Art is important. It's a representation of what years of practice, effort, and skill can lead to. That by dedicating yourself to your craft you can create a wonderful piece of work that can be enjoyed by generations to come. There should not only be a story behind your creation, but a story about you. The tale of what led to your masterpiece. The thought process, the work, the struggles, and what it all eventually added up to. Art is magnificent not because of how it looks, but what it can tell. The message, the morals, and above all the prosperity. Art doesn’t just have to be paintings, sculptures, or a big mural on the wall. It can be music, fashion, and of course writing. Expression of a thought, and that thought being the message earlier. Art is worth preserving, but there are some who think it isn’t. Possibly offended by the person who made the piece or what it shows us. The disturbing imagery or corrupt morals found within or behind it. That’s why so many people are conflicted on the preservation of art, but still you should preserve it. Find the goodness that comes with it, and when it comes to the bad use it as an example of what not to be. A lesson that be taken away, because without these teachings mankind would perform these bad deeds without a care in the world. I repeat, “Art is important,” for it always has a story or lesson to tell.
I opened with this poetic introduction, because this is the exact thought I had after rolling credits on Pentiment. The latest game by Obsidian Entertainment who are a pretty well renowned studio. They helped make The Outer Worlds, Pillars of Eternity, and most famously they are known for the smartly written Fallout: New Vegas. They have built up their reputation over the last decade and rightfully so. These guys know what it means to make RPGs, and both Fallout: New Vegas and the Pillars of Eternity series help carry on the formula of classic pen and paper titles into a modern format. However, if you are an avid fan of Obsidian’s work then don’t go into Pentiment with the high expectations based on their previous work. This is not a complex RPG with build diversity and where the tiniest of choices will have a long lasting impact. This is a story focused experience with tons of dialogue, minimal challenge, and gameplay based around click and point adventures. Just gonna pull this right out of the bag before we move on. I really love Pentiment, but this is not a game for everyone. In fact, I wouldn’t really call it a video game and more of an interactive visual novel. It’s based on the 1500s rather than a fictional setting, there’s a hefty use of old world terminology and Christian beliefs, and some of the conversations tend to last longer than they should. However, I really loved this game and much like the art and history it tries to represent it has a message to say. A takeaway so that it doesn’t get forgotten and left to rot.
Pentiment is the dream project of Josh Sawyer, who if you don’t recall was the main director of Fallout: New Vegas and both of the Pillars of Eternity games. He helped spearhead almost all of the studios’ major projects to success and make Obsidian Entertainment what they are now. After the 2018 release of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, Sawyer went to work on Pentiment. Direction for The Outer Worlds was handed off to Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky as Sawyer gathered an entirely different team of Obsidian developers to help with Pentiment. Roughly around 13 individuals helped with the development of Pentiment, and that is really small for a Triple A now owned and funded by Microsoft. His main inspiration was the classic RPG title Darklands and how it combined a medieval setting with paranormal themes. He also took inspiration from medieval manuscripts and the artwork found within them. The team even consulted manuscript experts so that they could understand the text written on them, what the pictures represent, and how to accurately represent the look of medieval paintings for their video games. They then started to write the plot which was about a mysterious murder happening within a small religious village. The player would collect as much evidence within a small time frame, learn each side of the story, and deduce who the murderer is. They would explore themes such as the corruption of the catholic church, the faith of the people, and as stated the importance of art.
Pentiment had a lot of love and historical research put into it, and when the game came out of nowhere in late 2022 players were quite amazed. It wasn’t like any game Obsidian made beforehand and that’s kind of what made it special. It was a small game made within a big company and no one was expecting it to do well. Then it surprised everyone and exceeded their expectations. Proving once again that not only does Josh Sawyer direct games with high quality, but Obsidian could go into different territories and still succeed. The game got extremely high scores from outlets and to a few it was a Game of The Year contender. Pentiment was secretly one of the best games of 2022 and I was curious as to why. It’s not often a niche game gets 10/10 scores. So I played it over the last five days, and can honestly say “Yeah, it deserves the praise.” If you can appreciate what is on offer you might witness one of the more important games of 2022. Today we’ll talk about Pentiment and why it deserves your attention.
