"Who are you, that do not know your history?"

- Ulysses, Fallout New Vegas

The Pillars of the Earth

By Jeremy | 20 May 2018

The Tale of a Cathedral

The Pillars of the Earth, brought to us by Diadelic Entertainment, is a visual novel that is based on the 1989 book of the same name written by Ken Follet. It is a tale of political strife and wavering faith in 12th century England that centres around the building of a cathedral in the fictional village of Kingsbridge. Players take control of many characters, from a very dense cast of well written and expertly voiced individuals. The storytelling can be very slow paced at times, but the game rewards patient players with a tale that is definitely worth experiencing at least once.

The Pillars of the Earth is definitely a visual novel, but it takes a lot of cues from developer Telltale's style of adventure game storytelling; not the more recent Telltale games where action is in the forefront but much more like Back to the Future where you have to solve many puzzles in order to advance the narrative forward. The game is also an episodic adventure much like all Telltale adventures. The game divides its twenty-one chapters into three distinct acts, each is seven chapters in length. This review covers all three parts as a whole and the final score will reflect the overall experience.

Storybook Beauty

Let me go ahead and say that The Pillars of the Earth is a joy to look at. The hand-painted backgrounds stand out to the eye and each and every character is animated expertly. The environments are reused quite often over the duration of the game's tale, so it is imperative that they look enticing and the developers delivered in spades. There are plenty of games that have used this graphical style before, but I can't think of any that have impressed me like this. It truly looks like a storybook come to life before your eyes.

Not only does it look wonderful, but the script and voice acting are top notch as well. The story tends to lean on several emotional beats and the voice actors convey all of the emotion in these tense segments perfectly. I did encounter one minor audio during my time with the game. Sometimes the character dialogue would seem very low so I would crank up the volume only to jump out of my seat once one of the games cut-scenes kicked in. It didn't happen often, but it did rear its head enough for me to notice and take note.

A Slow Burn

If you're the type of gamer that needs a ton of action or interaction in general in your games, then this experience may not be for you. While the story is epic in scope, taking place over decades, and it has its fair share of drama there really isn't a lot of input from the player in these sections. Most of the game has you carrying out mundane tasks as you try to discern its puzzles and try to move the story forward. Most of the puzzles are logic based and require you to interact with NPCs in very specific ways with very specific items that you find around the environment. Outside of the game's inventory-based puzzles, you will be making a lot of decisions in branching conversations.
The decisions can alter later events in the game slightly and help you to define the personalities of the game's cast of characters. Most of it is just an illusion though as you will reach the same end no matter what you make people say or do.

This brings me to my only true problem with The Pillars of the Earth; the pacing. For the most part, the story crawls along at a snail's pace. This made the game difficult to sit with for extended periods of time. Not only was the story slow but the gameplay can be very obtuse at times and slow things down even more. None of it is very difficult, but you will find yourself scratching your head a few times and wishing things would just move along. The amount of backtracking can be overwhelming at times and the reuse of environments led my attention to wander at times. If you've got a short attention span this game definitely isn't for you. There are some short quick-time events during the game, but they are few and far between and very simple.

Final Thoughts

I would be hard-pressed to recommend The Pillars of the Earth to most gamers. If you're a fellow book nerd or a fan of point-and-click adventure games, then I would say you owe it to yourself to give the game a shot. Its medieval setting is an excellent world to dabble in and is very interesting to learn about through the game's lore. It has a solid story to tell even if it takes a little bit of time to get to it. The cast of characters is very layered and the game's production values seem to have been put to wonderful use. It couldn't have been an easy task for Diadelic to adapt a 1200-page novel into a video game, but it is one they pulled off very admirably. I've considered picking up the book now that I've laid the game to rest. If you dive into the game just remember to have patience. I promise that your patience won't go unrewarded.

Note: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

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The Good

Beautiful storybook style graphics.
Wonderful script.
Great voice acting.

The Bad

Repetitive gameplay.
Very slow pacing.


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