How good is Pentiment? Good enough that I’m writing a video game review on my weblog for the first time in a decade.
I described this to a friend as “The Oregon Trail for grown‐ups.” It’s a game written by someone with expertise in, and obvious love for, a specific place and time in history: Bavaria in the year 1518, at the cusp of the Reformation.
Over a generation, the player meets the entire population of the fictional town of Tassing, and observes how they live their lives. They choose spouses, or have spouses chosen for them. They worship God, yet keep some pagan traditions going on the side. They raise children and speak fondly of those who have died.
They are pious people because their lives are hard. They lose children to illness, wives to childbirth, husbands to conflict. They navigate harsh winters and the demands of feudal lords. What gives them strength to keep going amid loss, in most cases, is their own conception of their life’s purpose. They find comfort in Tassing’s role in the empire, and in their own roles in Tassing.
When you play this game, keep this in mind: some choices will advance time, and some will not. You’ll be able to tell them apart. Before you advance time, make sure you’ve explored the entire map and availed yourself of all the no‐time‐elapsed actions. My only regret in my first play‐through is that I mismanaged my time through the entire first act before understanding this.
Beyond that, don’t stress things. Hardly any of the major decisions you make are “right” or “wrong”; just kick back and enjoy how they affect the narrative. You will want to play it again just to appreciate how those choices affect the outcome of the story.
Josh Sawyer, Pentiment’s director, was inspired in part by his own family’s origins and his undergraduate study of early modern history. To be a smart‐ass: this is why you make people take humanities classes.
Because while you, the player, are traveling between the town and the nearby Kiersau Abbey, piecing together the clues of three interconnected mysteries, Pentiment is asking you good, thoughtful questions about the purpose and value of art. Early in the game, a character says, “Art is illusion, storytelling; but in their most sublime form, these images illuminate a path to truth.”
Eventually, the game will ask you to choose how Tassing should be portrayed. It will ask you whether you can balance art’s commitment to truth against the mythos that gives its residents comfort. The game does not grade your efforts; all it wants is that you reflect on the question before answering.