Pentiment knows exactly what it is. The June reveal trailer for Obsidian's 16th century murder mystery declared itself "a narrative adventure most unexpected," and it's definitely not the kind of game we'd expect from a studio and director known for RPGs. But that's also exciting: director Josh Sawyer is clearly jazzed to be making a smaller-than-usual game set in post-medieval Bavaria, full of period-authentic artwork and a protagonist a bit reminiscent of monk supersleuth Brother Cadfael.
Cadfael, though, always catches his killer—Pentiment doesn't plan to give you that kind of certainty.
In a Q&A session ahead of this week's Gamescom, where Pentiment is playable, Josh Sawyer and art director Hannah Kennedy gave an introduction to the game and talked about what to expect from its mystery. There will be branching dialogues and events based on your choices, but you're not going to get a "good" or "bad" ending for identifying the true killer or blowing your investigation.
"One of the things we talked about early on is that there are a number of suspects for these murders, and it's not very clear—you don't have DNA evidence, you don't even have anything resembling forensic science," Sawyer said. "The justice system itself is pretty odd to a modern viewer. There's a lot of ambiguity here and you're put in a position where you have to pin the murder on somebody, and it's never going to be clear if that's really the person."
"You have to either use your best judgment or pick the person that you want to see go, because the punishment for murder in this time period was pretty severe. We really want you to see the consequences play out over a long period of time."
In other words: Don't expect Pentiment to tell you whether you were right after you deliver a verdict, but do expect whoever you implicate to meet a grisly end. Frogware's recent young, sexy Sherlock game similarly let you get a mystery completely wrong and carry on nonetheless. Sawyer confirmed that who you accuse will have ripple effects in your town, but there's a core story focused on your character that will play out regardless.
"We're trying to do the classic thing where we interleave the choice and interactivity within a very strong storyline," he said. "I thought it would be interesting to tell a story that's a very personal story that's about this guy, Andreas, and the community he lives in, within the historical context of the events happening around them."
Andreas is an artist at a fictional abbey and a town called Tassing, who ends up "caught up in a series of murders and scandals." Pentiment is set over the course of 25 years, so you're not going to be investigating a single murder. Sawyer didn't specify the structure, but I'm guessing one murder (or scandal) per act, with five acts making up the whole story. A multi-act structure like that would be ideal for showing how your choices affect the abbey and town over time.
A few more things I learned about Pentiment:
- You can choose Andreas' background, like whether he studied astronomy or the occult in university, and that affects both your skills and dialogue choices
- Don't expect visible meters for how popular you are with characters you talk to, but Pentiment will give you some info. "We just try to track the things that feel like characters would pay attention to, let you know when they're paying attention to them, and when they come up in conversation again," Sawyer said.
- There's an in-game glossary that looks essential if you aren't up on your 15th century religious terminology
- The glossary also includes characters you meet in the game, so you can easily reference faces and names
- Different characters' dialogue text uses different fonts, related to their social class and background
- There's an accessibility option to switch to simplified fonts for easier legibility
- If you want to buy a couple books that the developers themselves heavily referenced to brush up on the art of the period, check out The Nuremberg Chronicle (free on the Library of Congress website) and Durer's Journeys
- Watch Andrei Rublev for another inspiration
- Pentiment comes out on Steam and PC Game Pass on November 15