The year is 1518, and we follow a young man by the name of Andreas Maler. He grew up in the big city, but transferred to the small Bolverian village of Tassing to serve as an apprentice. Work at the local Abbey, read the many scriptures and literature kept within the archives, and train to become an artist. One who can paint fantastical work that can be appreciated by many. He’s not at an advanced level yet, but he’s getting closer to his goals as his latest piece of work is close to becoming a masterpiece. One day while walking to the Keirsau Abbey, Andreas is introduced to one of the benefactors. Baron Lorenz Rothvogel, a high class man who has contributed a lot to the church, it’s collected knowledge, and has come to check up upon the Abbey. The monks of the church invite him for dinner, and as he walks towards the Abbey he discusses philosophy and art with Andreas. Depending on what background you decided to build your character around in the beginning you can say either really smart or outlandish stuff to the baron. I decided to major in roman politics, history, philosophy, human studies, and medicine. This opened up a lot of deep discussions throughout the game and clever statements to say during complex conversations.
Andreas has a friendly time walking with the baron and the two get along really well. During the nightly dinner though, the baron tries to bring up philosophy and argue with the monks sitting around him. The baron will either get kicked out by the monks if you support his arguments, or get escorted out by you if you decide to ask him to leave. The baron leaves for the night and you head home after a long day’s work of drawing and copying manuscripts. Andreas returns to the Abbey the next day to continue his masterpiece, but just when he’s about to pick up his pen the church bells begin to ring violently. The only time the bells ring is for scheduled gatherings, but this was a special occasion. Andreas heads towards the center of the Abbey grounds only to hear a scream in the distance. He locates the source of the scream to then find the baron’s corpse lying on the ground. Blood is spilt everywhere and one of Andreas’ friends Brother Piero pulls out a knife from the baron’s lifeless corpse. He claims to have found the baron lying dead in the room, but Abbot Gernot does not believe him. He thinks Piero murdered the baron as he’s the first one to be in the room and he is holding the murder weapon. He locks Piero up and discusses the matter on hand. Since the baron was such an important figure, members of the church will be called in to find the man who killed him and execute. Andreas stands up and states Piero is not the guy who would want to kill someone. He had nothing against the baron nor the physical capabilities to kill him. Andreas is kicked out by the Abbot, but members of the Abbey encourage him to find the killer. Interview suspects and save Piero’. Little does Andreas know more lies behind the scenes.
Pentiment has a lot of things going on especially as the narrative becomes more complicated, but when you actually narrow it down it’s very simple. You walk from place to place, talk to people, walk to another place, talk to more people, possibly interact with objects in the environment, talk some more, and eventually a murder case appears. The way these work is that you have to gather evidence and information on what possibly happened, and to do that you have to go investigate possible leads and suspects involved with the crime. Go to your journal, read through or look at points of interest, and start collecting what you need. Sometimes you’ll be given a small number of days and hours to collect evidence, so not every piece of the puzzle can be found. You’ll have to make do with what you have when time is up and deduce who did it.
Personally, I like the time restrictions, because similar to time management like Persona 5 you have to plan out actions ahead of time. Figure out where you want to go the most, what is less likely needed, and pursue your goals. Not being able to collect every piece of evidence may conflict with some players, as they may either not get all the evidence, they need to prove one specific person wrong or will get an incomplete picture, but I’m fine with it because it opens up imagination and forces them to use what they do know. The player isn’t told if who they decided to accuse of the crime is right or wrong and that too may upset some players, but I’m fine with it because almost every suspect in the game has a lot of wrongs and right with them. What they do and believe isn’t necessarily good nor bad, because you understand their actions. Do you really want to execute an old lady who hates the church and wishes for it to die, even though the church is responsible for crippling and killing her husband and she only has a few years of her life left? Do you want to send a mob after a member of the church for embezzling money? Who knows, go nuts! Outside of the parts where you investigate there isn’t really anything else. I’m being dead serious, there’s absolutely nothing else. There’s occasional minigames, but some of them aren’t important nor challenging. You walk, talk, walk some more, and talk some more. That’s all you do in Pentiment and after a while it transforms into a visual novel with a really pretty art style and finely dressed characters. If the gameplay isn’t much, then why do I like Pentiment?
Pentiment is a game about the importance of art. I know that sounds like a cliche thing to state especially for a game where one of its driving factors is the art style, but I’m being honest when I say that. This game is all about art and why it matters. The message is made very clear with one of the first few scenes in the first act. Andreas helps one of the sisters of the church collect books to store away, and whenever he opens up a book he relives the drawings found within them. The history of the town’s religion and the many tales spanning across history. Andreas is impressed with all that is being unveiled and explained by the sister, but eventually he opens up a tome with forbidden knowledge. Corrupt rituals and figures beyond his comprehension. The sister tells him to hand over the book immediately and not read any of the info it contains. For my playthrough I handed over the book, but Andreas asked the sister why it’s worth keeping the book around when what is written on it is unholy to their religion. The sister explains that the founder of their sacred church believed all books are worth keeping. That even if we don’t agree with what they have to say or they contain vile imagery we can use this to learn. Prevent tragedies from happening and help lead the people to prosperity. This is a wonderful scene to have near the start of the game, because over the course of three acts we see the town of Tassing change. For good and bad.
