App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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The idea of playing a game set in 12th century England around the building of a cathedral may not sound like your typical game setting, but then again, The Pillars of the Earth is not your typical game. Based on Ken Follett’s best-selling novel of the same name, Pillars is an adventure game that lets you live out and change the events that happen in the fictional village of Kingsbridge by controlling multiple different characters and choosing their destinies as they interact with the world. What makes this game special isn’t just its setting though. It also weaves an incredible tale that gives players the exact right of agency they need to feel important while playing without bogging them down with complicated puzzles or other obstacles.
In Pillars, you play out events from Follett’s novel through the eyes of multiple characters. The beginning of the game puts you in the shoes of an experienced mason, but quickly shifts your control between him, a monk, and a young boy.
No matter who you’re controlling, Pillars plays more or less the same way that many touch-focused adventure games do. You move your character through scenes by tapping and can focus in on and interact with specific objects or characters by tapping on them as well. What is somewhat unique to this game is that you can gather pieces of information in addition to physical objects, which you can use to interact with others or your environment to solve some light puzzles.
The king will remember that
The overall puzzle design is not the main draw to Pillars, though. The story really steals the show, to the point that many of the puzzles don’t really feel like puzzles at all. They’re more like actions you take to decide when you’re done exploring an area. This is a good thing, too, as Pillars weaves an exciting tale of intrigue, deception, and faith that would be far less compelling if it was constantly interrupted with arbitrary puzzle sequences.
Even though Pillars is based on a novel with a set narrative, the game gives players a surprising amount of agency on how it will move forward. In the style of more modern, Telltale-style adventure games, Pillars throws tons of choices at your player character and forces you to decide the best course forward, and the consequences of these choices can vary wildly depending on how you ultimately react to them.
A strong foundation
Pillars excels primarily because it tells a richly detailed story in a game that is backed up with some beautiful animation work. At times, it feels like you’re playing through an animated movie, or something like The Banner Saga, but without all of the fighting parts. This might not work for other games based on other novels, but in the case of Pillars, it absolutely does.
That said, there are a few technical hiccups with the game that occur from time to time, but these are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. Certain characters sometimes make odd pauses in their speech or talk over each other, but these moments are few and far between. Everything else in the game looks amazing, which helps to make this adventure feel all the more compelling.
The bottom line
This first release of Pillars only begins the story of the novel across its seven initial chapters, but if subsequent entries in the series are anything like this one, you have a lot to look forward to. The simple adventure style really works for a game with such a compelling and unique narrative, to the point that I‘m chomping at the bit to play the next games already.