Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth: From the Ashes - Deep Look

A Book in Three Books
by Alex Fuller

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth: From the Ashes
Platform: PS4
(Also available on PC, Xbox One)
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: 08.15.17
"Those interested in interactive fiction will more than likely find it worth their time, and it certainly offered enough to have me looking forward to the next two parts."
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   German studio Daedalic Entertainment is prolific in its production of adventure titles, with one of its more recent releases being a new adaptation of Ken Follett's historical novel The Pillars of the Earth, a collaboration brought about by the book's publishing conglomerate purchase of Daedelic a few years ago. The adaptation is split into three "Books", and at the time of writing only the first, From the Ashes, is available. The game perhaps loses some of the narrative themes one might expect from the original novel (which, for full disclosure, I have not yet read), but adding others with its ability to make things a touch more interactive appears to make it a worthwhile experience.

   The Pillars of the Earth is set in the mid 12th-century against the backdrop of the English civil war period known as the Anarachy, when King Stephen and Empress Maud (aka Matilda) vied for the throne after the death of Henry I. The politics of the civil war plays a key role in the machinations of the plot, which concerns the fictional location of Kingsbridge and its surrounding areas, though for those hoping for action — in the first book at least — no actual combats occurs on screen. From the Ashes follows two main point-of-view characters: the monk Philip and the young boy Jack, the latter of whom is raised in the forest alone by his mother. Also joining these two are Tom Builder, who is the point-of-view character in the somewhat depressing prologue and ends up playing a key role in Jack's life, and the "coming next" sequence at the end indicates Aliena will be added as another point-of-view character in part two.

   Thankfully, the narrative doesn't attempt to emulate the original's doorstopper length, letting the visual and audio effects do most of the scene-setting and limiting the dialogue to only those aspects that are really pertinent to the main plot. There's a strong cast of characters who come across well thanks to strong voice acting, and the good dichotomoy between the two main characters lends itself well to keeping interest up. Saying that, however, the game is most certainly not in a hurry to provide especially exciting scenes at this stage; the one time where it looks like one of the protagonists should be in mortal peril there is an easy way out, and the one time armed conflict is involved it happens off-screen. It is quite likely that things will get a bit more exciting with the release of the second and third parts, but the first section plods along at times.

   The point-and-click adventure gameplay in From the Ashes is fairly light for the genre and very easy to get through. Choices are provided in the dialogue, where players can choose how Philip or Jack respond (or even don't). These choices don't appear to affect the overall plot in any great detail but they help add interaction and let the player feel more involved in proceedings rather than just witnessing them unfold. There are also plenty of optional tasks that can be done that aren't needed to advance the plot but provide achievement and potentially a bit more information about the story, characters, or background. The problem with this aspect, however, is that it's often not readily apparent which one particular action will be what moves things irrevocably forward, so players could easily advance things before having the chance to find everything within that particular scene.

   There's nothing to complain about with respect to the gamepad control scheme thanks to the minimalist approach to the point-and-click gameplay. The minimalist approach is also applied, again quite successfully, when players look at various items of interest, with the game simply producing a short, unvoiced description along the lines of "smells awful", "covered in cracks". The backgrounds are generally excellent, and great attention to detail has quite clearly been paid when it comes to the architecture. The character art and animations, however, many not be to everyone's liking. Animations are fairly clunky, shifting rather suddenly, and the lip-sync isn't quite right.

   It's appreciable that Daedalic Entertainment has looked to do something different with its adaptation of a lengthy novel, and on the whole it seems like the complete release will be a pretty successful one. The first part did a nice job of setting up the key characters and themes ahead of parts two and three, though its pace might be a turn-off for some. It's difficult to fully recommend at this stage without seeing the complete tale, but those interested in interactive fiction will more than likely find it worth their time, and it certainly offered enough in its five or so hours to have me looking forward to the next two parts.

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