"If we were going to do romance, we were going to really, really, really do it right — or not at all." Avowed developers talk companions, quests, and more for Obsidian's upcoming Xbox RPG

Image of Avowed.
I adore how Avowed looks, and the Living Lands looks like a wonderful place to explore. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

One of my most anticipated games of 2024 is also one of the biggest first-party releases of the year from Xbox. Avowed is the next major title from legendary studio Obsidian Entertainment and is a semi open-world fantasy RPG that will give players an all-new perspective on the world of Eora — the universe that gave rise to both Pillars of Eternity games.

Many have described Avowed as being Obsidian's take on The Elder Scrolls, but I'm personally just excited to see the studio tackle a more traditional fantasy RPG for the first time. Ahead of Avowed's release later in the year, I was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk with Avowed Creative Director Carrie Patel and Gameplay Director Gabe Paramo at Obsidian Entertainment to talk about their upcoming Xbox RPG — including the recently revealed gameplay improvements, quests, choices and consequences, companions, and much more.

I was already eager to get my hands on Avowed after experiencing Pillars of Eternity for the first time earlier this year, but after chatting with the Avowed team, my excitement soared through the roof. Strap in; this could be one of the best Xbox games of 2024.

What is Avowed?

Avowed Story Trailer - YouTube Avowed Story Trailer - YouTube
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Avowed is a brand-new fantasy role-playing game IP from Obsidian Entertainment and Xbox Game Studios, set in the same fictional universe created and popularized by the Pillars of Eternity series. While both Pillars of Eternity titles are CRPGs (isometric RPGs with real-time turn-based tactical gameplay), Avowed is a more immersive, semi open-world, action-oriented RPG that can be played in both first and third-person perspectives.

Avowed takes place in the Living Lands, a diverse and wild region in the world of Eora. Players are sent as representatives of a vast empire to investigate and attempt to stop a mysterious plague afflicting the souls of the Living Lands' people. In classic Obsidian fashion, Avowed will feature a branching story heavily impacted by the choices and actions of the player, as well as a roster of unique characters and companions.

Players can arm themselves with a wide assortment of melee and ranged weapons, spells, and other gear to take on the endless threats in the Living Lands, exploring the connected open world areas during their adventure. Avowed is a first-party Xbox game coming to Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and Xbox and PC Game Pass later in 2024. You can learn more in our in-depth Avowed FAQ.

Improvements to Avowed's combat and gameplay

This mushroom thing looks less adorable than some of the others I've seen in Avowed footage. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

When Avowed debuted its first gameplay earlier this year, the response from the community was divided. Many believed the combat in Avowed seemed stiff and unresponsive, and a ton of feedback was leveraged toward Obsidian Entertainment in the following weeks. Apparently, this didn't come as a huge shock to the studio. "Sometimes you can lose sight on the importance of the prioritization of some things," Gabe Paramo told me.

"We thought [Avowed] was good enough to show as is... A lot of that stuff we knew we were going to get to before shipping." Obsidian had always intended to revisit the combat and mechanics later in development, but the feedback from the game's Developer_Direct appearance in January accelerated the process. "We just went 'Okay, let's look at this, this is a big deal, people are noticing this, we should polish this sooner,'" Paramo said.

Avowed will apparently give players nearly endless ways to defeat their enemies. (Image credit: Microsoft)

It's true that I felt the combat was the weakest part of Avowed's initial gameplay reveal, but my opinion changed during the Xbox Games Showcase 2024. A new story trailer for Avowed showed off some freshly revitalized gameplay, and the community immediately noticed the improved responsiveness and feedback. "We really analyzed the feeling and moment when the player swings their weapon and the moment of impact," Paramo explained how Obsidian went about improving combat in Avowed. "Were there any delays, was there any system that might have been preventing it from being immediate?"

We basically went and looked at all the pieces that make combat feel more juicy.

Gabe Paramo

"We also looked at posing... to give that visceral, immediate feedback," Paramo continued. "We really focused on that, and the blood impacts, and VFX feedback, and the audio — We basically went and looked at all the pieces that make [combat] feel more juicy." It's true — in new footage, combat flows more, enemies react more, and there's more feedback on impact effectiveness than before. Even animations and animation blending were reevaluated to ensure every aspect of Avowed's gameplay experience was as good as possible.

