Pentiment‘s engrossing narrative and character-driven story show that the game excels at telling the tale of the 16th-century Bavarian village of Tassing and the neighboring Kiersau Abbey. The latest game from Obsidian Entertainment has been highly praised for the way it weaves its cast of characters into the web of mystery surrounding a series of murders in the village. However, the overarching themes of the game prove that the village of Tassing is the game’s most important character, more so than any one resident.
As a game that takes place over the course of 25 years, Pentiment’s decision-based gameplaygives players the opportunity to see characters grow and change in reaction to the outcomes of their choices. While this narrative technique opens the door for a variety of endings, there is one character that remains a stalwart constant throughout the player’s journey: the village of Tassing itself. Even before the events of the game occur, Tassing had a series of shifts in identity that are explored throughout the game. Add in the growth of the village’s identity across the game’s three acts and there is a compelling case to be made for Tassing as a whole being the most important, fleshed-out character in the entire game.
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Act 1 Establishes the Foundation of Tassing’s Identity
Upon awakening as the artist Andreas Maler at the start of Pentiment‘s first act, players are given the opportunity to explore the village of Tassing and nearby Kiersau Abbey where Andreas is studying to be a master artist. Doing so reveals a lot about its inhabitants and their interpersonal conflicts, such as that of Agnes and Lucky Steinauer whose first daughter died while pregnant and whose other daughter is married to the town thief and layabout Martin Bauer. Learning about these relationships helps establish motivations for why characters act the way they do in future acts and gives players some insight as to their connection to the village.
Players who spend their time in Pentiment talking with some of the older villagers like “Ill Peter” Gertner and Ottilia Kemperyn will hear them lament the Abbey and the role the Catholic Church has played in stripping Tassing’s pagan roots from its identity, foreshadowing future plot points around this conflict. At one point, Andreas witnesses what he believes to be a spirit among the ruins of the old Roman aqueduct, teasing that all may not be what it seems within the village. Even this early in the game, a large degree of development is occurring for the village and its character which will be shown to be crucial to the game’s finale.
Act 1 ends with the murder of Baron Rothvogel and the subsequent investigation into Pentiment‘s roster of potential suspects. The revelations that come out of this investigation, such as the illegitimate child of Rothvogel and the Steinauers’ daughter—the cause of both her and the child’s death—and Martin Bauer’s fleeing of the village, heavily impact the narrative moving forward. Depending on which suspect the player decides to accuse of the crime, future characters’ arcs may be drastically different and lead to new interpersonal conflicts.
Act 2 Adds Further Development to Tassing as a Character
Seven years pass between the ending of act 1 and the start of act 2. During this time, Andreas becomes a successful artist abroad and returns to Tassing only to discover the cruel irony that Brother Piero, who he worked so hard to save in the previous act, has died in that time. Along with the death of his friend, Andreas finds that a lot has changed in the village since his departure including the return of Martin Bauer—seemingly a changed man—and the birth of Magdalene Druckeryn, daughter of his dear friend Claus.
Tensions between the Abbey and the villagers have heightened during his absence as well, with the Abbot cracking down on what land is available to the villagers and increasing taxes on the farmers. This conflict leads to the death of Otto Zimmerman, the key figure behind talks of revolution against the Abbey, and cements the tough choices of Pentiment‘s second act as a pivotal moment in the history of Tassing and the key to its identity moving forward. The enraged villagers burn down the Abbey in a fit of righteous fury, resulting in the death of many and the ousting of the monks from the village, an event that further highlights the conflict between the village’s pagan past and its current Catholic domination.
Act 3 is the Culmination of Tassing’s Character Arc
The final act of Pentiment has players shift to the role of Magdalene Druckeryn, set 18 years after the events of the previous chapter. Magdalene is tasked with painting a mural of the town’s history for the village Rathaus and sets out to uncover the truth about Tassing’s past. This act brings Pentiment’s setting and its Roman and pre-Roman roots of the village into perspective while also highlighting the important roles the establishment of Kiersau Abbey and its demise in the previous act were in forming the modern identity of the village.
The game’s central conflict comes to a head when players must investigate the ruins of the Roman Mithraeum where the one who has been orchestrating the events of Pentiment is revealed. The Thread-Puller, the village priest Father Thomas, explains that he was responsible for each of the game’s murders as a way of hiding the pagan truth about Tassing’s patron saints. It’s at this point that the overarching conflict between the village’s old pagan ways, its Catholic influence, and the modern rejection of the Abbey are demonstrated to be the driving force behind the game’s narrative.
The final scene of the game shows the finished mural depicting each of the major stages of Tassing’s life, its pagan roots, the founding of Kiersau Abbey, and the revolt that destroyed it. Highlighting these events in this way demonstrates the role each one played in developing Tassing’s character over the course of the 25 years in which the game takes place, as well as its history prior to the events of Pentiment. Such a rich and consequential history makes it clear to the player that the main character of Pentiment is not Andreas or Magdalene, but the village of Tassing as a whole.
Pentiment is available now for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
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