Avowed is less like Skyrim, more like Fallout New Vegas, Obsidian says

Picking up from Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian’s Avowed aims for the curated sandbox of Fallout New Vegas rather than the vastness of Skyrim.

Avowed versus Fallout New Vegas and Skyrim: A protagonist and a companion from Obsidian RPG Avowed

Almost 13 years since the release of Skyrim, it still feels impossible for any fantasy RPG – or perhaps any RPG, period – to not be compared to Bethesda’s Nordic opus. The Elder Scrolls V remains the archetype of a certain variety of open-world game. Vast, rich, and designed entirely around allowing the player to do what they like, Skyrim winds you up with a strong narrative premise then sets you down and lets you go. Compare that to Fallout New Vegas, Obsidian’s valiant return to Black Isle classic, also renowned for its openness and breadth. On the surface, they’re very similar. In Skyrim, you’re the Dragonborn and you need to kill Alduin. In New Vegas, you’re the Courier and you need to settle who controls the Hoover Dam. And everything that happens in between is up to you. But there are subtle yet significant differences between Skyrim and New Vegas, between Bethesda’s work and Obsidian’s. Avowed, the new fantasy RPG set in the same universe as Pillars of Eternity, serves to highlight some of these diversions.

“For me at least, the games that hit the hardest in terms of really good role-playing experiences are not so open that you end up feeling adrift as a player,” Avowed game director Carrie Patel, whose credits also include spacepunk RPG The Outer Worlds and of course Pillars of Eternity itself, explains. “It shouldn’t be like ‘this is a wonderful sandbox, but I’m just building my own sandcastles here without a larger sense of purpose or identity.’ I think Avowed absolutely does fit the Obsidian ‘personality.’”

“We have the structure of the critical path, and we want whatever constraints we’re placing on the player to be accompanied by a good sense of pacing and momentum. There’s a push and pull where even though we’ve set this path in front of the player, we’re giving them enough prompts and draws along the way that they also feel like the authors of their own story.”

YouTube Thumbnail

Set in Eora, the same universe as Obsidian’s beloved Pillars series, Avowed casts you as a lone envoy of the Aedyran Empire, dispatched to investigate a mysterious plague. The Living Lands are vibrant, colorful, and filled with unusual flora and fauna – just like The Outer Worlds trades realism for something more visually expressive, Avowed is instantly distinguishable from the likes of The Witcher 3 and Skyrim.

But Obsidian also wants the world of Avowed to feel more authored and curated. Everything is up to you – there are myriad combat styles, customizations, narrative choices, and, naturally, the freedom to explore The Living Lands at your leisure. But the presence of some kind of author is always important.

Avowed versus Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas: A monster battle in Obsidian RPG Avowed

“It’s hard in 2024 to escape some comparison to Skyrim if you’re making a first-person fantasy action RPG,” Patel tells PCGamesN. “But I think the model that we’ve looked to internally is building Avowed as our fantasy take on The Outer Worlds, not with the same tone, but a similar structure to the world and in terms of scope.

“For us, it’s about having a more focused experience, something that feels a little more curated. We can be a little more intentional. Our world comprises zones that are definitely not small but certainly more constrained than a massive map that you can walk from, beginning to end, in several hours. It allows us to have a little more intentionality.

“I think there’s an appetite for games that are big sprawling RPGs with a ton of openness,” Patel continues, “but also games that are more curated, but also still maintain these elements of choice, character building, and progression. I’ve been excited to see what we can do as a studio in mixing up those elements.”

This, arguably, is where Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas are different. In terms of sheer size, the Mojave Wasteland may be smaller, but it’s packed more densely with encounters, occurrences, quests, and ambient activities. Similarly, Obsidian wants to create RPGs where everything you do, whether it’s guided by the developer or totally of your own accord, informs the greater narrative and experience. Can an RPG world be too big? Is there such a thing as wasted space? Avowed is seemingly driven by a different kind of design, where quantity is not always superior to cohesion.

Avowed versus Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas: A cave network from Obsidian RPG Avowed

“It’s that middle ground between sandbox and something that’s more curated, and I think we do a good job in striking that balance,” gameplay director Gabe Paramo explains. “For example, there are creatures you might stumble upon in Avowed that you’re maybe not ready for, but perhaps you’ve found an ability that helps you manipulate that creature, and then you get an item. You’ve found something purely through exploration that you can use in other types of encounters. I think New Vegas is also full of those moments where we don’t want to handhold the player, but still, if players have the skills, they can still defeat these moments.”

“I think New Vegas does a wonderful job of building the player experience not just through the critical plan but the side quests and secrets you can discover in the world,” Patel continues. “There’s a really great balance of consistency and variety. You want players to experience novelty and surprise, but also make sure that all these microelements you’re putting together are leading the player towards the same cohesive experience.

“One thing that’s been interesting to see, and as a player I really enjoy it, is that these genre boundaries are more and more fuzzy. You’re coming to the Living Lands and Avowed with a very specific role from the empire, but it’s still up to you to choose how exactly you follow through on that.”

While we wait for Avowed to arrive, you can try some of the other best sandbox games, or perhaps the greatest games like Skyrim available on PC.