Obsidian Entertainment recently revealed an upcoming first-person fantasy RPG called Avowed. If you haven’t heard of Obsidian, they are the studio behind Pillars of Eternity, Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds and many other popular titles.
Other than the game being set in the same world as Pillars of Eternity, little has been revealed. From the reveal trailer, many are comparing the game’s aesthetic to Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Skyrim was one of the most popular RPGs of the 2010s and still has a substantial player base today thanks to its modding community. But how likely is it that Obsidian’s upcoming release will compare to the 2011 classic?
What Obsidian Have Said So Far
The following information comes from a list leaked by Sponger on the gaming forum Resetera, information that was partially backed up by another party. It is important to note the items on this list are just rumors and are subject to change during development even if true.
Here is a transcription of Sponger’s list:
- Avowed will have an open-world design, larger than Skyrim’s but also more contrasted and densely packed.
- The game will be set in a portion of the Pillars of Eternity world called The Living Lands, which does not appear in previous games.
- Obsidian are focusing heavily on how the world will react to the player in terms of AI, physics and lighting.
- There will be a real-time weather system, which will include fog.
- Obsidian plans to develop an advanced character creation tool, possibly reflecting those of classic RPGs such as Arcanum and Fallout. This would contrast with Skyrim’s stripped-down, modern version.
- The game will have mod support on PC.
- There will be a large number of in-game factions and Obsidian are approaching them differently to the factions in Skyrim.
- The game will have NPC companions, though they will be different to the companions the player could recruit in The Outer Worlds.
- The game’s premise involves fighting against a tyrannical threat. This premise is independent from previous stories in the Pillars of Eternity series.
- There will be boss fights in the game, some of which will be very large.
- The world design will focus on landmarks and icons, which should allow players to orient themselves in it.
- There will be two large, principal cities with many smaller ones between. The terrain and flora will vary a lot depending on where the player is.
- Fauna will be faithfully based on Pillars of Eternity lore, with new additions.
- Avowed will have dynamically presented dialogue.
- Killing every NPC in the game will be an option.
Obsidian’s Past Design Trends
One way to predict how Avowed may turn out, and how it might compare to Skyrim, is to look at Obsidian’s past games.
A Spin on Roleplaying from the Top Down
Pillars of Eternity was essentially a tribute to classic top-down role-playing games like Baldur’s Gate. Critics still celebrate the first and second Baldur’s Gate games for their storytelling and mechanics. For Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian decided to focus more on dialogue, lore and the player’s ability to roleplay.
Most players agree that Baldur’s Gate 2 is the more polished game. There are more fleshed out items, combat, magic, enemies and dungeons with better implemented mechanics. Despite this, players of Pillars of Eternity tend to find it easier to fall into the role of their player character.
A Tale of Two Wastelands
The clearest difference in design philosophy between Bethesda and Obsidian shows with each studio’s take on the Fallout franchise. 2008’s Fallout 3 was made by Bethesda Softworks while 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas is an Obsidian Entertainment title. Both games share an engine and many assets, but differ due to how each developer used them.
Fallout 3, much like Skyrim, has an emphasis on exploration and atmosphere with its world design. The look and feel of its locations matter the most. Several locations in Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland are vast, dungeon-style interiors brimming with deep treasures for the keen explorer to find. On the other hand, Fallout: New Vegas has a sharper focus on realism and context. Caves, buildings and bunkers of the Mojave Wasteland have interiors that make physical sense.
Similarly, enemies in the open areas of Fallout 3’s world are scattered and randomised. This provides explorers with a plethora of new surprises each playthrough. In New Vegas, enemy spawns are fixed to specific locations. This is more realistic and allows players to learn how to live in its world, as NPCs do. It also structures the game, directing new players away from danger zones that more powerful players can return to later.
Finally, Obsidian favours a more forward-thinking style of writing to Bethesda. Fallout 3 commonly uses environmental storytelling to show hints of how its world may have looked in the past, before the apocalypse. Fallout: New Vegas, conversely, has a branching main quest focused on choosing the future for the Mojave Wasteland between multiple factions and ideologies.
We cannot predict the design or writing specifics of Obsidian’s upcoming Avowed with any certainty. However, by using the snippets of leaked information and analysing their past games, we can make estimations.
For example, Avowed’s world will likely have densely-populated settlements placed logically for both realism and player progression. Avowed’s factions will probably contrast with each other ideologically, allowing the player to choose who is right—if anyone. This would differ greatly to Skyrim, where combat and exploration came first.
This is highly speculative and information could change during the next few years before the release of Avowed. However, there is plenty of evidence relating to how Obsidian will develop their game. While Avowed might look like Skyrim at a glance, it is unlikely the final product will resemble it on a deeper level.