It’s quite a time for fans of traditional open-world, quest-heavy RPGs, and a lot of the current excitement is down to one studio: Obsidian.
Most recently, the developer announced a medieval fantasy epic called Avowed, announced during the July Xbox Games Showcase, and bearing more than a passing similarity to 2011’s The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, given the similar setting, first-person perspective, and dual-wielding of swords and spells.
Obsidian has a proud history of medieval fantasy, though, having released the D&D-inspired Neverwinter Nights 2 in 2006 – while the studio’s founders originally worked together at Black Isle studios on the likes of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, as well as the original Neverwinter Nights. Obsidian also developed the isometric RPG Pillars of Eternity and its sequel Deadfire, which actually lend their settings to Avowed, making for a kind of spiritual successor (even if it ditches the isometric perspective).
Basically, there’s plenty reason to think Obsidian is going to offer a lot more than an Elder Scrolls clone – and also to give Obsidian credit for the medieval fantasy RPG formula we’re so used to today.
But the announcement of Avowed starts to show a pattern within Obsidian’s game development schedule, one that can’t be discussed separately from the fortunes of its one-time collaborator, Bethesda.
Obsidian vs Bethesda
Bethesda Softworks is the development studio responsible for both the Elder Scrolls franchise and the Fallout series (well, Fallout 3 and 4). The studio tends to release alternate instalments in each series, with the next title expected to be The Elder Scrolls 6, even if there’s currently no release window or confirmed platform for the game.
What’s the connection? Obsidian worked with Bethesda to create the Fallout 3 spin-off / semi-sequel Fallout: New Vegas, which used the same game engine to tell a different story with separate characters and quest-lines, and released only 2 years after Fallout 3.
They’ve both worked with the same template, then, and comparisons were naturally made when Obsidian released 2019’s The Outer Worlds – a slick sci-fi RPG made in the Fallout mold. But the game was even more notable for what it did first, given it came just a year after Bethesda announced its own single-player space RPG, Starfield. Even then, we wrote that The Outer Worlds could well steal Starfield’s thunder, and it looks like Obsidian is about to repeat that trick with Avowed.
With silence still around ES6, and nothing but an initial teaser to go on, the launch dates for it and Avowed could be fascinatingly close – though we wouldn’t be surprised if Obsidian beat Bethesda to the punch once again.
It certainly looks like the Microsoft-owned game studio is looking to encroach on Bethesda’s turf. And, given some ire aimed at Bethesda in previous years, that turf might be free for the taking.
Bethesda's fall from grace
Bethesda has had a rough time in the court of public opinion these past few years. The online-only Fallout 76 ended up being nothing short of a disaster for the company, ditching the usual strengths of the Fallout franchise (quest design, dialogue trees, world-building) for all of its weaknesses (combat, combat and combat).
The game was plagued with bugs at launch, and while Bethesda has done a lot of work to improve and expand on the game, its initially high RRP and a number of other missteps – including obvious attempts to leech as much cash as possible from 76’s existing player base – have lost a lot of good will among players.
That said, memories can be short, and there’s nothing that will wash out the taste of Fallout 76 quite like a next-gen Elder Scrolls game. With an incoming Fallout TV show for Amazon Prime Video, too, we may soon have something new to either hate or love in the Fallout universe.
While The Outer Worlds was seen upon its release as a preemptive Starfield-killer, the long lead time before the latter’s release – undoubtedly still several years off – means that comparisons are highly speculative, and Bethesda has plenty of time to do things differently.
For now, though, Obsidian is displaying a lot of confidence in its ability to make Bethesda-like games its own way – and if Avowed manages to launch soon, it could really take some of the wind out of The Elder Scrolls 6’s sails.