Pentiment is a dectective mystery where you have to solve a series of murders set against the backdrop of 16th century Bavaria. This isn’t your sterotypical video game, but the team at Obsidian clearly have a passion for the subject matter, which leads us to this entertaining late entry in 2022 games of the year list.
Pentiment’s narrative is definitely it’s strong point, with murder and not knowing who to trust at it’s core. The game has a feeling of going through an old-style text and reading up on the subject matter directly. The game swerved between faith and truth, but also tells the story of farmers, priests, scandal and murder.
We play as Andreas Maler, an artist who has been hired by the church to illustrate manuscripts in the town of Tassing. Printing presses are becoming very popular, and the church is trying to gain control of publishing to control the messages that come out. Once they had a tight grip on the distribution of books, but given the rise of publishing, that’s no longer the case. This is a problem for the church, because many of the population are starting to question their beliefs. Taxes and churches are squeezing the public for more and more, and tension is rising. The cherry on the icing on the cake is a visiting nobleman, who manages to get himself murdered.
While his friend has been accused of the crime, it’s down to Andreas to find the actual murderer. Given it’s set in the 16th century, there are no fancy gadgets to use, no modern analyzing techniques. You have to use your street smarts and talk to people to find out what went down. Andreas has a sketchbook, which he uses to sketch up leads, plus he can draw maps and character profiles. All of this is good, but the best way to solve the case is to get talking to residents and gather the clues and piece them together one by one.
There’s a decent amount of choice in Pentiment. For example, you get to define where Andreas came from, where he studied, which have an effect on the outcomes of conversations. Different dialogue boxes pop up depending on which options you choose for Andreas’ backstory. If you decide Andreas has a background in occult magic, then you might be able to decipher symbols, or if you have a background in religious studies, then it becomes easier to fend off the minions of the church. Background choices also help when it comes to interrogating other characters in the game, as they can lead to favors or different evidence gather techniques. If you sound off about how much you don’t like the church, then peasants who agree with you find you and give you the latest gossip.
In terms of gameplay you have to go around talking to people, gathering clues. This talking takes up valuable time, and your day is sectioned up into chunks. The core of the gameplay is all about relationships, earning the trust of those you want to pry clues from, and developing friendships. Pentiment is a detective game first, but it’s also about the relationships with the townsfolk of Tassing.
Mechanics from other detective games certainly exist in the world of Pentiment, ciphers to figure out, secrets to find and notes to uncover. What is different about this game is the world around the main detective mechanics, it’s so rich and vast, with such attention to detail. I shouldn’t be surprised with games like The Outer Worlds and Fall Out New Vegas under the same roof. Pentiment is on a smaller scale, but it’s equally as rich in writing. The objective of the game is to pin the murder on someone, and there’s plenty of options here. Who and where you eventually blame for the murder does have an impact on this small community, but it’s verging on spoiler territory to go into any further detail.
Given the game is rich in detail and characters, it’ll probably take you more than one play through to get all the required detail from Pentiment. A single play through takes roughly 12 hours, but you’ll be wanting to go back again and again given the vast array of choices and the skills of the writing team. This is a world you want to spend time in and get to know the characters. The art style is fantastic too, it’s classic medieval artwork with it’s own distinct style.
There aren’t too many other games out there with this amount of character and props to Obsidian and Microsoft for putting this out. This game feels like a product of Xbox Game Pass and Microsoft Game Studios. I don’t know if this would exist without the service and it’s great to see big studios have the breathing room to create interesting little projects like this, rather than knock out the 19th version of call of duty in 15 years. The artwork in the game also reflects the characters. Depending on the levels of their education and background their artowrk changes. When you are talking, if they are getting angry then the ink starts to bubble and get messy, and if the character is old then their artwork will fade at the edges. It’s the little touches like that which make Pentiment very special.
Pentiment is a must-try game. It’s interesting, has great characters with real depth, and shows off a version of 16th Century Bavaria you most likely haven’t seen before. If you like detective adventures then this one is for you, but I’d recommend Pentiment to anyone with a gap in their backlog of games. It’s also available on Xbox Game Pass, so it’s a must try.
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox, PC
Release Date: November 2022