Well that took a smidgen longer than expected. Only.. a MONTH since the last one? Damn. Where did the time go? Anyway, I bring you some monastic strife with Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth and warn you ahead of time it's the kind of game that needs replaying to get all cheevos if that's your thing. Fortunately, I'm
lazy immune so all's good on that front. I'm also back with non-game stuff after taking a break in the last update with a healthy variety – City, Mindhunter (Season 2) and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance for your perusing pleasure. I'll probably just do bold styling for these from now on because it's easier. Openings get way too colorful if I just post the usual formatting.
Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth
For once my source material “expertise” comes second hand because in this particular case with Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth I actually have not read the original book, but instead watched the TV show based on it. Comparing that to this game adaptation I noticed quite a few beats they seem to share between each other. I wouldn't say latter was styled after former, though. My assumption would be strong source material influence can be be felt on both takes, so let's dig in proper.
It is the 12th century – the Anarchy. Not just any, mind you. Specifically the period in England's history where there was an ongoing succession crisis over who would inherit the throne and continued fighting between Stephen of Blois against Empress Maude escalated. You would assume this would make for mere backdrop to game's events, but as the years go on the cast becomes more and more involved with it alongside their own problems. What are those? Well, there are multiple POVs to the story and even with their eventual convergence there's quite a bit to process and it is important to do precisely that considering characters are this game's chief asset.
While there are quite a few notable characters in Pillars of the Earth there are three protagonists we take control of: Philip who will largely be dealing with the Priory situation and getting the cathedral [eventually] built, Aliena as she stands in for the nobility angle and tries to fulfill her oath and lastly Jack, an outcast kid before a run-in with fate eventually turns him down a builder and sets him on a path of his own. Like I said above all three of these essentially have their own arcs that will eventually end up together seeing as their interests and problems become one and the same. On the flip-side you also have the antagonists who are not as well defined, though. Hamleighs in particular are simply another family of greedy nobility who come into conflicts our protagonists because they get in their way and due to “who supports whom?” political background in the country. Bishop Waleran could make a viable central villain, but he's simply not present enough to garner such interest. Then again maybe I'm looking at it the wrong way because the way characters are portrayed makes them fall more on the believable side – they're all flawed and have actual agendas. This is not the kind of game where everything orbits around player's choices and such. These people have backgrounds, quirks and stories of their own you're a participating spectator and have a hand in when it comes to making choices that don't necessarily cascade as much as you'd expect them to.
This inevitably takes me to the game's story. Don't worry for I won't go into spoilers, but it is worth noting how the game's source material seems to rear its head here. There's no other way to put this than to say structure is somewhat atypical because it doesn't exactly adhere to typical formula you'd expect from video game storytelling. There's no seemingly mandatory three-act structure for each of the three “books” game is divided into, and further into individual chapters within those, as each seems intent to work on its own and is fully aware of what preceded and proceeds it. Probably the benefit of working with completed material to draw from. You should also be mindful of the fact this means certain things told or hinted at the very beginning will get callbacks or play vital roles towards the very finale, though. Key events from distant past loosely related to the main cast will be brought back which is thankfully not a problem in practicality because the game does not expect you to do much detective work on your own.
Modern features like “hold a button and interactive hotspots pop” are present so you won't really have to hunt for them dang pixels.
12th century is definitely not merely used as backdrop as it plays an integral role in social norms and beliefs.
World map travel bits are also used to reinforce how our protagonists see the world. Occasional CYOA bit helps.
As far as gameplay is concerned I really wish I could tell you something don't already know, but this is a point & click adventure when you get to basics. Continuing modern trends there's barely any tangible puzzles present, but I've come to expect that with continual shifts more towards pure “story experiences” or whatever kids say these days. I did like how Daedalic varies it up, though. Not so much with annoyingly timed QTEs which are, thankfully, used sparingly for appropriately context sensitive actions. Good variety inclusions would be stuff like overland map travel actually being visually represented and you often get to choose the course of action when presented with such. Naturally, this is a fixed narrative and yet you can make “mistakes” by simply making bad calls. Especially in Book Two where I evidently did everything wrong leading to a major character death. He was substituted with a replacement game established earlier as a safety net, though. Dialog definitely plays a much larger role than you'd expect from a classical adventure game Pillars of the Earth is styled after versus genre's “new wave” spawned from Telltale formula. Also worth noting is while it's never made a big deal of choices definitely matter. Once you remove the “X will remember that” pretentiousness you embrace this feature as something naturally present so you don't stress out over what ramifications it may have. And it does have plenty, but game is not playing pretend to be a Choose Your Own Adventure kind of structure. There is a fixed story here that waits to be told you get to tinker with it to a certain degree.
Visuals are usually something I point out if they're notably bad, but this time I'll say game looks amazing. Those hand drawn backgrounds are breathtakingly gorgeous and looking back on some of Daedalic's other games you can see their artists make a damn fine job of it. What I was less impressed by was how characters move across these backgrounds. Because they're both 2D assets you get this resizing, rotating and shuffling they make as move because they're supposed on the backgrounds. I'm not sure whether going with 3D characters would've worked out of the better because there are moments it looks awkward. Makes for great still shots, though. Soundtrack is equally as impressive seeing how grounded it is in setting-appropriate choice of tracks. Chanting and strings never get old and can convey everything from ominous to folk songs meant to raise good cheer.
City ( ₪ Science Fiction, ☑ 1952, ⇲ 251 pages )
Here we have an anthology of eight stories, albeit one connected by an ongoing narrative and threaded together with a peculiar premise – far off into the future mankind seems to have disappeared and our inheritors, intelligent dogs with their robot assistants, are piecing together what these strange beings were and how they relate to their “doggish” ways from said stories as they express varying degrees of disbelief and reverence. Quality varies on story-by-story basis and I didn't really care for the earliest ones, but as it escalates it becomes more engaging as we follow a family of Websters and their successes and failures across the centuries until they almost become synonymous with the ever-elusive humans. How did dogs learn to speak and become the new masters of the planet? What will they do when another threat rises to challenge their peaceful way of life? If you take into account my solid recommendation it falls on you to give it a read.
Mindhunter, Season 2 ( ₪ Crime, Thriller, ☑ 2019, ⇲ 10 episodes )
Well, second season sure came quickly. Or should I say was late to watching the original as I mentioned some time back when I talked about it. This is honestly more of the same with two major differences that bring the season down for me. First, there's the matter of Tench's autistic/killer in the making son arc I don't really care for much myself and is either setting up the obvious or supplanting expectations. Following that would be show's increased focus on just one case, admittedly notable case of Atlanta Murders, while the usual interviews and behind the scenes stuff got shafted to a degree. I preferred the first season's structure in that sense. I'd still say give it a watch with a “see the first season” asterisk attached.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance ( ₪ Adventure, Fantasy, ☑ 2019, ⇲ 10 episodes )
I went into this entirely skeptical, but goddamn if I wasn't impressed by the end. It goes to show practical, specifically puppetry in the Dark Crystal, with hints of CG for what's just plain impossible to do otherwise really is the way to go when it comes to special effects. By the time last few episodes rolled around I was wondering if they were going to retcon the movie entirely, but alas is just typical Netflix "let's dump the entire season at once" and then make you wait for the next season after a cliffhanger ending. If you don't know Age of Resistance is a prequel to the original movie preceding the Gelfling resistance where they rose up against their Skeksis overlords in a fantastical world of Thra. Terrific story and characters which sadly end on a cliffhanger the way Netflix shows all seem to... as they trod on their way down to a downer ending the movie itself picks up at. Heartily recommended and you don't even need to have seen the movie first.