Before Pentiment’s release, nobody quite knew what to expect of it. The buzz on the net was that it’d be Obsidian’s Reformation-era take on Disco Elysium
. But now that the cat’s out of the bag, it’s safe to say that the Disco Elysium comparisons were a bit off the mark. Pentiment has more in common with modern day adventure games such as Life Is Strange
and Telltale's The Walking Dead
than the RPGs Obsidian built its reputation on.
That’s not to say Pentiment doesn’t offer plenty of opportunity for role playing. While you don’t get to create your own character outright, you do get to choose an academic background and a few personality traits, which affect how conversations unfold. Depending on the choices you make, your version of the main character, Andreas, may be more inclined to overcome obstacles with either his wits or his fists. In that sense, Pentiment is a bit like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
. But whereas in Atlantis each primary trait led you down a completely different path, here the path is always the same, with your choices merely tweaking the scenery around you.
And therein lies my primary issue with Pentiment. For a game that offer so many dialogue choices – hundreds, if not thousands – your level of control over the story is always limited. It’s choice without empowerment. Then again, maybe that’s the point – we are all bound by the rules and circumstances of the times in which we live, after all.
The lack of empowerment is perhaps justified, but the absence of certain quality of life features is harder to forgive. There’s no fast travel, and running around the village of Tassing, small as it is, quickly grows tedious. This is exacerbated by the fact that you never know where a new item or opportunity for conversation may appear. If you want to be thorough, you have no choice but to run through the entire town and talk with each villager multiple times a day. Certainly Obsidian could’ve found a way to streamline this process without dumbing the game down. For instance, putting a notification icon next to villagers to show that they have something new to say would’ve spared me from reading “God bless you, Andreas” a few hundred times too many. Some limited form of fast travel would’ve been much appreciated as well.
Despite my qualms, I have to admire Obsidian for daring to make a slow-paced game about a Reformation-era painter. The developers thoroughly researched the setting and it shows, from the themes to the art design. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every moment of my playthrough, I respect what Josh Sawyer and Obsidian have achieved with Pentiment and wish more game developers would pursue smaller, mold-breaking projects like this one.