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Review game Pentiment, Brightened

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I haven’t been this enthralled by a straightforward adventure game since Pentiment ages ago. A thrilling, well-paced detective story that takes place in the late medieval Bavarian countryside, the storybook art style is utterly captivating, drawing inspiration from the vibrant manuscripts of the time. Even though the main gameplay mechanics are searching the area for clues, speaking with locals, and attempting to make your own judgments based on the evidence you discover, Pentiment’s story benefits greatly from this straightforward approach.

Andeas Maler, our curious protagonist, is originally an idealistic budding artist who travels to the charming, small town of Tassing in order to advance his career in the nearby abbey’s scriptorium. He soon finds himself entangled in a sinister plot that explores the obscure past of the town and tempts you to learn things many would prefer to keep hidden. I thought it was great that you could define a lot of Andreas’ background, including where and what he studied. It also makes the game more replayable. When pushy monks and nuns tried to quote the Bible at me to get their way, I was able to respond with my own theology degree, which really helped. However, my background selections didn’t lead me down as many new paths as I would have liked, and they typically only had a minor influence on the conversation in terms of flavor text options.

Fortunately, there aren’t many puzzles that aren’t intuitive in the sense of classic adventure games, where you have to find objects in the real world and put them together to form a key. Therefore, the task for every mystery is to speak with the appropriate people, persuade them to share information with you, verify their account with other accounts you’ve heard, and—perhaps most importantly—make efficient use of your time. Time will pass when you follow through on a lead; you will never have enough time to follow through on them all. This created a much-needed sense of tension and made me consider a lot of intriguing options. I’m eager to revisit and discover what I overlooked during subsequent iterations.

The artwork that embodies the town of Tassing and its environs is unified, exquisite, and somewhat minimalistic, drawing inspiration from the historical illustrations that Andreas is creating for himself. Vast meadows, imposing cathedrals, and even hidden tombs exude vibrancy, vitality, and individuality. Even the text boxes have lovely scripts that change according to the social class of the user—peasants’ handwriting is flowing, while churchgoers’ is sanctimonious blackletter.

Additionally, the sound design is superb. A sense of place can be effectively conveyed through subtle yet effective elements such as the relative quiet of a monastery during prayer or the atmosphere of a village square. Even though I’m not usually into ASMR, there’s something about the sound of a pen scratching vellum during a scene where characters are speaking that makes me shiver. It sounds like something I could listen to all day. The soundtrack, with its classic tunes and historically accurate instruments, also took me back to the Middle Ages.

To all of the players who share my passion for medieval history, the entire production truly feels like a love letter. Some may not understand, but they made me smile. Examples include debating Christine de Pizan’s writings, learning about a character’s connections to the Fugger Bank, and even offering a “What would Socrates do?” option in some dialogues. It’s obvious that creator Obsidian Entertainment did extensive research into the daily life, theology, and sociology of the Holy Roman Empire in the 1500s—far from being a parody of popular culture. When I discovered that a folktale some of the townspeople had told me was a travesty of a Roman battle that had happened nearby, I nearly gasped. I felt like I was geeking out with the writers and artists on one of my special interests at every turn.

The dialogue is really quick-witted and fast-paced, which I also really liked. This kind of game can easily become overly complex and verbose. One need only consider Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity series to see how overwhelming players with text can detract from an exciting and daring adventure. With savory back-and-forths in which each character only speaks a sentence or two at a time, Pentiment deftly avoids that tendency. Notes in the journal about notable figures and global ideas are also deftly condensed. It’s never expected of you to read for several minutes in order to comprehend the content.


Pentiment is an obvious winner as an immersive 15- to 20-hour adventure game, a record of a small town and its people in turbulent times, a respectful celebration of the finer details of Late Medieval history, and a clever detective story where it’s difficult to find the answers. My complaints are all rather small, and I’m eager to play it again to discover uncharted territory at least once or twice. Its lack of traditional puzzles or combat never detracts from its elegantly rendered world, which engrosses me in its intricacies and inspires me to discover as much as I can about its people and their history. About Pentiment, I really have nothing more to say than that I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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