Giving Avowed players freedom to play their way

Each environment will come with new opportunities to be creative. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

These gameplay improvements tie into Avowed's commitment to player freedom, like giving players access to different melee weapons, ranged weapons (including firearms), and spells and letting players build loadouts that can be switched between easily to adapt to any situation. Players won't even be restricted to defined classes in Avowed and can instead assign their skill points however they desire. If you grow tired of your current playstyle, you can simply reassign your skill points and completely change your character.

"We want to make it very accessible in terms of allowing the player to respec and say 'Oh, that was fun for that time period, but now let me try something different,'" Paramo said. "We want to let the player be able to do as they see fit... Without feeling like they have to start the game over again." Of course, players won't be able to become unstoppable gods, either — Avowed will never take away your choices, but it may limit how far you can take them.

If the player can just fill up all the skill trees... What was the choice there?

Gabe Paramo

"We believe heavily in choice and consequence, so there has to be some consequences to players' choices, right?" Paramo told me. "If the player can just fill up all the [skill] trees by the end of the game... What was the choice there?"

Immediately after, Carrie Patel joined the conversation, adding, "It's not like any one choice locks you off from others, it's just that there are quite a few skills and then upgrades within those skills between the trees. Even over the course of a completionist playthrough you won't get enough points to take absolutely every skill."

"You can try everything over the course of your playthrough, but you won't have [all skills] unlocked at once," Patel finished.

Here's an example of just one of the skill trees in Avowed — but you'll never be locked to just one category. (Image credit: Obsidian)

It seems that there will be a lot of different potential paths players can take to find their favorite playstyle, with skills allowing increased proficiency with or unique attributes applied to certain weapon types like firearms, unique skills that give you abilities drastically improving stealth or slowing enemies down in combat, and much more. On top of that, players will have a ton of control over their equipment, including finding unique gear with special properties, upgrading their existing equipment to take on stronger foes, and more.

No matter what skills you choose or gear you obtain, though, combat will ultimately become necessary. "It's not going to be possible to do a completely pacifist run — you will have to engage in combat at times," Patel said. "There are certainly scenarios where you can avoid it completely; in some cases, you can talk certain enemies out of an encounter; in certain cases, you'll get an additional encounter as a consequence for how you handled someone somewhere else."

A total no-kill run may not be possible in this particular RPG, but both Patel and Paramo were quick to assure me that Avowed absolutely regularly presents players with a myriad of potential paths and options for overcoming a new obstacle or situation. "Combat, dialogue, exploration, these are all big parts of the experience that we want players to enjoy."

Yes, you can explore the Living Lands in third person. I will not be doing that. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Diverse combat, countless loadout and character build options, and dynamic situations that can be approached in different ways — Is there anything missing? Well, for a while, players were afraid there was. For months, all the footage we saw of Avowed was from the first-person perspective, while many players prefer to play RPGs in third person (to see their character, combat motion sickness, or just personal preference).

Finally, during a recent episode of the Xbox Podcast, the Avowed team confirmed that players can swap between first and third-person perspectives whenever they want. Some felt this may have been in response to feedback, too, but Paramo informed me that such a feature isn't something that can be tacked on a few months before release.

We had to do it early, because we needed to double the amount of animations.

Gabe Paramo

"[Third-person perspective] is definitely something that requires work to be done after you solidify and understand what game you're making. If I make a swing in first person, I now need to make a swing in third person, in another type of view. They're not shared meshes or animations — they are different, and our system supports playing them at the same time," Paramo explained. "If you look at your shadow, you'll be able to see the same third-person animations as the first-person representative mesh is doing. So, we had to do it early, because we basically needed to double the amount of animations."

Paramo and Patel explained that the team simply believed that first person looked better for the game's initial trailers, but being able to switch back and forth between first and third-person perspectives in Avowed was always the plan.

The power of choices and consequences in Avowed

Your choices will impact the Living Lands. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Players will have plenty of choice in combat, when building their character, when entering a new situation, and even when deciding what perspective to play in. It turns out that the balance of choices and consequences is a core pillar of Avowed's narrative design, too, from the major storyline all the way to the smallest side quest.

