautiful, engaging adventure game that will please any fans of the genre. Everything good about the first installment has returned to accompany a story that will shock, please, and break your heart. Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth: From the Ashes is a solid 8 out of 10.
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