In my review of Book 1, I described The Pillars of the Earth as a slower story meant to be soaked in. Book Two is the complete opposite, as the story progresses quickly though meaningful event after meaningful event, sometimes at a confusingly fast pace. Even though they come and go with great frequency, each event is important enough to be remembered and relevant to the story as a whole. Wrap that up in the Pillars' excellent presentation from Daedalic and Book Two is still a great experience.
Book Two sees all of the disparate characters' stories mingle into one, which makes it a lot easier to follow. Eventually, everyone is connected to Kingsbridge in one form or the other, and the playable characters all interact with each other regularly. This allowed for some interesting moments as you could be controlling one character's dialogue choices while speaking to one of the other three playable characters. Those are obviously the characters you are most invested in, which made the deliberation between choices in dialogue and other decisions much more difficult. You know each character's deepest thoughts and beliefs, but they likely don't know the true thoughts of other characters. Do you reveal those secrets to see how it plays out or not?
That interplay between playable characters was different than what I've experienced in other adventure games or visual novels. I know Pillars of the Earth is not the first to have this, but having two player characters interact with one another in a choice-heavy game made me think differently about my choices and the expected answers. When interacting with most NPCs throughout the game, it is less interesting; the characters just lack the intimacy to make their responses something to look forward to other than to progress the plot. When you have two or more playable characters, I found myself more careful in the decisions I made for fear of the response I might have received. Because they were playable characters, it was much easier to feel connected to them and led me to make decisions on their own beliefs or desires rather than my own.
Each of the main characters changed quite dramatically from where they started off in Book Two as well. Their core beliefs were challenged, their security threatened, and their goals adjusted to the change. Rather than go through each individual character, as that would take some time, all of them see their characterization strengthened and storylines progressed in a satisfying manner. From Phillip's commitment to Kingsbridge to Tom's building of the cathedral, and to Jack's search to find out who he is, all of them see more than satisfactory updates to who they are as people and what they want. Many of the secondary characters see a lot of change in Book Two as well, such as Alfred, who lashed out at anything and anyone due to his unhappiness in Book 1 but has grown into a man trying to be the best person he can.
While a lot happens to each character in Book Two, it seemed almost too much at times. Many major events never had much time to breathe. The breakneck pace saw significant events happening in every chapter, with wide-ranging effects to the story of every major character. As soon as I'd wrap my head around one, see what has changed, and consider where the story may be heading next, I was hit with another surprise or jump forward in time to the next event.
The problem with the pace is tied directly to Book Two's biggest problem: time. Book Two takes place over a much longer period, spanning many years in just a short four to five hours. That is completely fine, but instead of a developing story, sometimes Book Two felt like a "greatest hits" version of the story. Every action was met with swift reaction because the story would jump ahead in time to that reaction with no notice. An event or some action would happen, time would pass, characters would react, maybe some more time would pass, then another event would happen ... That's the basic cycle of Book Two. Instead of feeling the part of a progressing story, sometimes I felt like I was reading a timeline of bullet points.
Having not read the source material, many of these problems with time may just be inherent in the adapted story, as I found the need to try to figure out myself just how much time had passed from scene to scene. To think only a day had passed and find that many months had gone by was a shock to my perception of the story's progress in time. Sometimes the game spelled out how much time had passed, mainly between chapters, but often the game leaves you to figure it out on your own.
While the issue of time and pace are easily my biggest gripes, the characters, setting, and overarching stories being told are more than compelling enough to win people over. Events may continue to hammer the player, but they are incredibly interesting to see unfold. While it would have been nice to see big events have some more breathing room, I was no less interested in finding out what happened next. With each story told over many years—a long-running civil war, a boy growing into a man and finding himself, the building of a cathedral, and the taking back of an earldom stolen from a family—the time jumps are necessary but could have been framed better to cause less confusion. In the end, though, the most important aspects of The Pillars of the Earth, the writing and presentation, are still incredibly strong in Book Two.
Book Two of The Pillars of the Earth does exactly what you'd want out of the middle third of a large story. Characters see hardship and their goals in peril, setting up their potential triumph to be all the sweeter. Time may have been an issue, but it did not affect how gripped I am by the story or how much I can't wait until the final book is released. Those that enjoyed Book One should find Book Two very enjoyable.
Our The Pillars of the Earth Book Two review was conducted on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and DRM-Free via GOG [Affiliate].
The story's fast pace takes away some weight from the big events in the story, but Book 2 still delivers an engrossing experience.
- Visuals Still Incredible
- Character Arcs Progress Satisfyingly
- Each Story Very Compelling
- Difficult to Tell Passage of Time
- Fast Pace Doesn't Let Major Events Breathe