This is one of those headlines that could come back to haunt me. If Avowed turns out to be a disaster, it's gonna look pretty funny in a screenshot next to a comically low Metacritic score. But I'm gonna put my neck on the line here, because Obsidian makes amazing RPGs. Avowed is the studio's upcoming first-person fantasy RPG—a genre usually dominated by Bethesda and the Elder Scrolls series. I love TES, and have sunk hundreds of hours into games like Oblivion and Skyrim. But when it comes to designing deep, rewarding role-playing experiences, Obsidian is on a whole other level. If it manages to channel that talent into a lavish Elder Scrolls type game, it could have something pretty special on its hands.
Over the past few decades, with games like Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Pillars of Eternity, and The Outer Worlds, the studio has repeatedly proven itself to be one of the best RPG developers in the business. Whenever I see the Obsidian logo at the beginning of an RPG, I know I'm in for a good time. The studio made its name adapting other IPs, from Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons to Fallout and South Park. It even took a stab at an RPG based on the Alien series, which was sadly cancelled. But in 2015 Obsidian created a brand new setting, the dark fantasy realm of Eora, for Pillars of Eternity—this was clear evidence that the developer is just as capable at conjuring up its own unique worlds as it is at brilliantly adapting others.
While rooted in D&D-style high fantasy, this setting is much stranger and darker. It features a bizarre pantheon of deities, including a black-toothed knight clad in flaming plate armour and a rotting, frost-covered ox with six eyes. There are tropical island-dwelling mages who can control and shape water. There was once a war where humanity banded together to take on a god and, amazingly, won. There are deadly psychic warriors called ciphers who can suck the life out of a person and use it as a weapon against them. Scientists called animancers conduct sinister experiments, like implanting animal souls in children or using souls to power automated war machines. It's a wonderfully weird, interesting, and twisted fantasy world—and, excitingly, the same place where Avowed will be set.
Not enough people have played the Pillars of Eternity games, which is a constant source of frustration for me. They're the best CRPGs I've played since the glory days of the Infinity Engine, equal to legends like Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment in terms of writing, quest design, combat depth, world-building, and atmosphere. I can see why, though. They're rigidly old school, with a fixed 2D perspective, walls of text, and challenging real-time-with-pause battles. They're designed for people who loved the dusty old late '90s PC games that inspired them—not a general, mainstream audience. That was always gonna hold the series back. They're great games; just not very easy ones to get into.
That's where Avowed comes in. This is a chance for people to enjoy Pillars of Eternity's incredible world in a much more approachable, immediate way. You don't need to learn the intricacies of an old D&D-based combat system or wade through acres of text—you can dive straight in, experience it through the eyes of your character, and swing your sword without having to roll a virtual dice. That's a huge deal when it comes to getting this setting in front of more people—something it massively deserves. I personally would pay any amount of money for a Pillars of Eternity 3. But after the reportedly poor sales of PoE 2, this is perhaps a safer way to return to Eora without Obsidian gambling on another niche old school RPG.
Of course, the best setting in the world won't matter if the game itself isn't any good. Obsidian has the world and mythology nailed down—now it 'just' has to make a quality first-person RPG. I don't know what Bethesda has in store for The Elder Scrolls 6, but based on its track record, Obsidian is simply better at writing exciting quests, creating memorable characters, and building compelling worlds. Bethesda RPGs are hugely entertaining, but basically quite shallow; Obsidian's best games are rich, reactive, and deep. I believe it has the power to make a series to rival The Elder Scrolls, and I cannot wait to see more of Avowed. If it turns out to be bad, well, feel free to throw that headline back in my stupid face.