Previously playable on PlayStation and Xbox consoles, the toweringly named Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth is launching on Switch today. Based on the similarly titled novel, this narrative adventure game captures the twisting politics, individual ambitions, and large-scale intrigues that make the book so engaging. And I’d recommend anyone interested in historical fiction, thoughtful dialogue, painterly art styles, or winding stories pick this portable version up.
I have the option to run through a tutorial in the beginning, but it’s hardly necessary. A 2D, side-scrolling game, The Pillars of the Earth is mechanically straightforward. Viewing or interacting with the world requires me to push designated face buttons, while opening my inventory is mapped to my right stick. Everything feels solid, which isn’t surprising considering how similar the Switch’s controls are to other consoles.
The true first step to the adventure leads through a snowy wood in twelfth-century England where I’m offered a choice. Would I, a master builder, give up my dreams of creating a soaring cathedral if it meant consistently putting food on the table? My heavily pregnant wife puts the question to me after a day of trudging through the wilderness as my angsty teenage son and tired young daughter look on. The choice is mine, but I only have so much time to pick a dialogue option.
I don’t believe my choice will change the course of the story, but it does lay out the stakes and sets the character’s personality in my mind, which I appreciate. Taking responsibility of a figure’s mindset always connects me to a game like nothing else. It doesn’t hurt that the sparkling frost, swaying branches, and gently falling snow all look spectacular.
Tragedy soon marks the pristine environment with blood. The work of knitting me to this family pays off as, even after so short a time, my heart constricts with their hardship. By the end of the scene, the game’s protagonist is revealed and the cinematic title screen takes center stage.
Before moving on, I also get a glimpse of all the choices I made. I almost turn back and suffer through the sad moment again just to see what I missed or what would happen if I made different decisions. And that’s how the rest of the game plays out as well, though I largely try to accept the consequences of my actions — no matter how tempted I am to change things.
Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth is out on Switch right now, so if it seems like your kind of game, don’t miss out.