Point-and-click adventure games were—for a few years anyway—thought to be products of a bygone era. In an age of online shooters, MMOs, open-world RPGs, and a million and one retro-indie games, the likes of Full Throttle and Grim Fandango seemed lost to the annals of history. However, there has been a steady stream quietly bubbling alongside the raging river of AAA titles and Early Access multiplayer games. Those of you clamouring for a quiet, relaxing session of gaming that doesn’t require lightning fast reflexes or endless hours of dedication will probably enjoy the thoughtful, pondering experience offered by Pillars of the Earth. On the other hand, if the idea of a game based on a 1,076 page historical fiction novel based around the construction of a medieval cathedral isn’t exactly your cup of tea, perhaps look elsewhere.
Pillars of the Earth is based on a novel by Ken Follett, which was also turned into a television mini-series on the Starz network. The story is set in the middle of the 12th century in Feudal England and follows the lives of multiple characters involved in the construction of a Gothic cathedral over a period of around 50 years. This isn’t exactly a scenario that screams “video game,” but at least it’s presented in an appropriate genre. The point-and-click style works well for the story, as it’s not exactly ripe for a brutal hack-and-slash or epic RPG iteration.
Gameplay is pretty stock standard for this kind of game. Players can move their character around various backdrops, interacting with other characters to explore and investigate the surroundings and prod the story along. Aside from the usual “click on everything until something happens,” the characters can pick up various items and select those items to use on the static background. Need to pick up a hot rock? Good thing you grabbed that cheesecloth earlier. For the most part, though you’ll be choosing dialogue options during conversations with NPCs and selecting “do this” or “do that” to carve your path through the plot. As far as puzzles go there’s nothing too extreme, but given the setting, there’s not a whole hell of a lot they could do with that.
The game is beautifully drawn, with hand-painted backdrops and bleak vistas that really hammer home how difficult, dirty, and cold life was in the 12th century. Character animations are janky and slow, but it’s not a quick paced game by any means so this doesn’t really matter too much. The cathedral and the town of Kingsbridge work wonderfully as backdrops and have a grim, comic-book aesthetic that does a fantastic job of contrasting warmth and cold, and bright and dismal colours.
I do have one major complaint with the game, and this is a completely personal thing so take that, as you will. I am a huge fan of history and theology, and while I’ve never read Pillars of the Earth, it sounds like something I’d really enjoy. For a video game though? I don’t want to insult the developers of the game because it’s very blatant they poured a lot of heart and soul into Pillars of the Earth—but my goodness is the game boring. I haven’t really played a point-and-click adventure game in probably two decades, but the lack of humour and the dry, historical setting just wasn’t very much fun. If this is your jam then it’s a very well constructed and shows a lot of depth, but for anyone else, the game is quite a slog to push through. The mellow, medieval music, simple puzzles, and monotonous gameplay did not make for an entertaining experience—in my opinion.
Pillars of the Earth is, by all means, a work of passion from people who were fans of Follett’s novel. It’s got solid depth and length, beautiful artwork, and a unique setting. The backdrops are wonderfully painted, the story is epic in its own way and again, and a game like this doesn’t come around often. If you’re sick and tired of the bright, fast, and shiny world of video games in 2017 this is definitely a step in a different direction. However, if you’re not into medieval English history, Christian theology, or religious architecture, you might find the game a bit tedious and boring. It’s a good game; it’s just not for me.