For Avowed Developer, Obsidian, Game Pass Is A “Wonderful Opportunity” To Get Broader Player Feedback

We spoke to the studio's game director and art director about the upcoming RPG.

Following the Xbox Games Showcase, which featured a brand new story trailer for Avowed, we were fortunate enough to sit down for a quick chat with those who are bringing this Pillars of Eternity spin-off of sorts to life.

We spoke with the game’s director Carrie Patel as well as Matt Hansen, the art director and the man responsible for that key art.  

It’s worth noting this was a Q&A setting alongside other outlets therefore opportunity for questions was limited. However, we got to ask about departing from the regular Pillars formula, how player agency looks in Avowed, and whether developing for an audience like the one Game Pass has changes things for Obsidian. 

Avowed is looking better and better every time we see it, is the game content complete at this stage?

CP: We are already content complete, we’re just polishing and bug fixing. 

Is there a trepidation that moving away from the Pillars of Eternity formula in favour of an action RPG might alienate some of those original fans? 

CP: Personally I don’t think so. Everybody has different tastes, right? 

We were very heartened by how everybody took to The Outer Worlds, I think folks that enjoyed that style of gameplay and combat are going to enjoy Avowed just as much. 

The art direction, for me, has been personally so eye-grabbing and the response to that key art has been enormous. Is that gratifying for you as a creative? 

MH: Tremendously so, it felt so good. I mean we took a lot of creative risk with the key art and I was so grateful Microsoft supported that for us. Because at any point they could have been like: “Keep it tame,” right? 

One of the things we want to do with this game is embrace the weird of the world and that was a good opportunity to do that. Obviously with the art throughout as well, there’s a lot of commentary on how colourful the game is. That’s been a really cool opportunity to explore a fantasy setting in a non-traditional visual approach. 

And you’ve seen this throughout the franchise, Pillars was a very hero-centric, typical Western fantasy. It was very Dramanic, while in Deadfire we moved into more Polynesian flavours. In Avowed we’re continuing that trend by pulling in so many inspirations from world cultures throughout history and it’s a really satisfying process and it’s very satisfying to see people responding to it the way that they have. 

What are some examples of player agency or choice that are present throughout Avowed? 

MH: That’s a tricky one without getting into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that lots of narrative beats give you a choice where it’ll either have an immediate payoff or a ‘down the line’ pay off. 

But also, having subtle instances of that as well. Making decisions you don’t really recognise as critical decisions in the moment that have rippling consequences that kind of surprise you.

CP: One of my favourite moments, and it’s in the early game but I’ll still be kind of vague, is where you’re asked to help out this Aedyran guard—you’re from Aedyr—with something she’s investigating. 

So if you say: “I’ll look and I’ll help you,” you can find the thing she’s looking for and then you can choose whether or not to tell her about it knowing that there are going to be consequences for the other person involved in this interaction.  

And based on what you do or don’t do there, several hours later, you may come across the results of that choice in a pretty meaningful way, in a crit-path moment for that region. There are little moments that can pay off in big ways, there are big moments that pay off in really big ways, and there are moments where it’s the accumulation of choices you’ve made over the course of the game that can lead another character to trust you, compromise with you, or refuse you outright. 

Has developing an RPG like this for Game Pass, knowing it’ll be exposed to potentially millions of players it might not have before, changed your approach to development? 

CP: I mean I think every game is its own thing and you have to approach it as its own vision, its own set of goals, its own little creature that you’re nurturing. So for us, I think it’s always just been about making Avowed the best version of Avowed we can, and I think that’s true of all of our games, whether that’s Pentiment, whether that’s Grounded, The Outer Worlds, or Avowed. 

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We just approach everything trying to understand and grasp what’s the vision and what’s the experience we’re trying to give to the player. 

MH: Yeah, I think the real impact of that wider audience comes after the fact. We see the reaction from a much wider swathe of perspectives and people than we normally would and we can respond to for the future and grow that much faster as a result.

And that’s super exciting, going from a tiny library to a giant, metropolitan library, going from a small number of influences to a large number of influences. And you might not go into that library going: “I’m going to check out every book there is!” But coming back to that library a second time—I’m sorry, I’m drawing this analogy and now I’m too far, but coming back to our next game and seeing the experience of so many people who are not “traditional RPG fans” that can become RPG fans if we listen to them and are consciously aware of what they want in games. 

We can pick and choose what of those things we want to experiment with, but it’s a really wonderful opportunity and I think it’s unlike anything this industry has had the chance to work within before—that broad of an audience. So it’s been very satisfying. Scary, but satisfying. 

What makes Avowed the most mechanically unique game from Obsidian’s roster of RPG titles? 

MH: We’ve learned a lot from past ones, that’s the easy answer. But I wouldn’t say it’s the most mechanically complicated, right? If you’re playing Pillars on Path of the Damned difficulty, you need spreadsheets, you need to be min-maxing every decision. 

And we didn’t really want to do that with Avowed because we didn’t want to take players out of the action. So unlike Pillars where you can pause the game and think, there’s not that level of complexity but the complexity that does exist exists in a more kinetic way. 

I think Carrie alluded to this earlier, that sensation of taking a couple of shots with the pistol, then I’m going to blast into the combat with charge and pull out my broadsword. Those sorts of moment-to-moment decisions become things the player can experiment with, internalise and make a part of their core playstyle and switch up. 

There’s a tremendous opportunity for weaving different things together and I think that’s a continuation of how the Pillars franchise has worked. But it’s more of a visceral, moment-to-moment experience rather than a high-tactics approach. 

On discussing the scale of Avowed:

CP: It’s going to be comparable to The Outer Worlds. And as with all of our games, it’s going to depend on how much you invest in side quests, how widely you explore, what difficulty you choose. 

But roughly comparable to The Outer Worlds is a good way to look at it.

At least that speaks to replayability? 

MH: Oh, yes. We’ve drastically expanded the game since we did this but we once had an extended playthrough with the whole team. And without giving specific numbers, I played the game for five times as long as some other people. 

I’m like that, I want to go do everything. There’s a wide breadth of time you can spend with it based on how you want to play the game which is one of the things I like about it. Because I’m playing it for work I’m willing to spend all of that time, but I also have a lot in my life that I want to do and this is a game that can also respect that.

Avowed is coming to Xbox Series X|S and PC in 2024, and will be available with Xbox Game Pass on day one.