In the first chapter of Ken Follett’s bestselling novel The Pillars of the Earth, mason Tom Builder and his family are journeying through snowy woods when his wife, Agnes, enters labor. The tragic events that follow serve as the opening to Daedalic Entertainment’s adventure game adaptation.
Released this week on Steam, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth is a three-episode interactive adaptation of the popular work of historical fiction. Daedalic Entertainment, a German developer known for adventure games like The Whispered World and Silence, applies its hand-drawn style to the story of the Kingsbridge priory and the building of its cathedral.
It’s less a game and more an interactive novel. There are choices to be made as Tom attempts to aid his wife in giving birth to their next child, but the choices coincide closely with events in the novel. Tom sends his daughter Martha off to gather reeds in order to make string, while his son Alfred heats water. They do the same things in the novel, but those actions are presented here as the result of in-game dialogue choices.
In this case the choices don’t feel like they amount to much. This sad occurrence is a key moment in The Pillars of the Earth, and it’s obvious that nothing the player can do in the video game adaptation will stop it from happening.
Here’s the whole scene. Be warned, it might be a bit upsetting towards the end.
It could have been a cutscene and carried just as much weight, if not more. Reading the events unfold, or watching them, the reader/viewer is focused completely on the plight of Tom and his family. The pop-up choices lessen the drama.
On the other hand, just prior to the event above, we’re treated to a scene that wasn’t in the book. Tom, whose dream is to build a cathedral, shares that dream with his family. As he explains what’s special about a grand house of worship, the frozen woods are transformed by his words. It’s just lovely.
It’s a very pretty game, looking like something out of an old storybook. The animation is somewhat stilted, a stylistic choice on the part of the developers. I like it, though there are moments, especially as the game moves on to the story of Brother Phillip’s arrive at the Kingsbridge priory, where I’m getting a serious Archer vibe.
The arrival of Brother Phillip at Kingsbridge is where the game opens up. Phillip can wander the grounds, exploring the priory and its surroundings. He can interact with objects and chat with other characters. The game also introduces Phillip’s bible, an inventory item that can be used on items to deliver a pertinent passage from the scripture.
Clicking the bible on Philip’s horse, for example, has him quote Proverbs 12:10, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” That’s exactly the additional flavor I am looking for in an interactive adaptation of a popular novel.
While the opening moments are a little awkward, I’m looking forward to seeing the events of The Pillars of the Earth unfold in this new medium. The first of the game’s three chapters is now available on Steam, with a $29.99 price tag covering the remaining two as well.