Pentiment is a beautifully illustrated story that is split in to two categories: One part crime thriller, one part history lesson. Josh Sawyer, known for his work with Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity, along with his small team at Obsidian Entertainment have put together a story of murder and mystery, featuring a lively cast of fictional character’s that reside within a world that stays historically accurate to a 16th Century, heavily influenced with religion.
Players take on the role of aspired artist, Andreas Maler, who is visiting the town of Tassing, lodging with one of the local families that have generously offered a bed from their home. Andreas is working on his art at the Kiersau Abbey within town and somehow manages to get absorbed into a series of murders that take place, conducting his own investigations into solving each case. The decisions that are made have serious consequences on the fate of the townspeople and Andreas’ fortune, so the player’s choices play a significant role in the way their story unfolds. Throughout the journey, Andreas’ past comes to light and so too does that of others. For me, personally, the finale disappointed me, though that could be passed as my personal preference. The journey, all the same, was very enjoyable. I did not clock accurately the hours it took for me to complete the story of Pentiment, but it did surpass ten hours.
Pentiment plays somewhat like a choose your own adventure, allowing players free rein to explore the world however they so choose, as well as being able to talk to any characters they wish, though not all characters are willing to have a full conversation all the time. Andreas’ journey begins in bed, waking early in the morning and heading to the Abbey for the day’s work. On the way to the Abbey, Andreas will meet some of the townsfolk and learn a bit about Tassing’s community before the situation inevitably turns sour. During the commute, players can choose from a few options regarding Andreas’ background, which effect his choices in future. For example, my version of Andreas spent some time abroad in Flanders, picking up on some Dutch and French, so I could decipher certain literature or writings.
Pentiment’s story is played out over a 25-year period, and it is enthralling watching the town of Tassing change over time, along with the people that reside there. Seeing a young child grow into a young woman or man is something seldom seen within the videogame realm, and it is so unique and sublime. The way the world around Andreas evolves is heavily influenced by his decisions and it shows throughout the years, with each player’s story being unique to them. I grew fond of quite a few characters during my playthrough, while at the same time pinpointing the one’s that I didn’t like. The character development for the entire town is extensive and the player has the freedom to learn as much or as little of them as they please, though it is hard not to explore every dialogue option. There are also several puzzles that need to be solved throughout the investigations, as well as a friendly game of cards that I played against one of the town’s visitors.
Due to being a very dialogue heavy game, often time can only move forward when the right people have been spoken too. This did bring an issue to gameplay on a couple occasions, where I would be searching the town to find who I hadn’t spoken to yet, unknowing to me that I had more dialogue options with a character I had previously spoken to. The map does help though, showing where Andreas’ objectives are in town. A lot of information from characters can be obtained by joining them for meals, where food and thoughts are shared. Some characters simply say hello as players pass by, where others will stop for a full conversation with multiple dialogue options. Some characters can also be swayed to make certain decisions, which is where previous choices come into account when trying to convince them. The players past choices define whether a character will take a liking to the ideas of Andreas, which can in turn make any investigations just that little it more difficult.
Pentiment often feel more like a novel than a game. There is no recorded narration nor voiced dialogue, but it does not take anything away from the engrossing storyline that comes with it. The team at Obsidian have done a very good job in making sure there are plenty of accessibility options to ensure that the most amount of people can enjoy the experience, including text-to-speech. There are several stylised fonts when playing with the default settings that can easily be turned off, which I did as my poor eyes strain at the best of times, as well as being able to increase the font size. For anyone who would not consider themselves a “history buff” (myself included), Pentiment also offers an extensive Glossary that defines any expressions that players might be unfamiliar with, which only makes me admire the team’s historical knowledge even greater than when I started my journey.
What little music that was played for my playthrough of Pentiment was very much sticking to the 16th Century theme, and it was well produced. For the most part, the game allows players to soak in the natural ambiance of that of a small settlement in that era. Birds chirp and winds howl through the trees, townsfolk chatter and burning ambers crackle. It is quite therapeutic and helps to concentrate on the dialogue. Some people might see it as a negative aspect not to have any spoken words, but I think it enhances the experience.
I cannot fault this game artistically, being heavily influenced by artworks from the same era. The lighting is also fantastic, which can especially be seen when there are flames in the dark of the night, bouncing off walls and lighting the way. It is easy to tell that there was a lot of love poured into this project from the entire team and the love is much appreciated, with some scenes worthy of being framed and hung on a wall. While the explorable area is not huge, each section of the map has its own personality.
Brandon Waite. View my profile here.