This holiday season is shaping up to be an unusual one for Xbox owners. Players aren’t getting a big-ticket game like Halo Infinite or Forza Horizon 5, leaving parents scrambling to figure out a clear gift this year. Instead, Microsoft is pushing a series of smaller titles set to debut on Xbox Game Pass. That list includes comedic shooter High on Life, biopunk horror game Scorn, and indie darling Slime Rancher 2. But the most intriguing game on Xbox’s slate is also the most atypical: Pentiment.
Despite all the glitzy heavy hitters shown at Microsoft’s big showcase earlier this summer, this 16th-century narrative adventure was the one I was dying to know more about. With its newly announced November 15 release date looming, I got a chance to see exactly how the game worked during a demo at Gamescom. While the niche game might not win over Xbox fans who love big-budget flair, Pentiment looks to widen what the platform is known for and redefine what a console exclusive looks like in the Xbox Game Pass era.
Ye olde sleuth
Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a studio known for acclaimed RPGs like Fallout: New Vegas, Pentiment looks like the kind of indie game you’d stumble across while browsing through Xbox Game Pass. It’s a 2D narrative RPG set in 16th-century Bavaria and features an illustrative art style that’s reminiscent of medieval paintings. Players control an artist named Andreas Maler, who seeks to find the truth behind a recent murder – one that’s been seemingly framed on one of his friends.
At the start of my demo, I have to make some RPG decisions that’ll inform my entire playthrough from then on out. I’m asked to pick what skills Andreas has studied in his travels and which areas he’s lacking. I decide to make him an occultist who’s great at orating and also loves to get into brawls (thanks to a “rapscallion” trait). Religion? Not so much his strong suit.
Those skills would become crucial during my demo as I was given three different leads to explore. As I weighed my options, I talked to some of the townsfolk. When trying to shake some information from one friend, I was given a dialogue option that would let me make a grand speech promising he could trust me thanks to my orator trait. He knew I was full of it, but he was swayed by my words nonetheless.
Once that was done, I picked my first real lead as I questioned a local fisherman who wasn’t terribly happy to see me. I had the option to pick a fight with him thanks to my instigating nature, but I thought better of it. When he decided to ditch me without telling me a word, I started tailing him as he went about his routine. Eventually, that led me to a fishing hole as he cast a line alongside a friend. I eavesdropped on the conversation from the safety of a hollowed-out log, sure I’d overhear some juicy gossip.
That’s when I learned that there was more to the game than just choosing dialogue options. As I listened, the game cut to a close-up of a bug crawling on me. I had to hit the A button to quickly wipe it off before I made a noise. This would happen again, but I didn’t anticipate the button prompt would change. I screeched, spooking the fisherman and moving him away from the pond before I could get any gossip.
While that’s the only such moment I experienced during that piece of the demo, I was loaded into a card minigame after I reached the end of my unsuccessful recon attempt. Each player at the table was dealt a card to start. Then, the dealer would discard a few cards and place one faceup on the table. If that card’s value matched the card a player was holding, they’d win the pot. It’s a simple little minigame played for pennies, but it got me excited about what other delightful interactions are laced throughout the dialogue-driven murder mystery.
What I especially appreciate is that games like Pentiment rarely get this kind of love from platform holders like Microsoft. They might get a few minutes on a livestream, but they’re positioned as niche releases in the shadow of IP-heavy “killer apps.” This very much isn’t that big holiday release, but Microsoft is treating it like one. Perhaps it’s a sign of Microsoft’s confidence in Xbox Game Pass as a system seller more so than a major game. Maybe it’s a sign that the subscription era is allowing platform holders to take larger gambles on “prestige” games, similar to how Netflix operated at its peak. Or maybe Microsoft just doesn’t really have a choice considering how barren its 2022 slate is.
Whatever the case may be, Pentiment already has my attention after only 20 minutes. It’s an excellent studio getting a chance to make an RPG that trades in open-world shooting for narrative intrigue. When I get my hands on the final version, I’ll make sure to get some details out of that fisherman, even if I need to use my occult knowledge to do so.
Pentiment launches on November 15 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.
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