LifeisXbox’s Pentiment review | A religious historical game with the main focus on narrative gameplay. When Microsoft and game director from Obsidian, Josh Sawyer announced Pentiment for the first time my first reaction was one with frown eyebrows. Like Jezus and the Apostles, only a team of 13 people created this latest Xbox Game Studios experience. We all know how 2022 turned out for Xbox Game Studios, Pentiment being the one and only new game from Microsoft going into the Holiday period speaks for itself. I’m very well aware that Pentiment won’t be for everyone, even with Xbox Game Pass to support it. From the very beginning, there is too much that will scare away gamers. Neverending dialogues with a huge religious influence and spoken in a historical era. Visuals that seem weird at first and there are no voice actors in sight. BUT WAIT! Even with all of that in mind. Pentiment is a brilliant narrative experience with so much going for it. Those that do click with the game will experience an adventure that they will never forget. Not so long ago Xbox was all about cars and shooting people in the face, the brand-new Xbox has something for everyone. Pentiment joins the list of unique games on Xbox, like Sea of Thieves, Grounded, and As Dusk Falls.
We would have never had Pentiment if Microsoft didn’t acquire Obsidian at the end of 2018. Josh Sawyer saw a chance and took it, Microsoft allowed the creation of unusual games and had enough resources to make it happen. Because of that total freedom Obsidian single-handedly saved a large part of the Xbox Game Studios catalog for 2022. As they also released the excellent Grounded earlier and will bring Avowed and the Outer Worlds 2 somewhere in the future.
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided by PR/publisher, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- Dynamic writing styles (fonts) | Pentiment has a lot of unique features for readable dialogue. Obsidian created new fonts, especially for Pentiment. Status and emotional feelings can easily be recognized by the letter type, it is a bit harder to read but it adds so much additional value. There is an option to turn everything into an easier-to-read font but I strongly suggest that you don’t use this. (I would even say it is worth the headache) Obsidian took a lot of steps into making Pentiment stand out with dialogue, not only by hand drawing most fonts. They did a lot of research on how manuscripts were created and implemented it into the dialogue box. One example is how Catholic figures are added later into texts with red ink. One thing I found incredible is how the fonts changed by actually knowing individuals more, at first they may have a respectful font depending on status. But when the playable character Andreas knows more about what kind of person he truly is the fonts will change accordingly. It has a personal touch too as if the texts are being written in real-time. You hear and see the ink becoming dry and mistakes happen too. Words are crossed out and ink is spilled on the paper, giving it that extra something. I think the team from Pentiment completely nailed mixing the script writing from the past and bringing it up to speed with modern times.
- The actual conversations | All of that fonts work would be for nothing if the conversations fell short. Here’s another part where Pentiment shines brighter than any sun in the universe. Our first objective in act 1 is to find out who murdered someone in the village. That someone was a noble person so the village isn’t only worried about who did it but what kind of effect it will have on their reputation. By carefully following the conversations you’ll quickly get some suspects or ideas as to why the specific person was killed. For the sake of not spoiling things, it becomes mind-blowingly interesting in the following acts to see the results of the investigation, not on the suspect but the entire village. With all conversations, you have to keep a few things in mind. What effect do some words have against the Catholic instance, against the family of the suspects, against the reputation of the village for the short AND long term, and obviously what do the accusations mean for the playable character? Pentiment is like reading a fantastic book that you can’t lay down, you simply have to see what happens next… I think Pentiment’s setup is done incredibly, done in a way I thought was only in books. I’m hoping you’ll find it out for yourself!
- Weird but lovely art style and animations | Not sure but I think the inspiration for Pentiment’s art style comes from white-line woodcut and water paint art. At first and especially on screenshots it looks fairly simplistic but the attention to detail is very high. None of the NPCs look alike and the village in the Bavarian era looks historically accurate. Walking around the small village and looking at the art pieces inside churches was one of the finest moments I had with the game, besides the brilliant conversations. We’re staying in the wood sector as the animations are based on stop-motion. So it may look a bit woody but seeing Andreas walk around and do his business is amusing to the eye. Just like the art style a lot of attention to detail went into the process. The end result is living art in clear 4K and one of the most visually striking games on Xbox. Pentiment is proof that realistic visuals aren’t required to be memorable and outstanding.
- Gameplay | Let’s explain what Pentiment is. This is a narrative-driven game, one with lots of branching mechanics. Right in the beginning, you decide on the background, studies, and personal traits of Andreas Maler. This alone will result in multiple other ways to hold conversations with characters. You will have to make decisions that immediately change the narrative, they will not always be clear but turn up later in the game. I’m sure you know the mechanics of Telltale or Dontnod games. In Pentiment these choices really make a difference, great for replay value too! Another rather important part of Pentiment is time management, you have to be really careful not to promise too many things to friendly characters. There are four moments in a day, two of them are work-related and the others are for free time. During that time you have to investigate, solve puzzles or hang out with characters. All of it has a direct influence on how the story unfolds, you can’t do everything that’s available in the game… so you will have to make smart choices. It really challenges your personal spontaneous part, as the player you control what happens in the game. Just keep in mind that each small detail can hold extreme consequences. Some of them come as a surprise as I wasn’t educated in most Catholic ways and etiquette rules.
- I did miss voice actors | The illustrated dialogue is fantastic in Pentiment but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted voice actors. Constantly having to read becomes tiresome for the eyes, even with larger fonts. (and the optional easy-to-read fonts). You do get some sort of emotion and personality from the fonts but maybe a few cutscenes with voiced performances would have been a nice change of pace. While I was writing this part it did occur to me that it would negatively impact Pentiment’s concept so that’s why I placed it in our mixed feelings.
What we Disliked
- Out of 100 people, only 20 will really like Pentiment | I enjoyed my time with Pentiment a lot, and almost every time I thought about how excited I was going to be about talking about it with my friends. So I did, while carefully holding the embargo, but almost everyone was immediately uninterested by the screenshots or Pentiment’s reading concept. So while I didn’t take this into consideration with my final verdict and score, be very informed about what precisely Pentiment is. There is no action, only lots of story and dialogue with many different characters. Solving challenging puzzles and solving a murder by connecting the dots by yourself without any sort of modern help. Pentiment is and always will be a game you totally love or hate.
How long to beat the story | 20 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 35 hours (?)
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