Pentiment appeared almost two-thirds into the Xbox and Bethesda Games showcase at E3 2022. By this point, we'd already taken an extensive look at Redfall. We'd been shown gameplay from the much-anticipated Hollow Knight: Silksong, and had spied some gorgeous new footage of A Plague Tale: Requiem. We'd learned more about Fallout 76's incoming underground-set expansion The Pitt, we'd seen more of Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn, we'd clapped eyes on Minecraft Legends, and had been wowed by The Last Case of Benedict Fox. And then, Pentiment.
A detailed look at Starfield was all but certain to close out Xbox and Bethesda's jam-packed, 90-minute-long event – which it did, the space-faring RPG ultimately commanding a dedicated segment that ran close to 20 minutes. But in the meantime, what the hell was this? A branching narrative, choice-driven, 2D point-and-click-style adventure game, set in the post-medieval time period with an eye-catching hand-drawn art style. Seemingly. It really was hard to say for sure. And so, we saw a long haired man being awoken by a young girl named Ursula poking at him with a stick. Then the same man meandering around town, and later ending his day with a bit of pastel drawing. Then, boom, a dead body. A Wheel of Fortune-style mini-game. An eye patch-wearing mortician presiding over a naked corpse. A different man fly fishing. A grave digger. A banquet. A busy church service. A burning effigy.
"A narrative adventure most unexpected," so read Pentiment's world premiere trailer in its final seconds. "From Obsidian Entertainment."
Every part of the Pentiment reveal was weird, but in the most delightful way. Against the big-budget, AAA blockbusters that, for the most part, define E3 season, here was a whimsical, outlandish, and certainly unorthodox project that went against the grain. One can't exist without the other, but it's in these moments that I appreciate events like the Xbox and Bethesda Games showcase more than ever – when the big hitters are interlaced with glimpses at games coloring outside the lines. Last year, I felt similar excitement when watching the trailers for Replaced and Vokabulantis: A Stop-Motion Love Story – with the latter eliciting the same glorious WTF sentiment as Pentiment's showing this year.
What excites me even more about Pentiment is Obsidian. The studio is a tried and tested storyteller, responsible for so many engrossing narrative-leaning games that are chock-full of choices and engaging systems. From Fallout: New Vegas to South Park: The Stick of Truth, the Pillars of Eternity games, Tyranny, and The Outer Worlds, the last 12 years have illustrated the breadth and depth of the developer's repertoire – a level of variety few other studios are demonstrably capable of. If you consider the fact the now Microsoft-owned Obsidian also has Avowed and The Outer Worlds 2 in the works, and is on the cusp of launching Grounded from Early Access later this year, it would seem the Californian outfit is keenly extending its all-embracing nature well into the future. Which is not bad going for a company said to have been somewhat struggling financially less than a decade ago.
Pentiment, of course, looks like a clear extension of this open-to-anything mantra for Obsidian. On face value, this game could hardly be more different to the likes of New Vegas or The Outer Worlds or Tyranny, and yet, in the opening seconds of its announcement trailer during the Xbox and Bethesda Games showcase at E3 2022, the protagonist is asked about his origins before arriving in Bavaria. "Pick a background that will affect your character's choices going forward," reads a prompt, alongside three options: Basel, Flanders, and Italy.
Choosing option one means you can reference "cultural touchstones" from Basel, Bern, Zurich, and Friedberg. Choosing two makes you familiar with the same references as they apply to Antwerp and Bruges. While choosing three lets you speak Italian, a little Greek, and be clued-up on the same artistic benchmarks from Florence, Venice, and Milan. Suddenly, things feel very Obsidian, wherein early game choices determine your path and trajectory moving forward.
On top of that, the Pentiment Steam page mentions themes of public executions and stylized gore, alongside references of "notable alcohol consumption and incidental ergot-induced hallucinations." Classes appear to include Hedonists, Craftsmen, Bookworms, Rapscallions, and Businessmen, while background options include Latinists, Logicians, Orators, Astronomers, Occultists, and Naturalists. All of which sounds as off-the-wall as the game's punchy reveal trailer.
Elsewhere on Pentiment's Steam page, Obsidian says: "Pentiment is a historical mystery role-playing game that focuses on character development, heavily stylized art, and choice-driven storytelling in early 16th century Germany. The main character is a clever illustrator caught up a series of murders at Kiersau Abbey over twenty five years. This character alone possesses the wits and will to expose the killers, but each decision he makes has lasting consequences and inexorably draws him closer to the center of an underlying conspiracy."
With all of that, Pentiment has grabbed my attention with both hands. Due at some point in November this year, I reckon it'll be the perfect game to see out the last stretch of 2022. And I'd put my medieval house on Pentiment providing plenty more WTF moments in the process.
Pentiment is due later this year - here's our list of the best upcoming games in 2022 and beyond.