Avowed Interview - Talking Companions, gameplay, and world with Obsidian's Carrie Patel and Gabe Paramo

During the Xbox Games Showcase 2024 event, Obsidian Entertainment showcased a new story trailer for the upcoming Avowed, as well as a gameplay deep dive episode of the official Xbox Podcast. Although we don't yet have a hard release date, Obsidian's newest RPG is slotted to release later this year.

After the new trailer and deep dive, RPG Site had a chance to sit with game director Carrie Patel and gameplay director Gabe Paramo to learn some insight about Avowed's world, gameplay, and characters.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

RPG Site: I've played several Obsidian games, such as The Outer Worlds, but I've never played Pillars of Eternity. You've said in the past that it's the same world, not a sequel, or anything like that. But for someone like me, is there anything I should know going into Avowed from a premise standpoint? How does it connect, and are you hoping that a game like this gets people interested in Pillars?

Carrie Patel: I assume that many of our players are going to come to Avowed with it being their first game set in the world of Eora. And we have intentionally designed and built it and structured our storytelling to welcome in new players. The thing I would tell players who are really curious about what they're going to find is that in world of Pillars of Eternity, the gods exist, souls are real, and they're reincarnated from one life to the next. In basically every Pillars game we've made, there's this interweaving of a very grounded political story about the fate of nations and the self-interest of different communities and how the world shapes itself. Along with that, there's a more esoteric metaphysical story that's usually about the history of the gods, the secrets they keep, the deeper mysteries of the world, and how those impact and are impacted by what happens in the physical world.

The player is always a character who was sort of a conduit for both. In Pillars & Deadfire, you were the Watcher; you could see souls, and you learned truths about the gods that nobody else had access to. In Avowed, you're a separate character. You're the envoy of Aedyr. So you are directly sent by the Emperor of Aedyr himself, but you also have a connection to something else deeper in the world that you'll get to know over the course of the game.

RPG Site: So where does it fit on a timeline? Or does it even matter? Is it after Pillars?

Carrie Patel: It takes place a few years after the events of Deadfire.

RPG Site: I want to talk about the larger structure of Avowed. I believe in the past, you've said it's "open zone", with size similar to to The Outer Worlds. But I'm also curious about the narrative flow. Is it one linear quest line with some side quests dotted here and there? Or is it more branching narrative paths depending on who you talk to, where you go, or what choices you make? Can you speak to that?

Carrie Patel: In terms of both structure and scope about is going to be broadly comparable to The Outer Worlds. As you've noted, that means an open zone structure where you have these different regions that you'll visit that each have kind of their own leg of the critical path, their own series of side quests, and their own set of local concerns that, reflect more broadly on the larger stories of the living lands. So, the critical path will take you through all of these regions, and you'll be making choices about both the overall arc of the story and individual quests as you move through them.

RPG Site: Do you go to the regions in a set order? Or do you ever have a choice where you can either go 'this way' or 'that way'?

Carrie Patel: The regions do unlock in a specific order, but you can backtrack for the most part, if you choose.

RPG Site: So talking about combat - what part of the game's first-person action combat are you most excited about or most proud of? Can you talk about how you designed the gameplay in Avowed?

Gabe Paramo: The team is really proud of our toolkit; we look at the mechanics like giving the player a toolkit of these holes that the player can fill these slots. So, we've got a dual-wielding system with weapons that are one-handed that allow you to work with your off-hand or your primary hand. We also have gear that only works in your off-hand like shields, and then just let the player mix and match these these tools. Additionally, when the player chooses the companion, they can slot and choose what companions they want to build the party that they want. We also have our talent trees where we let the player pick and choose which gear that they like, and then influence that through the passive and active abilities we have.

We let players slot and execute those components throughout the combat experience as they see fit. We also have a loadout system, which lets the players go between two sets of weapons, as well. Also, all the work we've done to make the combat feel visceral in the sense of hitting and effects and timing. Yeah ,I think it's gonna be really awesome, honestly. And I'm excited for players to try it.

RPG Site: Can the companions be controlled directly? If not, can you set their combat behaviors?

Gabe Paramo: We didn't really want the player to have to micromanage the companions, too much. So they do have their basic attacks throughout battles. The player can execute abilities that they can unlock as they level up and progress the companions.