"The player has been sent to this land that is currently embroiled in a conflict between a growing Aedyran presence... and all these disparate and distant local settlements founded by people from various other parts. There's already a tapestry of conflict that is exacerbated by the Dreamscourge, which is this spiritual ailment that is afflicting people in the Living Lands," Patel summarized for me. "The player is sent here both to represent Aedyr and also to find the source of and stop the Dream Scourge. That puts them right in the heart of the conflicts that are driving a lot of the story in the Living Land, so the player is going to have ample opportunity to make some very meaningful choices."

The player is going to have ample opportunity to make some very meaningful choices.

Carrie Patel

The Living Lands will be swimming in content for players to explore, and the more players look, the more they'll discover. "The player is going to make a series of choices on their path, in side quests, and even in smaller side moments that are completely up to them to discover," Patel said. "In some cases [these choices] will have very meaningful impacts for specific characters, and in some cases have far reaching impacts for entire settlements or the Living Lands as a whole. Some consequences you're going to see immediately, some you might see after a few hours, and some you're going to see another shade of at the very end of the game when you're seeing the cumulative effect of everything."

It seems there's a lot going on in the Living Lands that we have yet to learn. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Patel also explained to me that when players are on the precipice of making a major story-impacting decision, that moment will be very clearly telegraphed to them. For me, having a choice-influenced main storyline was a given for an Obsidian RPG, though. I wanted to know if the Avowed team was also pouring that same energy into everything else. I don't want to cross the Living Lands on the back of repetitive fetch, scavenging, and escort quests.

"We want everything that we're putting into the game and putting in front of the player to be worth the player's time. Some of these experiences are going to be larger, some of these are going to be shorter, but all of them are distinct," Patel reassured me. "None of them are copy/paste experiences; they're all content that engage the player with the world and give them a chance to roleplay their character."

"We put the same focus into our side content as we do into our main quests," Patel finished. I'll have to see to truly believe, but I'm at least a little more optimistic now. One element of Avowed I hold full confidence in, however, are the companions players will meet during their adventures.

Making Avowed companions meaningful to players

There will be multiple companions in Avowed, and they'll each be able to help you in different ways. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Like Pillars of Eternity and other popular RPGs, the companions you'll choose to accompany you on your journey will be very important in Avowed. Obsidian Entertainment has invested a lot of time and effort to not only make sure Avowed's companions are fully fleshed-out characters with a ton of depth but also that they play a critical role in the story and that players will have the opportunity to develop unique relationships with them.

Sadly, those relationships will never be romantic, as the Avowed team has confirmed before. Of course, I still had to ask about it, given the feature's popularity in other games. "We don't have romance in Avowed. I know it's something that many players love, and it's something that we very seriously talked about, and considered the investment required to do it," Patel said, indicating that romanceable companions were part of Avowed's early talks.

It's something that we very seriously talked about, and considered the investment required to do it.

Carrie Patel

However, it wasn't meant to be. "We wanted to make sure that, if we were to include it, [we] included an equally meaningful non-romance path," Patel continued. If Avowed had moved forward with romanceable companions, it either would've taken resources away from fleshing out these characters' depth in other areas or resulted in a much longer development time for Avowed.

Patel concluded by stating, "Given how much we were investing in our companions as characters who are really tied to the central story in a way that they haven't been in many of our previous games, we wanted to make sure that if we were going to do romance, we were going to really, really, really do it right — or not at all. For Avowed, we decided to focus on other aspects of our companions."

Dialogue will be in-depth and nuanced, or at least that's what Obsidian is aiming for. (Image credit: Obsidian)

That fact may be disappointing to many players, but I'm more than willing to accept it as long as companions don't feel like an afterthought. The Outer Worlds did a good job in this regard, but Avowed promises to take Obsidian's NPC companions to an all-new level. One major feature in Avowed is one that players grew to love in award-winning CRPG Baldur's Gate 3 — the Camp, where players will be able to rest, check on their gear and upgrades, and check in with all the companions that travel with them.

In Avowed, companions won't just speak with the player... they'll chat with each other, conversing about their shared experiences or differences, commenting on recent events, and sharing tidbits of information. Each companion will have a wholly unique personality and interact with the player and every other companion in unique ways. Doing this right means a lot of recorded dialogue, though, which is a tall order for any studio. Obsidian seems ready to tackle the challenge, though.

