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Obsidian "really pushed" Avowed as a co-op RPG, pivoted to single player in eight months

"We weren't focused on the things that we're best at"

The player character in Avowed faces off against a weird, crusty bear
Image credit: Obsidian Entertainment

You might already know that first-person fantasy RPG Avowed began life as Obsidian's take on Skyrim, but did you know that it was originally pushed as a multiplayer game, prior to being acquired by Microsoft? That's according to studio head and founder Feargus Urquhart, speaking in the latest and final episode of the Obsidian 20th Anniversary documentary, which is chock-a-block with intriguing factoids from throughout the studio's history.

"One of the things I really pushed was that Avowed was going to be multiplayer," Urquhart said. "And I kept on that for a long time. And I think in the end - not 'I think', I know, in the end, it was the wrong decision to keep on pushing on it. Now [the reason I did it] was when we still independent and we were selling it, it was a more interesting game to publishers. And when you're asking for $50, $60, $70, $80 million, you have to have something interesting to talk about. And multiplayer made it interesting. It was this idea of sort of the peanut butter and chocolate, putting it together - it must be something that's good."

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In the end, however, Obsidian worked out that prioritising multiplayer wasn't playing to the studio's strengths. "We were too focused on co-op," head of development Justin Britch observed in the video. "And we were too focused on changing the way our pipelines work, and the way that we write conversations, the way we do quests and everything else.

"After working on it for a little bit we realised that we weren't focused on the things that we're best at, and so we did make a pivot on the game to refocus, basically, and make sure it was at the end of the day an Obsidian game, and not something different."

Said "pivot" took place in what sounds like quite a hurry, as it came relatively late in the project's life. "One of the big challenges when we started that pivot was we were defining a direction, and building a vertical slice, and then preparing for production all in about eight months," added game director Carrie Patel.

You can find all this in the final five minutes of the episode. It's worth watching the credits, too - in a blooper reel-style outro, Patel jokes that she fancies doing another spy RPG next, cue far-off screaming from Alpha Protocol fans. She also says she wouldn't mind working on an Alien Isolation-style horror experience, as long as she doesn't have to play it herself.

It's interesting to situate the change of approach with Avowed against Obsidian's subsequent/parallel success with "Honey I Shrunk The PvE Genre" offering Grounded, which is also discussed in the video (and which we rather liked, both as a solo experience and in company). I wonder whether there's any insight from that game Obsidian might someday carry forward into one of their totemic fantasy franchises. I'm also trying to work out whether that early pitch reflected a time when publishers were super-keen on multiplayer functionality - these things tend to move in cycles.

Obsidian's sci-fi caper The Outer Worlds ranks 28th on our list of the best RPGs, while 90s throwback fantasy CRPG Pillars of Eternity (which is set in the same world as Avowed) made it all the way to 18th. Will the new kid break the top 10?

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