The following discussion about Avowed contains minor spoilers for Fallout: New Vegas.
Avowed has, on several occasions, been labeled a “Skyrim killer,” as if Bethesda’s series is in dire need of drowning in a bucket. If anything, Obsidian’s first-person RPG needs to be the Fallout: New Vegas of fantasy.
All too often in RPGs, you’re asked to choose between helping an old lady cross the road or punching her in the throat and stealing her purse. You can aid the forces of good or betray them and join the evil empire. Meanwhile, Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas has rightly been praised for its “gray” morality, that the decisions you’re presented don’t boil down to “good” or “evil.”
It offers you fuzzier choices. While Caesar’s Legion are clearly the bad guys, if it comes down to choosing between New California Republic and Mr. House, both have their pros and cons. The NCR might seem squeaky clean, but some of the things they ask you to do to help them hold on to power are rather suspect.
And that’s great, as is the fact you can’t flip-flop between the factions at the last minute. But what really makes Fallout: New Vegas stand out is that your actions have unexpected consequences. On one occasion, I was sure I had the moral high ground – only to discover that my decision spelled doom for several wasteland villages. From that point onwards, I was much less confident that I was “the good guy.”
Meanwhile, Avowed isn’t Obsidian’s first foray into fantasy – in fact, it’s set in the same world as Pillars of Eternity. But the first-person perspective offers the opportunity to really immerse yourself in this realm. On top of that, while fantasy worlds aren’t all candy floss and kittens, they typically lack the baked-in misery of your average post-apocalyptic wasteland.
If an NPC asks for help in New Vegas, for example, there’s a good chance they’ll turn out to be a raider and come for your head. However, if your daughter has been kidnapped by bandits in a fantasy setting, all you need to do is step into your local tavern and look for some helpful hero who’s willing to put their life on the line. Heroes are the norm, not the exception.
That’s why Avowed needs to follow in the footsteps of Fallout: New Vegas and make being a “hero” a less comfortable profession. Take Skyrim – you can slaughter your way through as many bandits as you would like, then head down to the tavern for a drink. Sure, you might possess the mighty sword of Zanxyar, but running around hacking people’s heads off should still raise an eyebrow or two.
Avowed, on the other hand, could offer a different take. What if, the more people you slaughtered, the less willing the locals were to engage with you? Perhaps they wouldn’t say anything to your face, but you’d feel their eyes on you when you walked through town. If you’ve watched or played The Witcher, you’ll have seen how often Geralt gets shunned. Is it because he’s a “mutant,” or is it because he racked up a three-digit kill count?
Killing strictly bad people shouldn’t be enough to maintain your belief that you’re the good guy. When I unwittingly doomed the wasteland villages in New Vegas, I was utterly gobsmacked and a little offended that shooting a crooked caravan leader wasn’t the right thing to do. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I was foolish not to anticipate there being consequences to my actions. In fact, there was an alternative. I could have used my knowledge of her crimes to blackmail the caravan leader into becoming the NCR’s lapdog, because two wrongs always make a right.
Avowed is an opportunity to really home in on what it means to be a hero and who, precisely, your actions are affecting. Not every single quest or action needs to have a profound impact – that’s a sure way to alienate a chunk of your would-be audience. But there are plenty of actions that, while frequent fixtures in fantasy, warrant examination.
Shrek jokes aside, why should you have the right to wander into an ogre’s cave and slaughter them, just so you can buy a slightly better sword? What if you dispatch a dragon and go on your merry way, only for the villagers to discover it had a mate? Do you trust those bounty notices just because they’ve been nailed to a noticeboard?
Avowed also needs to deliver a modular ending in the vein of Fallout: New Vegas. New Vegas’ static ending slides explain the impact of your big, game-ending choice, but more notably, companion characters and major locations also get their own individual endings. The Outer Worlds adopts a similar approach, but the difference is that, instead of the latter’s generic voice-over, New Vegas’ endings are narrated by characters from the game.
It sounds like a minor distinction, but it’s gut-wrenching to hear former companion Rose of Sharon Cassidy mournfully relate how she “died as her caravan died – in an unmarked grave, another victim of the Mojave.” It helps you appreciate that even smaller actions have consequences. Yes, you can save before you make a choice and pick the one you like best – you big cheat – but if it’s been eight hours since you made that call, you’re just going to have to live with it.
That’s why the failure of that caravan company was such a shocker. I wasn’t given the chance to roll it back (nor should I have been); Fallout: New Vegas just dropped that bombshell on me. But if I’d really thought about it, I’d have realized that things weren’t necessarily going to end well.
Is Avowed going to be the fantasy Fallout: New Vegas I’m craving, a game where hearing every other decision gives me pause for thought? Where “hero” can be a dirty word, depending whose lips it leaves? Given Obsidian’s track record, I have high hopes for it. Avowed doesn’t need to kill Skyrim. It just needs to craft a world where things aren’t black and white and picking up a sword doesn’t give you a free pass.