Pentiment, Josh Sawyer and Obsidian's passion project

Pentiment, Josh Sawyer and Obsidian's passion project


Pentiment was announced during the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase as an "unexpected" narrative adventure, but those who follow Obsidian closely and Josh Sawyer in particular know that this is not exactly a title that suddenly popped up. It is practically since the release of Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire that the game designer works on this title, although in parallel with the various other commitments in Obsidian, but from what is reported through Twitter and in some interviews an even longer genesis emerges. In fact, it seems since the 90s that Sawyer was thinking about creating such an experience, characterized by a realistic historical setting disconnected from the typical dynamics of the role-playing game focused on fighting and the progression of the character.

The first references to Pentiment emerged in 2020, but the idea of ​​a "historical RPG" had been hovering for some time and, even in 2016, Sawyer reported that he had talked about the project to Feargus Urquhart, thinking of a game that had to do with a setting similar to the old Darklands. We can imagine that with premises so distant from the typical structure of the commercial video game, this was not an easily achievable idea for a team that still had to make ends meet and therefore aim at a large audience.

However, the opportunity probably emerged with the achieved "economic peace of mind" given by the acquisition by Microsoft and the entry into Xbox Game Studios, becoming a particularly congenial idea for the organization of Xbox. Game Pass. As we have seen, the production of games for a subscription service opens the way to different productions thanks to the possibility of managing the budget more freely and also requires different genres and types of games. The ideal environment to propose a rather unconventional title, characterized by a small production but with a remarkable authorial imprint.

And as we will see in this Pentiment special from the Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, that by Obsidian seems to be just such a project.

A medieval mystery

Pentiment: a screenshot from the game It all starts with a murder, but the story then unfolds over a long period of time 25-year-old, which predicts further crimes and misdemeanors in a narrative adventure set in 16th-century Upper Bavaria.

The plot clearly takes the contours of the historical thriller and the protagonist, Andreas Maler, finds himself in spite of himself having to investigate the crimes and find (or not) the culprit, however the investigations represent only part of the structure of game. Josh Sawyer tends to consider it a narrative adventure in a broader sense rather than simply investigative, because much of the time is spent exploring the environments, making various acquaintances and interacting with the many NPCs scattered around, with dialogues that have an active function in the "create game", to put it in a role-playing sense.

The day / night cycle of Pentiment For example, Andreas is a craftsman who aspires to become an artist and for this he travels around Europe, but from these premises it is possible to influence the characterization of the character through some choices that they further specify its origins and trends, opening up different possibilities in dialogues and interactions.

The story begins with Andreas's arrival in a Benedictine abbey in Bavaria, where he is commissioned to work on a illuminated manuscript, but the apparently quiet living room is shattered by the killing of a prominent figure in the area. Furthermore, the protagonist's mentor is accused of the murder, with the latter deciding to do his utmost to prove his friend's innocence, considering that the outlines of the story are decidedly nebulous. Andreas thus finds himself becoming a sort of medieval investigator, initially driven by affection and respect for his friend, but then finding himself involved in the intrigues and mysteries of a medieval society that is anything but static and banal.

Investigator and judge

Pentiment, an image with outdoor scenery The investigations are mixed with various other aspects of medieval life in Pentiment: the idea of ​​the authors is to represent a sort of cross-section of the Central Europe in that historical period, staging a story that touches on various complex topics such as death, punishment, social inequalities and the possibilities of progression within a strongly class structure. The engine of the action is however the murder and the search for a culprit: this aspect has a fundamental importance in the development of the story, because the way we conduct the investigations and the conclusions we can draw strongly influence the narration and the events. subsequent. The case may not necessarily be resolved in the best way, but this does not make us run into a game over or necessarily an early conclusion.

A very important aspect of Pentiment is precisely the freedom of choice given to the player , who can decide who to accuse without particular limitations. This is not necessarily the culprit: for lack of sufficient evidence or simply for our own gain or preference, we could simply blame the wrong person, either by mistake or by will, and see the consequences of our choice later in the story. . It is obvious that such a feature opens up a considerable amount of possible developments and endings, so regardless of the length of the story it is likely that Pentiment can be played several times to see different evolutions and endings.

Between miniatures and woodcuts

Pentiment, image with a dialogue and the various possible choices The immediately striking element of Pentiment is certainly the graphic style adopted, which makes it a particular game at first sight, even before discovering its peculiarities of the structure, history and gameplay. The choice adopted drops us directly into the medieval setting but is clearly also designed to be able to work easily within a very small production, not for nothing the bulk of the graphic work was practically done by one person. This is Hannah Kennedy, art director who immediately showed a great harmony with Josh Sawyer's idea, supporting it from the beginning and carrying out the development within an extremely small team. The sources of inspiration are the characteristic miniatures of medieval books edited by scribes and medieval woodcuts, with some classical stylistic features that are clearly evident in the stroke used to represent this strange adventure.

It is a choice of 'impact and courageous, which certainly does not satisfy the prevailing taste of current gamers, but which can attract those looking for something different from the usual. Even in the face of a luxuriant and extremely varied indie production like the one we have in recent years, it is difficult to find something comparable to Pentiment, even if recently there have been some similar proposals, such as Inkulinati and Potion Craft.

Pentiment, an image that recalls the typical style of medieval manuscripts This stylistic research with a historiographic flavor does not only concern the representation of characters and scenarios, but also other elements such as the interface and the texts, which are presented in writing with the typical characters of medieval manuscripts, which falls further within this particular reality. Together with Grounded, this title also demonstrates how Obsidian has found a way to give voice to different ideas and expressive solutions, with a remarkable wealth of styles, genres and themes within the same team.

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