When Obsidian Entertainment introduced Pentiment on Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase earlier this year, it came as a bit of a surprise. Obsidian is best known for its catalog of critically acclaimed role-playing games such as The Outer Worlds, Pillars of Eternity and Knights of the Old Republic 2, so Pentiment seems like something strange if you look at the studio’s portfolio. 2D narrative games are certainly uncharted waters for this veteran studio, and this closely related medieval story takes Obsidian and her fans out of their comfort zone.
Thanks to its unique artistic style and ambiguous plot, which even Obsidian does not dare to call a detective murder, Pentiment certainly causes surprise when it beautifully moves from scene to scene. This is undoubtedly a challenging game, and it was probably even more challenging when the team behind it decided to pursue this passionate project. At a preliminary session with Senior Design Director Josh Sawyer and Art director Hannah Kennedy, Game Rant had the opportunity to see what Pentiment is, and so far the game is showing great promise.
Sentiment was a concept that Josh Sawyer kept in the back of his mind for a while, but never found a suitable opportunity for presentation. It would be an understatement to say that Obsidian is currently full of work between Avowed, The Outer Worlds 2 and Grounded, which are in development for the next few months and even the next few years. However, a perfect storm of acquisitions and a thriving indie scene resulted in the design director’s passionate project getting the green light. Sawyer says that if Microsoft had not acquired Bethesda in 2020, Pentiment would most likely never have been released at all.
Sawyer states that trying to find funding for Pentiment ten or even five years ago would have been a problem because of the non-commercial nature of the game, which takes place during one of the most ignored time periods in modern history. But with the advent of the Xbox Game Pass and a thriving market for smaller-scale games, Pentiment seemed like a game that finally made sense for Obsidian. So with a team of just 13 developers, Sawyer decided to create something special, and the dedication of this team and the authenticity of the time period were regularly shown in this pre-build.
Penment immediately attracts players with its characteristic and vivid artistic style, reminiscent of works of art of the late Middle Ages. Illuminated manuscripts and woodcuts are the main source of inspiration for the game, and the current works of art look great in motion. The storybook sequences throughout the game tend to mix the two art styles, sometimes presenting a woodcut-style character to a backlit-style character. The developers have done everything possible to make the whole game seem as authentic and lively as possible, thanks to extensive research conducted by several historians, and also gave the decoration a beautiful modern look. The pentimentum is a more or less touching work of medieval art.
Pentiment’s attention to detail is staggering, right down to font rendering. Depending on the character’s story, upbringing and other aspects of his personality, the game changes the font of his dialogues. A character with a higher status has a fancy font, almost illegible by today’s writing standards; on the contrary, a poorer character will have a more scratched and easy-to-read style. A small but very impressive detail is how the lines break off when the dialogue is written as if the player were reading old manuscripts in which the writer has scribbled a mistake. This is a touch that Obsidian can easily miss, and no one would even think twice about it, but it has a lot of weight, making the Pentiment feel truly authentic in a period of time. This attention to detail shows how much Sawyer and his team really care about putting players in medieval Europe.
As for the story of Pentiment, Obsidian seems to be saving most of it until the game launches. As the main synopsis, players will take on the role of Andreas Mahler, a journeyman artist in the late 16th century who arrived at a Bavarian abbey after a murder. A close friend of Andreas has been charged with a high-profile murder, and Andreas must acquit him. The choices the player makes and the people they involve will have consequences spanning 25 years throughout the experience, which Obsidian says will immerse players in the relationships and characters Andreas encounters.
Obsidian says that Pentiment is a narrative adventure dedicated to “vibrations” and players’ contributions to the world, with some role—playing elements added as players explore.