Obsidian Entertainment is best known for its popular AAA titles such as Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds and the highly anticipated Avowed. However, the studio has also been balancing its production with some more creative, smaller-budget titles. Pentiment, which was released in November 2022 to critical acclaim, is just one example of this unique direction. Perhaps enabled by Game Pass to be more experimental, it pushes the bounds of creativity to bring fans a narrative-based adventure that will have them hooked for around 20 hours.
Given its text-heavy genre, a gripping story underpinned by immersive dialogue options is naturally the key to Pentiment‘s success. The game’s clever implementation of dialogue choices really forces the player to think beyond just that immediate decision, helping them to feel more like real-world decisions. Such a system raises the bar for video games and should be held up as an example for future projects.
Pentiment’s Stat-Based Dialogue Options Aren’t Always the Best Choice
Pentiment‘s dialogue system works as follows. Players can choose different backgrounds for their character, which influences their knowledge, skill set and personality. In turn, these will open up unique dialogue choices when interacting with other characters. So far, this system is nothing special. However, in many video games, the “special” dialogue choice is often the most effective, meaning that players will naturally choose it by default, removing the challenge of deciding the best course of action.
In Pentiment, however, things are different. Players instead need to assess the person or audience they’re addressing and choose the option they think will be most appropriate for them specifically. For example, some characters will like the fact that the player has a high level of education and can recite various philosophies, whereas others will find it confusing or will accuse the player of being a show-off. Similarly, some will enjoy more flirtatious jokes, whereas others will be repulsed.
Therefore, the special background-based dialogue choice may help win someone over, but it could also push them further away. In this sense, players must think more about each choice and their desired outcome for the conversation. This feature also increases the immersion, as players learn the personalities of each NPC just like they would people in the real world, creating a highly rewarding dialogue system.
In addition, Pentiment‘s dialogue choices don’t just impact the character being directly spoken to. Others in the vicinity or group will also remember these choices, and others even further afield can also find out from other characters. For example, suppose that the player chooses to be rude to a member of the Abbey. Although that person will be unimpressed, someone listening in may admire the bravery or agree with the sentiment, gaining the player favor with them instead. Again, this knock-on impact furthers the immersion and heightens the importance of each choice, as the impact of each dialogue decision is more widely significant.
Dialogue Choices Can Ultimately Help or Hinder Pentiment Players
Finally, Pentiment‘s dialogue choices have a more lasting impact beyond just the immediate dialogue resolution, as they can influence later moments in the game. For example, if a player complimented or impressed a character, these actions could be taken into account when trying to persuade them of something later in the game.
Past actions, alongside the player’s chosen character background, will be weighed up to create a chance of successful persuasion, meaning every decision feels more real and more important in the long run. Overall, this system ensures that players feel more immersed in the game’s conversations, and they must choose carefully how they behave to get the results they desire.
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