When I asked how much audio the studio had recorded for Avowed and the Camp, Patel laughed and told me, "You mean how much audio are we still recording to fill out all that banter in those Camp conversations?"

Your Camp will be like home in the Living Lands... For both you and your companions. (Image credit: Obsidian)

"There is a lot of content and a lot of writing there, both for the ambient moments of companions barking at each other or just talking. Some are companions reflecting on quests you've done, the events that you've seen together, the journey thus far. Some are really deeply personal moments where they're reflecting on a conflict, a fear, something that is really deep and core to their story," Patel explained. "The Camp is the primary space where players will talk to their companions, unravel their stories, and get to know them more as people. If they choose to, players can spend a lot of time getting to know these characters."

Players can blast through the world of Avowed just looking for the next objective or enemy to smash, but those invested in the world and its people can lose hours in getting to know these virtual characters. It's important to know that what you say and your actions matter, though. "Your input as their leader, as their confidant, as someone they're sharing this incredibly difficult journey with, what you choose to say and how you nudge them can have a real impact on how they move through conflicts, who they become, and what they're looking forward to," Patel said.

Creating the best Obsidian RPG ever with Avowed

It wouldn't be an RPG without some vaguely spider-ish monster. (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

One feature that we know isn't going to be present in Avowed is online co-op, but multiplayer was a part of the original plan before eventually being canceled. I won't miss this feature and look forward to an epic, single-player fantasy RPG from Obsidian, but I did ask (on behalf of my editor, Jez Corden) if Obsidian ever reconsidered multiplayer in Avowed after seeing the success of Baldur's Gate 3. Patel had a lot to say on the topic.

"Building the systems needed to support multiplayer and also designing content, conversations, and everything else that makes that work... It was a very big creative and technical challenge to find a way to build multiplayer while also fulfilling the things that we are strong at as a studio. What's important to us is making sure we have a really solid campaign and crit path story that puts the player in this meaningful role as the character moving things forward, making impactful decisions, and really shaping the world and the characters around them, which obviously gets more complicated if you're trying to add a multiplayer component."

"It's not that any of these challenges are unsolvable, the Larian Studios team built an incredible RPG with Baldur's Gate 3, and they've had years of experience with Divinity: Original Sin, working at building multiplayer within a really robust RPG framework," Patel continued. "It's a very hard thing to do well, and we wanted to make sure that first and foremost, we were delivering on the things that players come to an Obsidian Entertainment RPG expecting, which is a really well-developed story, meaningful choices and consequences, and the ability to be the agent of change in the world."

In before half of all Avowed players become stealth archers. (Image credit: Obsidian)

Honestly, I believe Obsidian Entertainment made the right decision. RPGs that allow for multiplayer can offer amazing experiences, but I'm personally very excited to explore the Living Lands on my own (and my own time). Playing the original Pillars of Eternity surprised me, and I'm eager to continue diving into this vibrant and detailed universe. What I heard from Carrie Patel and Gabe Paramo made me confident that Avowed will give me exactly what I want — and will be an awesome RPG for both Pillars of Eternity superfans and universe newcomers.

We want this to be just as welcoming to [new players] as it is to players who have been with us through Pillars of Eternity.

Carrie Patel

"I joined the studio in 2013 as a Narrative Designer on Pillars of Eternity and I worked on the White March Expansions. I was Narrative Co-Lead on Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. There are a lot of us on the team who have deep personal and professional experiences with Pillars of Eternity," Patel said. "Then we've also got a lot of folks who are new to the franchise, or who maybe enjoyed it as players but didn't build the original games; what that allows us to do is really combine a sense of fidelity to the world that we're building with a really fresh perspective."

"Being able to look for new opportunities, look for novelty, and look for the aspects of gameplay in world building that'll be really fun for a new audience — and also recognizing that for many players of Avowed... This is going to be their first introduction to the world of Eora, and we want this to be just as welcoming to them as it is to players who have been with us through Pillars of Eternity," Patel finished. With that, my time with the Avowed team was over, but my excitement for Avowed was greater than ever.

Avowed is slated to release later in 2024 for Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, and Xbox and PC Game Pass.

Zachary Boddy
Staff Writer

Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.