Pentiment Review (Xbox Series X)
Release date: November 15, 2022
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Xbox Series X/S
*No spoilers below*
Originally debuted in June's Xbox-Bethesda showcase, Pentiment immediately caught my interest for its style, medieval backdrop, and murder-mystery narrative. I was already 100% sold on this game without much more needed. Several months later, this Xbox-exclusive lives up to that hype, delivering an intricate story plentiful in history, character development, and intrigue.
Pentiment is set in early 16th century Bavaria where you play at Andreas Maler, a travelling artist who has been recently commissioned by the region's Baron to complete the artwork for an upcoming print in the small village of Tassing. Timed closely with his arrival is that of said Baron, Rothvogal, who has travelled far, eager to see how the commission is coming along. Unfortunately, his visit weaves more tensions than friendships and he is soon found murdered in the church's chapter house. Andreas take it upon himself to solve the Baron's murder in an effort to help calm the town and ensure proper justice is served.
Pentiment is divided into three acts, each of which contains scenes, similar to how Shakespearean plays are separated. Each act is reflective of a singular objective, but masterfully ties back to the game's main themes of religion, persecution, and human nature. As the tale unfolds, the writers have managed to hit every major front as you'll encounter moments that will make you laugh out loud as well as break out in tears.
In terms of character development and story building, Obsidian has once again proven they are a top-tier developer. Instead of presenting the narrative as simply click and select, you're given the option to sculpt some of Andreas's background by choosing what he is proficient and knowledgable in, and even select where he has recently travelled. This customization is imperative to how Andreas interacts with the townspeople and can influence the outcome of both decisions and mainline story events. It is this customization and its weight that give the game an insane amount of replay value -- in fact, I'm eager to get started on my second playthrough.
Andreas Maler is a customizable enigma. Despite you being able to choose so much of his background and development, his character takes on more of a singular storyline as you progress. As a result, the decisions you have made early in the game, can lead him to a life of fear, regret, or fulfillment. His arc by the end of the game feels complete and without holes. I made choices for Andreas that I would make in his shoes, but customized his background to be reflective of ways I wish I had lived my own life. In this sense, Andreas has the true ability to be relatable to any player -- even if you chose to make him a goofball. I find that many games that attempt this same kind of relatability, end up losing sight of it pretty quickly.
The characters you encounter throughout the town are equally fascinating, each rich with their own thoughts and histories that finely intertwine into the major events of Tassing and it's history. Layered in with each of these characters, is a fantastical depth of medieval European history that accurately reflects what we know of Judo-Christian practices at that time. I find it very rare to see much media, games and otherwise, depict such a depth of the Christian religion. Much of the teachings and inspirations behind the faith are often obscured or neglected when portrayed in media, so this quite refreshing. Even more so when you consider how much faith influences the story. In addition, prominent influential figures and scholars of the period are often referenced, such as German theologian Martin Luther.
The gameplay is quite standard when you recognize that this is a narrative game, so you won't be expected to fight off enemies or employ your stealth skills. This game is narrative in the sense that you must be engaged with the text on screen, more so that with other narrative games. Essentially, Pentiment is a visualized novel presented to you in a game format -- think of those novels you read as a kid that allowed you to choose your own adventure. While you can click buttons to open objectives and select what you want to say, these are merely the developers adapting the two formats and it works incredibly well with the story they've chosen to tell. Understandably though, this paints the game in a corner as it undoubtedly appeals to a very niche audience as a result.
Depending on how fast of a reader you are and how much of the world you choose to explore, I'd say in total you can expect a minimum completion time of 15 hours. I myself am a pretty fast reader but interacted with as many characters as I could. As a result, I finished my first playthrough in just over 20 hours.
The art-style is something I cannot neglect from this review as it is such a monumental facet in how this game captures your attention. Following the side-scroller panache, the background of Tassing is illustrated in style that was popular in the 1500s in medieval Europe. This adds another fantastical layer of immersion for the player. Furthermore, the dialogue and text also takes inspiration from popularized fonts of the period and can even be tweaked in the game options to your preference.
Pentiment shines in its ability to create rich characters and a complex story, allowing it to be something incredibly unique in the narrative genre. The story, while starting a little on the slow side, captures you once it takes off. I found there was not really a moment past those first 20 minutes where I wasn't fully immersed in Andreas Maler and his adventures in Tassing. I laughed, I cried, and couldn't wait to hop back in when I had the chance. In my honest opinion, this is one of the best narrative games I've ever played and a must for any interested in the genre or medieval history. Given Obsidian Entertainment's fantastic track record, I'm eager to see what they have in store for us next and pray to Satia (wink, wink) that they revisit this style of game again in the future.
Pentiment is an Xbox exclusive for the Series X/S and Windows. You can find the game on Game Pass or for purchase through the Microsoft store and Steam for $19.99.
If you're interested in keeping up with everything and anything gaming-related, you can catch me over on Rumble every Sunday at 9pm EST for my "This Week in Gaming" podcast and find re-uploads on your preferred streaming service.