Pentiment review: A marvelous medieval murder mystery
Pentiment is a 2D medieval adventure where the player needs to solve a murder that can alter the fate of an entire town. However, is Pentiment worth around fifteen hours of your time?
As Pentiment is developed by Obsidian, we went into the game expecting a story-driven RPG that could be a cross between an old-school Final Fantasy game and something like Fallout Shelter. We were wrong about this though. While Pentiment does have some RPG elements, the game actually has more in common with narrative adventure games such as As Dusk Falls or Vertigo.
Like these games, Pentiment is all about the choices you make and the conversations you have with NPCs. However, unlike most narrative adventures, which are more like playable movies, Pentiment also places a lot of emphasis on exploration and investigation.
You can dictate Andreas’ background and skills, but this just serves to inform his conversational choices and how well he’s equipped to deal with certain situations. Say or do the wrong thing and the consequences could be dire later.
Pentiment: Key Details
- Price: £19.99/$19.99 (Free with Xbox Game Pass subscription)
- Developer: Obsidian
- Release Date: November 15, 2022
- Platforms: Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Murder in the chapel
The game’s plot involves a young artist named Andreas coming to Tassing to finish his masterpiece. Andreas is renting a room in the home of some local farmers and travels to a monastery every day to work on his masterpiece and help the monks with their own commissions. He will catch the eye of a visiting nobleman early on in the game and will be given the choice to befriend this character or go about his business.
Soon a murderer strikes and Andreas is forced to investigate and find the killer after his friend and mentor is accused of the crime. It soon becomes apparent that there are lots of people in Tassing with a motive for this crime, but it’s up to Andreas to find out who it could be – and more importantly, why they committed such a heinous act.
The game never overtly tells you who the killer is but after a full playthrough and some process of elimination, we think we have a clear idea and that will inform our second playthrough. The question is, will you reach this same conclusion?
Don’t expect any big Scooby-Doo-style unmasking. The fun is in the guesswork and the trial-and-error moments that could see an innocent person condemned – and the fact that some of the narrative twists and turns are out of your control. After all, Andreas is just one man, but your detective skills will serve you well as a player.
Everyone is a suspect
The bulk of Pentiment’s gameplay sees Andreas walking around Tassing having (sometimes long) conversations with the town’s inhabitants. These interactions drive the game and story forward. The more you walk around and chat to NPCs, the more you learn, and the more Andreas knows, the more equipped you’ll be to deal with tense and dangerous situations where a character’s life may hang in the balance.
If you’re the sort of person who can’t stand reading lots of dialogue in a game, then Pentiment is probably not for you. However, unlike most games with lots of text, in Pentiment, every interaction, conversation, and piece of dialogue matters. We were genuinely interested in what every character had to say and even the most mundane of situations (such as sharing a loaf of bread with a carpenter) held our attention.
That’s because there’s always a tense feeling of unease running through Pentiment, even when the characters are engaging in moments of levity. A killer walks among you and it could be anyone – and they are going to great lengths to plot your downfall.
The butterfly effect
Every interaction in Pentiment causes ripples and things you do and say (or don’t do and say) will be remembered, possibly for decades as the game spans over 25 years of in-game storytelling. Do you greet a nobleman with their proper title or do you casually nod? Do you cancel your plans to dine with one family for a chance to dine with another more prosperous family? You risk offending someone either way.
Do you discuss the works of the sixteenth-century monk, Martin Luther, and his Protestant ideas, potentially infuriating the Catholic Abbot? Or do you risk offending a wealthy nobleman by turning down his request to debate theology? You may end up relying on both of these characters for patronage, so it’s a tricky tightrope to walk and every action has a consequence.
The art style in Pentiment is essentially a playable storybook in which each environment still is a page. Every still is itself a gorgeous work of art, brimming with details like wildlife or hints at a character’s true nature. You can run through the pages as if it was a semi-open world and you’ll soon learn your way around Tassing. The game’s art style also draws upon art from the era that the story is set, adding a layer of immersion and authenticity.
The Verdict – 5/5
We found Pentiment to be utterly addictive and would compare our playthrough to reading a great novel that we could not put down, which feels apt since the game is stylized as a medieval storybook. While the game looks simple, there’s an incredible amount of depth and those who like to lose themselves in a good story will enjoy every moment.
The game was a little bit too long when compared to other narrative adventure games, and this risks some players not making it to the closing credits, but we’re mostly nitpicking. Like their protagonist Andreas, Obsidian has created a masterpiece that not everyone will appreciate, but those who do will remember for years to come.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S
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