Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth – Book One Review

The main difference between great and average fiction writers, is that the average ones take larger-than-life scenarios, and turn them into bland stories. Whereas the great ones take mundane, everyday life situations, and turn them into page turners. And back in 1989, Ken Follett, just like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, has taken a seemingly bland premise, and turned it into a New York Times bestseller, and now a spectacular videogame.

The work of Ken Follet which has become one of the most important works of the 20th century English Literature, is none other than the widely popular The Pillars of The Earth. And unlike the costume-fantasy dramas of Tolkien or Martin, The Pillars of The Earth doesn’t refer to dragons or magic in order to hook the reader in, but the struggle for power, and the common men and women, who are stuck right in the middle of all this.

The Pillars of The Earth videogame, just like the book, begins in 1134 shortly after the demise of Henry I of England. And first three chapters, which are arguably the longest, are used to present the player with the backstory for all playable characters. First, player is presented with Tom Builder and his family, then Prior Phillip, and ultimately Jack Jackson and his mother Ellen.

The introduction to the story allows the title to introduce the player to the main cast, and in-turn lets one understand the personality of each and every one of them, and their role in the broader context. And once one gets and in-depth look into the minds of all the playable characters, he/she can then effortlessly get invested into the story of intrigue, tragedy, and horror.

First part of The Pillars of The Earth, which is playable right-now, consists of 7 chapters. And the running time of this portion of the story culminates at over eight hours. And within this time, player is allowed to get closer to the characters, and understand how the events which unravel throughout the story, impact on each and every one of them. And within the first three to four hours, one will also realise that decisions of one character, who at the time has never even met the others, can impact their lives significantly. And all that can be said without spoiling the story, is that a single letter can not only change one’s life, but it can also change the course of history.

The way in which each and every event impacts the story, is masterful. And once one acknowledges the fact that every single decision is a matter of life and death, he/she will then proceed to look at it from a completely different perspective. And the second this happens, the doubt will begin to creep in, and the player will become self-conscious about every move.

The grand story of The Pillars of The Earth, is simply breath taking. And it can be compared to a paper boat, which has been released on a forest stream. Because once it begins to flow downstream, it cannot be stopped, and each and every single rock, leaf, or a gust of wind, can send it down a completely different route, once it comes to a diverging fork. And while The Pillars of The Earth is set to on a predetermined story, the illusion is there, and it keeps one entertained from the very first minute, all the way until the very last.

Some could say that the brilliance of The Pillars of The Earth lies not in the lives of the Prior and Jack Jackson, but within the grander story of which they are only a small portion of. However, with each and every chapter, one’s perspective on the matter will change dramatically. Because in latter stages of the first part of this incredible story, it comes to light of day that the protagonists are much more important than one was initially led to believe. But this story has to be experienced first-hand, and it would be a travesty to mindlessly spoil it within a review, because it is better than anything that an average gamer has seen before, when it comes to walking simulators, puzzle games, and interactive novels.

Irresistible tale of The Pillars of The Earth, is one of the best out there. But it is not the only selling point of this magnificent title, as its art style and the overall visual façade, are as incredible as the title’s plot. It’s prerendered backdrops in their form and style, resemble era specific oil paintings. From bold, snow covered forests, to burning cathedrals, The Pillars of The Earth is a work of art. And in combination with the solidly coloured, masterful crafted characters, the entire title comes to life.

Despite of its two-dimensional nature, The Pillars of The Earth has an immense amount of depth when it comes to its backdrops. And it is incredibly easy to differentiate between numerous plains, and in turn, the navigation between huts, castles, and NPCs is effortless. And the final product, which comes from the combination of oil painting-like renders, and marionette-like characters, is immensely impressive. As it resembles an era relevant puppet-play, and makes one feel like he/she is experiencing a historically accurate retelling of a tale, rather than a modern videogame.

It could be argued that the visual façade of The Pillars of The Earth, is as impressive as the title’s plot, and is nothing less than immaculate. However, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of The Earth, is a videogame first and foremost. And while the plot and visuals are an important part of it, they are not as important as the gameplay itself. As a title without captivating gameplay, can be a bore, and ultimately a failure. But fortunately, Daedalic Entertainment, the developer of the title, has made sure that gameplay is on similar, if not the same level as the incredible story and the spectacular visuals.

Within the entirety of the title, players will have to resolve minor conflicts, and conclude numerous quests, which can unravel in various ways. However, the way in which both characters come to their respective conclusions, features enough variation in order to keep on engaged for hours at a time. The core gameplay boils down to traversing the environment, and interacting with numerous NPCs. However, Prior Philip and Jack Jackson, refer to different means in order to justify the ends.

While controlling Prior Philip, players will be inclined to reason with others, and help in whichever way they can. And this is showcased within minutes of starting chapter one, as players have a choice whether to share food with one of the Priory’s brothers, or whether to scold him. And depending on the choice, the brother who complains about being unable to carry out the work of God while starving, will then affect the story towards the end of the Chapter. And this particular encounter teaches the player that the key to success, is to find the right way to deal with people. However, being nice, and merciful towards others, is not always the solution, and this is explained to the player within the very same chapter.

The core gameplay behind Prior Philip is all about human interaction, however, the gameplay mechanics behind Jack Jackson, are the exact opposite. As he, unlike Prior Philip, or any other humans for that matter, was brought up in cave, in the middle of a forest. And his skillset is not social, but practical. Jack Jackson is capable thievery, and deception, as years of existence among hostile animals, have taught him to fight for everything. And this approach to life was further encouraged by his mother, who always reminds him to not trust anybody. And this further translates into gameplay, as Jack Jackson’s mechanics are about player’s agility, as in order to steal and use his slingshot successfully, players have to complete quick time events which require them to tap X, as an arrow, which slides across a horizontal bar, is ticking over fields of white.

The Pillars of The Earth gameplay, may not be the pinnacle of technical and mechanical prowess. But it does what it needs, as it keeps one engaged into the story. And in addition to providing one with entertainment, the core gameplay mechanics for each character, also portray its personality perfectly. The patient prior is all about dialectics, and understanding, and this is represented in how one controls him. Whereas as Jack Jackson is Brash, and distrust all who he comes across, and therefore his gameplay mechanics are about avoidance of human contact, as he lacks patience and Prior’s levels of understanding. And once one realises that Daedalic Entertainment has managed to implement story even within gameplay mechanics, one will realise that Ken Follett’s The Pillars of The Earth – Book One, is the best interactive story out there, and even Telltale’s best in form of Batman, Borderlands, and The Walking Dead, don’t come close.

To conclude, it has to be stated that Ken Follet’s The Pillars of The Earth – Book One, is simply incredible. And if you have any reservations against its visuals, just like I had prior to its release, then you can rest easy, as just like the story, the visual façade of this particular title is wonderful, and fits it perfectly. But it does one have one major downside, and it’s the fact that you’ll have to wait for the next two parts to be released at a later date. But considering that the first part of the story which is available now, holds over 16 hours of gameplay, after taking into consideration multiple playthroughs, and trophy hunting – then it is safe to assume that you’ll have more than enough content to tide you over until the release of the next episode, which is supposedly coming soon. And while it is an episodic adventure, with the purchase of the first episode, you get all three, so you don’t have to worry about season passes, or any additional fees in the future with this masterpiece.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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