‘Pentiment’ is a terrific murder mystery that can’t be solved neatly

Any luck catching them murderers, then?

Obsidian Entertainment‘s gift for storytelling runs deep in Pentiment. An 18th century murder mystery that plays out across a 2D tapestry, players are tasked with solving the shocking murder of a baron at a rural abbey.

There’s not a radscorpion in sight, but beneath the surface, Pentiment bears more than a passing resemblance to Obsidian’s post-apocalyptic hit Fallout: New Vegas. Upon starting out in Pentiment‘s hands-on, a series of questions determines the background of your protagonist, illustrator Andreas Maler. What did he learn at university? Where did he study after leaving?

From a brief hands-on, these choices have a significant impact on how this whodunnit plays out. An education in medicine came in handy when it was time to examine the murder victim’s body, while a logician’s background can spot details in the case that could otherwise go unseen.

Pentiment. Credit: Obsidian Entertainment.
Pentiment. Credit: Obsidian Entertainment.

Once you’ve caught up with Maler, you’re given several paths of investigation to follow. Right off the bat, the game warns that one option – meeting one of Kiersau Abbey’s monks to conduct an autopsy on the dead baron – may not be around if you pursue other threads first, as the monk can’t hold off on the autopsy forever. It’s the type of messy storytelling you’d see in Disco Elysium, that forces players to reckon with something that can’t be neatly wrapped up or solved – in fact, Pentiment will never explicitly confirm whether the killer you catch is the real murderer. The result is that even in this brief hands-on, the decisions made in Pentiment feel weighty and well-suited to a branching narrative.

Torn between interrogating a widow about a “curse” or attending the autopsy, the thought of missing out on the second option means Maler is sent running along to the abbey. Along the way, there’s time to enjoy a scenic countryside brought to life by Pentiment‘s wonderful art style and have a brief chat with a local farmer, which affords another opportunity to flex Maler’s player-chosen skills with unique dialogue options.

Pentiment. Credit: Obsidian Entertainment.
Pentiment. Credit: Obsidian Entertainment.

Once we arrive at the abbey, it’s time to get to work assisting with an autopsy. Although a monk was caught holding a bloody dagger above the corpse, Maler suspects there’s more to the tale – and because we chose to check the body with a medical professional, our suspicions are confirmed. Not only does Maler’s history of travel allow him to spot a French STD suggesting the victim was unfaithful to his wife, we learn that it was actually a massive hit to the head that butchered our baron. Before we can get to work finding the real murder weapon, which couldn’t have gone very far thanks to its hefty weight, there’s a twist in the tapestry: a knock at the door, and Maler is urged to hide.

Nestled out of sight, we see another medical professional enter and demand access to the body for a second autopsy, which is highly unconventional. Apparently, their orders come from the region’s higher-ups, but the whole thing stinks: with seconds left before Pentiment‘s hands-on wraps up, it’s clear that there’s a deeper, and very intriguing, conspiracy at play.

20 minutes of Pentiment was all it took to be thoroughly sold on Obsidian’s next narrative adventure. A compelling mystery begs to be unravelled, and Pentiment‘s creative character creation system managed to feel highly impactful right out of the gate. In a year filled with narrative excellence, Pentiment will have no trouble standing out, and fans of story-driven adventure (Disco Elysium, Night In The Woods) should take note of the game’s November launch date.

Pentiment launches in November 2022 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC

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