There isn’t a single Bethesda game since Morrowind that I haven’t sunk dozens, if not hundreds, of hours into. That’s a pretty common theme among gamers — the moment the studio releases a new title, vacations days are planned, schedules are cleared, and we lose ourselves in the sprawling worlds filled with detailed backstories, conflicting factions, an unnecessarily large number of collectible items, and the occasional head-scratching bug that’s somehow easier to forgive than you’d think it would be.
Bethesda just makes a certain type of RPG that’s instantly identifiable and strikes a chord with players that’s hard to define. While there are plenty of great (and arguably superior) open-world RPGs out there, there’s no company that really does things like Bethesda.
Well, except for Obsidian Entertainment. Obsidian seems dead set on doing all those things Bethesda does and not really bothering to hide it.
During Thursday’s Xbox Games Showcase, Obsidian Entertainment announced that it’s working on the first-person sword and sorcery RPG, Avowed. It takes place in the same world as the company’s Pillars of Eternity series, but upon hearing the announcement, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the universe contains any scrolls, particularly of the elder sort.
That might not be a fair assessment, seeing as we know next to nothing about Avowed besides what little can be gleaned from its short reveal. But any first-person RPG will draw some comparisons to the long-running Bethesda series, and if the game happens to be made by Obsidian, it’s hard to do anything but assume that it will take significant inspiration from the beloved Elder Scrolls titles.
Ever since Obsidian released Fallout: New Vegas back in 2010, fans have linked the studio with Bethesda, which owns the Fallout franchise. It’s a reputation that isn’t entirely fair, since up until that point most of Obsidian’s catalogue had consisted of follow-ups to BioWare titles, including Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and an aborted attempt to create Baldur’s Gate III. But then Obsidian released The Outer Worlds, which borrowed the Fallout series’s role-playing systems and satirical retro-futuristic style. It became clear that Obsidian has taken quite a liking to Bethesda’s specific brand of open-world RPG.
That’s not just idle speculation, either. Obsidian devs openly welcomed the comparisons to Fallout in press interviews — which isn’t surprising, because some of those devs have been part of the Fallout series since before Bethesda even touched the franchise. This connection to pre-Bethesda Fallout was, of course, seen in The Outer Worlds’ emphasis on player choice and dialogue options — something that was more than welcome after Fallout 4 pushed those elements to the wayside.
But now that Obsidian is working on Avowed, it feels like the company’s doing more than writing love letters to games of the past. Rather, it feels like the studio is wearing Bethesda’s clothes and trying to take over its life, like Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
That’s not a complaint. Somebody’s gotta be Bethesda, and Bethesda certainly hasn’t bothered to take up that role lately.
Bethesda’s most-recent single-player RPG is Fallout 4, which came out half a decade ago. Skyrim was released all the way back in 2011. The only information we have about the upcoming sixth chapter in the Elder Scrolls series is a video of some sprawling landscapes paired with some epic music. Its space RPG Starfield, which is apparently further along in development, also has little more than a content-free trailer available to the public eye.
Sure, the studio released the multiplayer Fallout 76 in 2018, but that hardly counts as a Fallout game. On release, it didn’t even have NPCs, and you can be sure the previous games in the series weren’t loved for their combat and crafting systems. The game was subject to poor reviews and less-than-stellar sales numbers. The Outer Worlds, meanwhile, was much better received by critics and fans alike. It’s notable that Bethesda has been quiet about Fallout 76‘s total sales, while publisher Take-Two applauded that The Outer Worlds had exceeded expectations and had sold over 2 million copies as of this past February.
With that in mind, I certainly can’t blame Obsidian for its apparent desire to take up Bethesda’s abandoned mantle. It’s proven it’s more than capable of filling the void left by the prolonged absence of single-player Fallout titles, and I would not be surprised if Avowed proves that it’s just as capable of filling in for The Elder Scrolls.
Still, it feels weird to see Obsidian cosplaying as Bethesda, no matter how well it wears the suit.