Book 1 of The Pillars of the Earth left much to be desired in terms of gameplay and smoothness. However, gameplay issues regarding quest guidance have been rectified in Books 2 and 3. The story of the game really amps up and becomes altogether more engrossing, emotional, and invigorating. The themes of the interactive novel are well integrated into the story. While the game seems long—being divided into 3 books—the game goes by rather quickly and each book can be completed in 1-2 hours. The Pillars of the Earth does incredibly well in wrapping up the story of Ken Follett’s masterpiece in Books 2 and 3 of the game. Players who enjoy visual novels or novels in general should take the journey through all three books.
(WARNING: this section will contain spoilers)
While Book 1 of The Pillars of the Earth had a strong story of its own, the game really starts to pick up in Books 2 and 3. The story becomes much more invigorating and the cinematics become more active and action-packed. Most importantly, the player’s decisions start to have a stronger effect on the story and characters can live or die based on those decisions.
One major difference between Book 1 and Books 2 & 3 of The Pillars of the Earth is that the player controls Aliena for a large portion of the game. The player follows the life of Aliena, as she struggles to break free of William Hamleigh’s captivity and occupation of her home. The player experiences her and her brother, Jonathan’s, hardships as they are robbed of their peaceful and comfy lives of nobility.
One of the most prominent story arcs in this book is the love story between Jack and Aliena. We get to see a grown-up Jack and his budding romance with Aliena, daughter of the late former Earl of Shiring. We see the young little Jack from the wild become a proper man who speaks like a gentleman and curses out loud.
The romance between Jack and Aliena and their conflict gets stronger and stronger and is completely encapsulating, well-told and well-paced. However, due to a raid on their hometown of Kingsbridge, conducted by William Hamleigh and Bishop Waleran (the antagonists of the game), Aliena is forced to end her relationship with Jack and instead marry his step brother, Alfred.
Their relationship takes its twists and turns and the realization that Aliena is pregnant with Jack’s child makes matters even more complicated. In the end, the seemingly star-crossed lovers are reunited and get to live the happy and peaceful life they deserve. However, with William Hamleigh leaving his people to starve and Prior Phillip being arrested for heresy, the couple’s problems seem to just be beginning.
Furthermore, after William Hamleigh’s unwarranted and illegal attack on Kingsbridge, many characters die and the game gives off a Game of Thrones like vibe, in which it feels like characters are not invincible no matter how large their role is in the story.
Themes & Imagery
Throughout Book 2 developers inserted short animations of insects stuck in a web or insects caught in water and struggling to break free and fly away. These brief and fleeting moments are poetic and subtle like the metaphors and images in a novel should be. At the same time, if noticed, they provide a clear and beautiful snapshot of the characters in the novel who feel as though they themselves are trapped in web, struggling to live on.
One of the most prominent themes in the game is destruction and rebirth. We see Earl of Shiring, Aliena’s father, fail in his rebellion and lose his earldom. We see Prior Phillip and Tom Builder struggle to pick up the pieces of the tragically burned-down cathedral of Kingsbridge and their journey to build the greatest cathedral the world’s ever seen.
The plot really picks up with the battle between King Stephen and Robert of Glouchester. Prior Phillip is caught up in the midst of this battle and from the horrors he sees, he begins to lose faith. The story largely becomes a story of faith and hope and whether such things can exist in the world. In the aftermath of the battle Phillip sees a demon, large and grotesque feasting on a man’s innards. But as he gets closer he sees that there is no demon, no devil, but rather a man with blood on his hands and murder in his eyes. The portrayal of evil and the imagery of demons is artistic and powerful. In that moment, Phillip sees that there is no external source of evil.
It was only us. No devil to harm us. No god to protect us. Only us…– Prior Phillip
The contrast of faith against a backdrop of so much destruction and ruthlessness is strong and effective. Along with faith, themes of free will vs. divine intervention are integrated beautifully. In one scene, Phillip and Tom Builder’s son, Jonathan plant a garden together. Still with a shaky faith, Phillip tells Jonathan that his hard work made the seed grow. Jonathan responds, telling Phillip that he merely planted the seed and God did the rest. Phillip is left to ponder whether humans create their own fates. Are we in control or do our actions merely set the path and does God or some supernatural power set everything in motion?
Concluding the Masterpiece
Daedalic Entertainment had their hands full and had big shoes to fill adapting Ken Follett’s masterpiece for the video game industry. Yet in the end, they bring the game to its conclusion masterfully, poetically, and beautifully. All the puzzles and mysteries put forth in Book 1 are answered and concluded in Book 3 and all the working parts of the story are tied together so well. Plotlines and stories that didn’t appear connected before are intertwined to bring the story to a powerful ending. In the end, the game succeeds in making the player feel like they’ve been through a long journey with the characters.
While players not used to the visual novel genre will feel a lack of gameplay or overabundance of text and dialogue, the load times for The Pillars of the Earth are quick and should help in that regard. While there is still a lack of gameplay, the gameplay that does exist is utilized well to reflect the characters feelings and help move the story forward.
Just like Book 1, some quest objectives are so event-less and action-less that they can barely be called quests in the first place. In one scene where Aliena looks over the town of Kingsbridge, the quest objective simply states, enjoy the moment. However on the upside, Books 2 & 3 of The Pillars of the Earth guide players much better with both NPC instructions and icons to show next quest points and persons of interest. This makes the gameplay smoother and the game easier to play through.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
The graphics of the game in Books 2 & 3 continue to be quickly rendered and feature the same beautiful hand-painted backgrounds. While in Book 1 transitions felt choppy and abrupt, the transitions in Books 2 & 3 have been improved overall with much smoother pan-ins and fadeouts. While the art style is the same as the first book, the scenes are much more action-packed in Books 2 & 3 and thus the beautiful graphics are put to much stronger use. We are shown visions of hellfire and the devil, scenes of love, people being hung and burnt at the stake.
Furthermore, the voice acting continues to be superb and lacking nothing. From the emotional scene of the reunion between Jack and Aliena, to the tear-jerking scene of Jack’s father singing a soft melody before being unlawfully executed, the voice actors give masterful performances. As well, the soundtrack and score continues to match the scenes flawlessly, adding tone and creating the emotion of each scene.
The Pillars of the Earth picks up the pace in Book 2 and brings the story to a powerful close in Book 3. While the game was a little slow-paced in Book 1, improved gameplay mechanics and a faster paced story line make the game move faster and much more enjoyable in Books 2 and 3. The graphics are unique and beautiful, and the soundtrack and voice acting is incredibly well-produced. The Pillars of the Earth may be too plot-driven and dialogue heavy for people new to the visual novel genre. However, visual novel lovers and fans of Ken Follett should definitely give The Pillars of the Earth from Daedalic Entertainment a playthrough.
|+ Improved quest markers||– Low replay value|
|+ Fast-paced story||– Lack of active gameplay|
|+ Artful storytelling through gameplay|