How do you make a story about the construction of a 12th century England cathedral intriguing? I’m sure readers asked themselves the same question when author Ken Follett released the immensely popular historical fiction novel The Pillars of the Earth in 1989. Follett’s tale weaves through half a century and numerous characters living in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, painting a picture of political and social intrigue so well-received that it sold more than 26 million copies, and spawned television, board game, and musical adaptations.
Now, developer Daedalic Entertainment, the publisher behind Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun, as well as the developer of Tales of Monkey Island has jumped to make yet another point-and-click narrative adventure in its adaptation of Pillars.
I had the chance to watch a hands-off demo of Pillars of the Earth, which included a bit of background on how Daedalic is adapting the 1,200-page book into an interactive, choice-driven experience, and what it all looks like in motion.
The demo began near the beginning of the game, and after the novel’s prologue, with a young boy named Jack (who would go on to design the Kingsbridge cathedral) living with his outlaw mother in the woods. Jack comes across a man named Tom and his children searching for the baby he had recently abandoned in the forest. The group soon discovers a monk rescuing the child and bringing it back to the local monastery. Knowing he would be imprisoned for abandonment, the father allows his child to be taken.
From here, players are able to interact with the man and his children in a typical point-and-click adventure style, getting to know them better with a variety of dialogue choices. As is typical for the modern form of the genre, players are able to choose from kind, considerate options to outright rude silence. Though the game will largely follow the same plot as the original novel, Daedalic is quick to assure us that players can in fact influence events and the fates of characters. Whether this means drastic plot shifts or just how certain characters regard others remains to be seen, though. For example, after Jack’s only book is stolen by Tom’s bully son, players can either figure out a way to sneak it from him peacefully, or dump a pile of snow on his head, causing him a ton of discomfort and aggravating him further, leading to unforeseen consequences even years later.
Perhaps the first thing players will notice about Pillars, even if they’ve never read the book or watched the show, is the absolutely gorgeous art style permeating every scene. It’s both painterly and yet entirely alive, with snow falling gently over the hills of a muddy road, or the subtle look of despair and anger forming on a character’s lips as she drags a cart behind her. Daedalic have made one of the most gorgeous point-and-click games I’ve seen in a long, long time. As someone who enjoys lengthy books, but can often find it difficult to keep track of where characters are over 1,000 pages, the striking environments will certainly help keep players like myself on track. According to Daedalic, the game will feature over 200 of these hand-painted backgrounds. The narrative’s tone will also likely strike a chord with fans of series like Game of Thrones. Though the art might resemble something out of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this is Europe during the Anarchy period, a time of wanton murder and savagery. Expect bloodshed and strife, but also those meaningful slivers of humanity that make it all worth it.
Like all episodic narratives, it’s on the developers to ensure that the game’s quality remains high and steady throughout, and that our choices matter, if only at the personal level. At the outset, The Pillars of the Earth looks like it could be one of 2017’s best narrative adventures thanks to its faithful, yet bendable adaptation of its source material and the stunning visuals accompanying it.
The first of three episodes of The Pillars of the Earth is due out on August 15 for PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. No price for individual episodes or season passes have been announced yet.
Edited by Joseph Knoop