Definition of pentimento: a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist.
First announced back in June during the Xbox & Bethesda Showcase, Obsidian's Pentiment immediately stood out from the crowd due to its wonderfully unique graphical styling. Fusing together influences from 16th century tapestries, Medieval Illumination period art and early modern woodcuts, this is a game that looks quite unlike anything we've seen before.
During a recent private Q&A, the game's director, Josh Sawyer, and art director, Hannah Kennedy, sat down to give press a little more detail on their upcoming title, and we're thoroughly liking the sound of what's headed our way - via Game Pass - this November.
Josh Sawyer describes Pentiment as a personal passion project, a game he's been wanting and waiting to make for a good few years, also revealing he has a degree in History which saw him focus on studying the Holy Roman Empire in the early 16th century, the period reflected in this particular narrative adventure. So the level of personal interest here, as well as the effort that's been expended by the 13-strong team involved as a whole, in nailing down historical context and details, is apparent from the get-go. Indeed, during the presentation it becomes very clear that everything, right down to the many different styles of font used by NPCs during interactions, has been carefully considered and researched before being implemented into the game to give layers of depth and meaning that go beyond the simple back and forth of conversations.
But what of the actual gameplay itself. Well, the devs describe Pentiment as a "historical mystery narrative-driven game focused on character development, stylised art and choice-driven storytelling in 16th century Germany." You assume the role of Andreas Moller, a talented illustrator who's found himself caught up in a series of bloody murders, scandal and intrigue at Kiersau Abbey in the small fictional town of Hassing. These murders take place over a timeframe of 25 years and, through lots of dialogue choices and decision-making, it's up to you to uncover the real picture behind the fake reality that's been painted by those who seek to hide the truth.
The setting here is designed specifically to immerse players in the relationships and issues of a small, tightknit community as their lives and realities are transformed, not just by the murders at hand, but by world events of the time period such as the Reformation, the Revolution of 1525 and the introduction of Copernicus' heliocentric model of the solar system. This was a period in history when there was a lot of social upheaval with the likes of the Peasant Revolts and the introduction of the print medium transforming how ordinary people viewed and interacted with the world around them. There is, according to the devs, enough detail here for history buffs to dig into and enjoy, although this depth, they're keen to point out, doesn't get in the way for those of us who have no knowledge of the period in question.
Overall, and certainly with regards to how the game looks, it all seems like quite the departure for Obsidian, a studio known almost exclusively for big punchy RPGs such as Fallout: New Vegas, the Pillars of Eternity series and The Outer Worlds. However, Sawyer does point out that there are still plenty of recognisably Obsidian aspects to this latest title, with some light RPG elements present and correct to afford players the opportunity to build their character and see a certain amount of reactivity to their choices in the game's world, even if these elements take slightly more of a backseat than is usual from the studio.
To this end, we're shown a few slides of the game that detail a character-creation aspect of sorts where players can choose a background for their version of Andreas consisting of two minor and one major area of university study. Here you've got choices such as Latinist, Orator, Occultist, Astronomer, Naturalist, Necromancer and Logician. The Logician, as an example, imbues Andreas with a heightened knowledge of logic, geometry and arithmetic, thereby giving him a keener sense of spatial awareness. How any of this actually affects how you interact with the game beyond changing up dialogue choices isn't touched upon, but there are certainly many more recognisable aspects of Obsidian's previous work here than it may seem at the outset.
Sawyer also mentions that the team haven't gone super-difficult with Pentiment, they want it to be an approachable experience for those with a passing interest in the history involved as much as it is for experienced gamers. The control scheme is minimal and forgiving, conversational aspects aren't too complex and minigames are for "vibes and immersion" more than challenge. Indeed, we get a brief look at one minigame which tasks you with simply arranging some pictures on a wall and it certainly doesn't look too taxing mechanically or in terms of the direct puzzle at hand, although there may be an underlying aspect in how you place these items that affects things further down the road.
Pentiment also includes a handy glossary of terms, events and characters so that players won't find themselves getting tied up or lost when trying to remember who's who or what's what amidst a sea of historical figures and events. It all makes for a game that gives off the vibe of having being meticulously crafted (no bad thing for a murder mystery) and, if the gameplay and detective shenanigans at the core of the experience are any match for the wonderful art style, we should be in for quite the treat when this one hits Game Pass on launch day, November 15th. We can't wait to get stuck into some good old-fashioned sleuthing through ye olde Bavaria.
With an exclusive demo of Pentiment debuting at Gamescom over the next few days we'll no doubt have lots more info on how this one actually plays in the near future but, in the meantime, we'll leave you with a few more official details and some screenshots of the game:
• An Illustrated World. Experience 16th century Europe as the master artists of the time saw them. Art inspired by great illuminated manuscripts and the earliest printed books becomes a living, breathing world.
• Uncover Mysteries and Scandal. Meet a colorful cast of characters as you discover the stories and secrets that lie within the small Bavarian town of Tassing and nearby Keirsau Abbey.
• Play Your Way. Each decision you make can have a profound impact on the community’s future. Find your own way through this turbulent time and see the consequences of your choices play out over generations.
Looking forward to getting your hands on Pentiment when it launches on November 15th? Let us know in the comments!