It sounds like a parody, exploring unlikely themes for a video game that no one has been able to make it work. But somehow, the creators of Pentiment have crafted a mesmerizing narrative adventure about the Protestant Reformation, 16th-century Bavarian monks, and calligraphy.
developer Obsidian is already established with deeply engrossing, immersive RPGs — such as the studio behind The Outer Worlds and Pillars of Eternity — but this passionate side project from a group of its employees has create a more impressive feat. From its unconventional and uncompromising visual style to its philosophical examination of religion and morality, Pentiment makes a strong case for being called the most extraordinary game of the year.
Of course, Obsidian isn’t stupid. No drama succeeds without conflict, and this medieval setting is shrouded in a murder mystery fueled by sex, humor, and tempered characters. However, this is not a stab, run or sneak game. The verbs here are listen, read and think.
Readers of Italian writer Umberto Eco will recognize strong similarities in his novel The Name of The Rose, later a film starring Sean Connery. As with Eco’s book, Pentiment begins with a barbaric death in a convent investigated by an outsider.
You take on the role of Andreas Maler, a temporary artist working at the convent of a Bavarian town, illustrating manuscripts alongside a group of eccentric monks, nuns and local farmers. As a matter of fact, Maler did not belong to any social class in the town. So he’s the only one forced to question when an elderly monk shows up and accuses him of a gruesome murder.
Regret is almost undone at the beginning. Featuring a special beginner’s presentation, a colorful yet static set of 2.5D medieval animations overlaid with gently animated characters. The dialogue is not voiced but is instead delivered in gothic script that represents the speaker’s status in the community.
Then came the painfully slow process of building the dramatic arc. You will spend your first hours wandering around in confusion – meeting dozens of strangers, exchanging gossip, arguing about religion, flirting and arguing. You don’t know what’s going on, but unknowingly, you’re laying out pieces of your own personality. The deep immersion in 16th-century way of life extends to historical lessons on moral principles, food, and the feudal property system. Luckily, Obsidian gives you a map and log that keeps track of all these people and the information they’ve communicated.
But Pentiment only begins to fully activate when the murder causes a shockwave throughout the community and you commit to finding the culprit. Amazingly, however, your investigation is just the beginning of the Pentiment. Obsidian completely pulls the rug as you vent your doubts to the archbishop about the killer’s identity.
Saying more will spoil the surprise and all you need to know is that every action leading up to this point is reflected back to you for the rest of this memorable game.
Thanks to a great script with great dialogue, Pentiment is rarely flagged. Persevere through the early hours of bewilderment and you’ll be rewarded with a knowledge-packed adventure rife with historical, intrigue, and thoughtful reflections. Sometimes in gaming, the pen is stronger than the sword.
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