I won’t spoil anything significant that happens after the first act, but there’s plenty more to come even after Andreas manages to solve the murder case. The people of tassing change and so does the politics. The Abbey, the Catholics, the holy church which swore to look after the people and provide them with a choice to enforce strict laws onto the people. Taxing them more for supplies, preventing them from entering the woods to gather resources, and transforming life into a living hell as now they can’t feed themselves or afford medicine to treat severe illnesses. We see the townsfolk rise up to the Abbey and ask for change. Leading to a bloody revolt over beliefs and values. Between the poor and the wealthy. Between what was a peaceful community. It does get better around the third act, but witnessing significant time periods in Tassing. How all the chaotic events changed the people and how they walked into the future. I really love Andreas’ character development, or at least the Andreas I ended up roleplaying as. A man who not only cares for those around him, but his passion to be an artist. How the pressure to solve each murder case and the people harmed from his actions affect his mind. How we see him crumble apart as he loses the passion to continue painting and grow more distant from his family at home. Being forgotten by everyone around him. He cared for art not just because of the work put in, but how it’ll be remembered in the future. How the artist will be remembered, and his greatest fear came true.
Tassing and the Abbey fell to corruption, but upon learning from their mistakes they recovered. They looked towards the past and used it to re-pave the future. If Tassing didn’t learn from their mistakes, if they didn’t look at previous works and saw the horrors within them then they would have another day of bloodshed. Art is valuable. It is a collection of skills, human knowledge, and retelling of the past. That is the strongest trait about Pentiment. It’s writing, memorable cast of characters, and above all else it’s genius themes and reveals. There are other aspects I really love about the game. The art style is a grand spectacle of the eyes. It’s not constantly flashing colors at you or presenting cinematic events, but it is really beautiful. Taking inspiration from the old 1500 manuscripts, their style and colors they used, and bringing them to life. I enjoy seeing 2D animation in video games and Pentiment has some of the best animation I’ve seen in a game. It’s probably one of the top five animated games at least. I’m also really surprised with how good the audio design and music is. It’s not a game where they are constantly blasting soundtracks into your ears, but it is a peaceful one. The chirping of birds, running water, the turning of the mill, fire crackling in the corner, a monk singing in an empty chapel, and even your feet as you run along the ground. Any music that does come on is lovely as they replicate the feel of hymns and homilies.
Gameplay itself though is pretty weak. At first I thought it was a click and point adventure as you click to run around to places, transition between areas, and talk to characters. I highly suggest getting it on PC, because it makes navigating the simplistic UI and selecting points of interaction a lot easier. Pentiment runs really well even on cheaper hardware, so that’s another plus side with the game. In the end though I didn’t take it as a click and point adventure. The game lacks any cleverly designed puzzles, and it doesn’t take long to find the solution to problems. The murder mystery elements to the game may not appeal to everyone. You can’t collect every piece of info with the small time frame given, which is fine to me, but it can make selecting the prime suspect unfilling as sometimes you may choose the person with the least amount of evidence to prove that they are innocent. There’s no failstate or wrong answer to cases, and you aren’t told who did it. Murder mysteries should have punishments, I mean Yahtzee Croshaw released a video covering this issue, but there’s a reason Pentiment doesn’t do so. It’s plot related, so I won’t spoil it. What I don’t admire is how character traits and speech checks work. You are given a list of professions to choose from and they open up new things to say during conversations. These professions don’t really matter as simpler choices give you simpler answers and you are always moving forward in a conversation no matter what you. This then brings me to skill checks which the game does a pretty bad job at. The game won’t warn you when something you are about to say will have an effect on how a character thinks, nor do they allow you to back out of a speech check when the time comes. Sometimes you think treating a character nicely will help you succeed but doesn’t, sadly.
Pentiment is not a good “video game” and that’s why I stated that it is not for everyone. It has a setting that is not fantastical and rather boring to average gamers. Its gameplay isn’t challenging, build diversity doesn’t matter, and the movement also feels pretty awkward since you move around using clicking power. However, remember the phrase, “The pros outweigh the cons.” The main plot, the writing, the characters, art direction, sound design, music, themes, and message. All of these areas are done really well and on some occasions Pentiment managed to surprise me. The dialogue does occasionally drag on at times and I wish they get to the point. This is a 12 to 15 hour long game and part of it is due to how long certain conversations are. The story is still worth sticking around for as I wanted to see the full truth. and that’s why I ultimately recommend it despite it being quite niche. I am going to give Pentiment a 9/10 for excellence at best.
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