Finished Pentiment

Well I finally finished Pentiment, the recent game from Obsidian. If it is a game. I’m not sure. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call it a game.

Ahem. Pentiment is a 2D medieval adventure. Gameplay consists pretty much exclusively of walking around and talking to other characters. There’s no combat and no fail state that I ever encountered. There’re almost no puzzles. There’s very little in the way of exploration. Just walking, talking, once in a while examining.

There’s no voice acting, it’s all written. And when I say written I mean the act of writing out the dialog is animated, so you watch the letters appear accompanied by an appropriate sound effect (the nib of a pen scratching on parchment, most of the time.) Sometimes there are even typos that get corrected. This went from seeming pretty neat in the first hours, to being super annoying since it just kept the pace of the game so slow.

You can pet the dog, so you know it’s a good game

However, just the other day a patch dropped that includes a setting for the text to just appear instantly when you hit a button. That made the game SO much more enjoyable and in a way invalidates a lot of my issues. I had the most fun playing in the first couple hours while everything was fresh and new, and then after this patch hit when the pace of the game sped up significantly.

What really flustered me was that I couldn’t understand what impact the few choices I made had on the story or the world. There are points where you pick some kind of character trait, which gives you additional dialog options. But so what? Sometimes you’ll say something and a banner will pop up: “This Will Be Remembered”. OK, so what? And there were a handful of times when an interaction was tagged a Success or Failure. I failed all but one of these and… so what? There’s only one ending to the story from what I’ve read, so you’re always going to get to that same ending. I guess parts of the middle of the story can change based on your decisions. I didn’t like it enough to play it a second time to see for sure. The lack of feedback was disappointing to me. What did my choices impact? There’s no way to tell without a second play-through.

This is the glossary you can consult to learn more about unfamiliar names/places/events

I mean, it’s a really good story (it’s a murder mystery). The location & time period are interesting, the characters are interesting, I didn’t guess the solution of the mystery until pretty near the end. There’s a neat interactive glossary explaining who various historical figures and organizations were. The writing is good. I wanted to hear the story. I just felt like the actual gameplay was so shallow as to just be a hinderance. I never really felt like what I was doing mattered. The story was on rails and no matter what I did, I’d arrive at the same ending that everyone else did.

I don’t know how long it took me to get through. My save file said something like 238 hours so I think it was counting all the time the game was sitting in Xbox Quick Resume or something. Howlongtobeat says the main story is 14 hours but I think it was longer than that. A review I read said 20-25 which feels closer to the truth, at least for me. I think if it had been 8-10 hours I would’ve enjoyed it more and maybe replayed it to see the results of my decisions, but 20 hours is too long for me to play it again. At least not any time soon.

This is one of those critical darlings that’s getting amazing ratings, but for me it was just OK. I would’ve LOVED it as a novel or a Netflix series. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t snagged the Steam Deck. It was a good game to play in bed before going to sleep, because that made it feel a bit more like a novel, if that makes any sense. Sitting on the couch essentially reading a story off the TV screen 10 feet across the room just isn’t a super engaging experience for me.

But again, that 1.8 patch changed things a lot, and I think if I’d played the whole game after that patch hit, I’d have come away with a much more positive reaction. So given that, I’d say check it out if you like the aesthetic and the historical fiction angle.