Exclusive: Avowed started as Obsidian's Skyrim, but evolved to focus on depth over breadth, 'where Obsidian really shines'

When Avowed was first announced with a CGI trailer back in 2020, the headlines and discussions that it sparked all pointed to one specific game: Skyrim. Even though the teaser didn't give away much, the similarities were clear. First-person view; a sword in the right hand, a spell in the left. Surely this was Obsidian's take on an enormous Bethesda-style RPG?

And yes, it turns out that was the plan—at least at first. "Originally we were pitching, in essence, our Skyrim," confirms Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart in an exclusive interview with PC Gamer.

But that is not what Avowed, as it currently exists, is going to be. "I think over the course of time as we worked on it… Bethesda makes an awesome Skyrim. Mojang makes an awesome Minecraft, and Turn10 makes awesome racing games," says Urquhart, referencing a handful of Obsidian's sister studios at Microsoft. "What we do is we make our awesome RPGs, right?"

The feeling, then, was that Obsidian were better served not following Bethesda's example of a grand, open world, but instead staying true to what an Obsidian game should be. "That's when we backed up and said again: What are we good at? What's our lane?" That core, for Urquhart, is Obsidian's dedication to storytelling. "Outer Worlds is the greatest, latest example of that, and even Pillars. Pillars is less linear than Outer Worlds, but it's still a game that has you go through a story. And [Pillars of Eternity] 2 was even less linear, but still again you have this core story as you're going."

For Avowed, the focus is going to be specifically on your companions, and how their story relates to the driving narrative of the game. "We could go off and create an 8km x 8km open world and then deal with all the consequences of that—because that makes it a different style game. But we want to tell more confined stories that the player can experience with their companions, and then move from part of the world to part of the world. And, like I said, in the end, that's us."

"Every game development process for every title is this chain of ideation, iteration and polish," says Avowed director Carrie Patel, reflecting on how the scope of Avowed has changed over the years. "Sometimes you realize the way you're building, it is not quite living up to the experience you want to create. And so, in iteration and refinement, you say, 'Well, how do we create the experience that we want to deliver to players, and particularly as a studio? How do we deliver on what we're really good at specifically?'

"I think where Obsidian really shines as an RPG maker is with this really evocative nuanced world building, stories that are more focused on depth and breadth, and really thoughtful quest design that rewards experimentation and exploration from players—that gives them a sense of agency. And that gives them a meaningful set of options with how they interact with the world and characters."

The upshot, then, is that Avowed won't be as large, open and freeform as an Elder Scrolls game, but maybe that's for the best? Given the enduring popularity of the studio's RPGs over the years, staying true to that spirit feels like a sensible choice. "As we looked at the Avowed we're building, we wanted to make sure that we were really fulfilling those strengths and creating something that felt like a true Obsidian RPG," says Patel.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.