Obsidian's point and click adventure game has absolutely stunning design unlike almost anything else you've played.
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PENTIMENT is the sort of game that I don't expect is going to appeal to everyone, the point and click narrative game from Obsidian Entertainment (THE OUTER WORLDS, PILLARS OF ETERNITY) is very dense and it takes its time unfolding.
Fans of history and the evolution of culture are in for something pretty special as you walk the labyrinth in contemplation of God, each decision weighing heavily on you, each decision determining what survives and what gets painted over.
Well trodden paths
Andreas Maler our protagonist must navigate the Holy Roman Empire, a lay person within the Scriptorium of Kiersau abbey creating beautiful artworks for the manuscripts during a time of change.
Each of the people you meet will have different perspectives on the past and the future and what role they see themselves playing.
This isn't an object based adventure game you'll be conversing with each of Tassing's residents multiple times as you piece together what you think is the true story.
As you play through you probably aren't going to find every bit of information, there are specific opportunities to discover certain pieces of the puzzle but if you miss them that's it.
When you select Andreas' background in the early part of the game, each path unlocks different dialogue options and choices, think of this like building out your roleplaying class.
For example if you have lived in Italy and can speak Italian, new conversations open up, but these options aren't instant win zingers as you might expect from other games, even games like FALLOUT.
If you're a religious scholar boasting of your understanding of scripture and theology to the Benedictine nun you're trying to convince, being a know-it-all can actually backfire.
The first two story arcs in this three chapter game, revolve around two grizzly murders, which you'll be tasked to investigate as the relative outsider in this community.
As the days progress you'll sit down to some frankly delicious looking lunches, eaves drop and question the major players, and you discover that there are plenty of motivations around to commit murder.
The sins of the father
Like the Telltale games there are lots of little moments where particular choices will be remembered but those choices aren't as signposted, you'll just need to work you way through and see what comes back to help or bite you when the time comes.
And this is where the true magic of the game happens, every single choice feels heavy, I paused often just to think "how will this person react to what I have to say."
You are given plenty of opportunities to learn about the cultural and historical context, the zoom out margins mode gives you pointers to underlined terms and people, just like the notes real theological scolars wrote.
Can you nail every conversation the first time? No, and you shouldn't try to, just try and answer honestly and play to find out what happens.
It's actually a weight off your shoulders when you realise that some of the big events of the world are just going to happen.
Andreas plays at detective in a curious and amateurish way, that has ramifications through each of the three major story arcs, building on your past mistakes and decisions.
This game is a masterwork of design, each of the characters speak using fonts designed to reflect their education and status, that very text is so essential to the telling of this game with no spoken dialogue.
Characters make mistakes, they sometimes forget to put on their high minded voices and speak more plainly, or even write out typos which get scratched out and replaced.
When you meet visiting monk Sebhat from the Ethiopian church of Sedai he is drawn completely differently to the European monks that surround him, a different cultural expression of Christianity that's further explored in one of the optional conversations later.
It's detail like this, the historic contexts of this game's setting, that is really compelling.
Culture evolves adapts and overwrites the past, sometimes destructively wiping the old knowledge away and that's exactly what Pentiment wants you to reckon with.
The final arc of the game is when the mystery itself finally comes to it's conclusion, all the clues accumulate as you attempt to tell the final story of this town.
It's a neat little twist that makes a lot of sense if you already understand the tensions of the time, but I was pleasantly surprised with how it ends.
The consequences of choices I made hours ago that didn't seem all that consequential at the time were represented in the final sequence.
It's was really nice to see some of those side stories wrap up, but it was also tinged with regret as I realised I'd pushed a couple of my favourite characters to their doom.
I grew up learning catholic history and for me Pentiment really reminded me of that moment in my life where I realised that the stories I'd been told were gospel, were often more complex than a child could understand.
As a history buff and someone who has considered their place within their continuity of faith, it was a really rewarding story to experience.
Practicing religion isn't a part of my life anymore, but just like the past in Pentiment it is something that my current sense of self is built upon.
The fact that a big corporate studio like Obsidian were able to make Pentiment, a game that feels more likely to have come from a Triple I indie studio is most surprising, something that Game Director Josh Sawyer attributes to the Xbox Game Pass.
I'd love to see more big teams be given the opportunity to make cool weird games like this.
Pentiment isn't going to be for everyone, but I do think it's a game that if it clicks for you, you'll think about it for a long time to come.
A copy of PENTIMENT on Xbox Series X was provided to SIFTER for the purpose of this review.