Obsidian Entertainment has been celebrating its 20th anniversary, two decades in which the studio has created some of the most beloved and intricate adventure-slash-RPG titles ever made. Its current project is Avowed, a game that's destined to be compared to Skyrim but is going for depth over breadth "where Obsidian really shines" and, in the fifth and final part of an anniversary documentary, the studio's creatives reveal that for quite a while it had a multiplayer element.
"When I look back at 20 years, there's decisions of mine that I feel really good about, and there's decisions that I feel not so good about," said Feargus Urquhart, Obsidian's studio head (first spotted by GamesRadar+). "One of the things where I really pushed was that Avowed was going to be multiplayer, and I kept on that for a long time, and [I know] in the end it was the wrong decision to keep on pushing on it."
Urquhart says that, in this stage of development, Obsidian was still independent (it is now owned by Microsoft) so one of its concerns with Avowed was how it would be received by prospective publishers. Publishers like games with a multiplayer element, so having that as part of the Avowed pitch would make it more attractive to the bean-counters. "When you're asking for 50, 60, 70, 80 million you've got to have something interesting to talk about," said Urquhart, "and multiplayer made it interesting."
Problem was that multiplayer rubbed the wrong way against what Obsidian is good at, and was forcing the studio to re-think how it would have to handle aspects that worked beautifully in singleplayer but wouldn't translate into a multiplayer context. "After working on it for a little bit we realized that we weren't focused on the things that we're best at," said Justin Britch, head of development at Obsidian, "and so we made a pivot on the game basically, to refocus really and make sure that it was, at the end of the day, an Obsidian game and not something different."
I'm all-for another amazing singleplayer experience from Obsidian and, honestly, RPGs are the one genre where I'm not all that interested in co-op. A major focus now, as Obsidian's Carrie Patel told PC Gamer after the game's announcement, is on the companion characters that will be a part of the experience and follow the player through the story and world.
"Companions are a huge part of the experience and draw for me both as a player and as a developer," said Patel. "One thing we wanted to do with Avowed was make sure the companions felt really integral to the story. In some games they're optionally recruitable, but in Avowed they're deeply tied to the story, tied to your party… we really wanted to create this sense that you're in this big wild frontier, you're going on this adventure of discovery, and you have this small but tight knit crew with you. The sense you're adventuring through the wilds together, sharing in the discovery and the danger. These people are just as much a part of your story as the larger events that you're getting in the middle of."
Obsidian's been upfront about the fact that, while the Elder Scrolls comparisons are inevitable, it's not going for something as large and freeform as that: which in my opinion is all for the good. Patel calls it "a true Obsidian RPG" and, given it's made some of my favourite RPGs ever, that sounds like just the ticket. Avowed is due for release next year.