RPG Site: You showed briefly in the recent podcast a third-person mode, the whole game is playable in third person?

Gabe Paramo: Yep!

RPG Site: Was that something that you were always intending to do? Or just something you decided on over time?

Gabe Paramo: Well, it's definitely something where it's not one of those things where we could just switch on in the last few months, or whatever. In the early development stages, we knew we wanted to make sure the first-person experience was good, and that the combat was good there, and that the gameplay was clear there. After that, then we had to go back and revisit some of these things in order to insert 3D animations into the combat mechanics. So we have this system where there's a timeline that allows you to have different slots. And one of those slots is that third-person slot, that then when the player switches to it, it uses those animations instead. The first-person mesh is made out just arms, essentially. And then we use the third person mesh to when you switch that mode, and where we hide the arms and we switch on to those other animations.

RPG Site: When creating your character, what are the primary options that you set in terms of class, weapon, race, or the like? And then when you progress through the game, what are the primary ways in which you build your character?

Gabe Paramo: So we're considered a classless game. So you don't commit to a class at the start of the game. We wanted to make sure the player was free to respec because a lot of players don't really know what they're committing to at the start of the game; at that point they just want to feel the game out. So, letting the player play with character-building throughout the experience and if they want to go back and start over and say, "Okay, I'm gonna commit to dual daggers and stealth now that I understand the mechanics more."

Essentially at the beginning, you are choosing your background — which is something you're committed to — but that influences and gives a little flavor to conversations. Then they're putting points into the six attributes: Might, Constitution, Dexterity, Perception, Intellect, and Resolve. Each one of those utilizes our gameplay mechanics that we've set up for Avowed in a little bit of a different way than in Pillars, since they don't have one-to-one the same exact systems. From there, as the player experiences the game, they will level up, get points for their trees, get points for their attributes, as well as get points for their companions.

RPG Site: Is there any sort of central hub or base that you can develop in any way?

Carrie Patel: So, as you go through the game — the party camp space that we showed off in the podcast — you'll have more companions added to that as you meet and recruit them. The vibe and structure of Avowed is you're taking this journey through the Living Lands, and you're working with what you can carry. We don't have a base building mechanic the way we did for, say, the keep in Pillars.

RPG Site:  Is there any part of Avowed that you are excited about, that you haven't been able to showcase much yet, or that people aren't talking about yet?

Carrie Patel: I'm really excited for players to discover certain pieces of content that I know we've put a lot of love and effort into. Well, there's one in particular I have in mind that nobody asks about, because nobody knows to ask about it yet. 

RPG Site: Do you mean, like, a quest line or a storyline?

Carrie Patel: Yes!

RPG Site: How did you approach writing the companions in Avowed compared to other games The Outer Worlds or Pillars? How do they intersect with the main story, do they have their own questlines, and are there any optional companions?

Carrie Patel: So the companions in Avowed — and this is a change from our previous games — they're integrated into the central story, meaning that players will meet and journey with them over the course of the game. So, because we're weaving them more tightly into the central story of Avowed, we've been able to invest a bit more in their character content — Gabe can certainly speak more to their party roles — but they all have different mechanical party roles, different sets of strengths, different abilities that will complement different play styles. Personality-wise, they are all quite different. As players might have seen in the podcast, you've got Yatzli, who's this very irreverent, sassy wizard. Then you've got Kai, who's sort of a chill fella. There's Marius who's — we haven't talked a lot about him yet — but he's a little more reserved, a little more cautious. Watching the way these characters bounce off of each other, is a lot of fun. We want to give the player kind of the experience of getting to meet someone new, getting to know someone who's whose story develops the more time you spend with them. Players who really, really like getting to know companions in RPGs like this will have a ton of content that they can dig into with these characters.

A lot of it is opt-in, so it's really up to players to, you know, when they're a party camp, stop by chat with them, get to know them more. We really wanted these to feel like your friends and allies who were sharing the journey with you. We wanted to integrate them more closely into the central story, and we wanted to make sure that whoever you've got on your party when you're exploring or questing, you're getting the experience of feeling like they're on the journey with you. They're commenting to you, they're bantering with the other companion, and just sharing the experience.

Gabe Paramo: From the gameplay side, it's a party, right? So, it's all about how you have your own strengths as a player, and you also have your weaknesses. If you're going down the path of wanting to be more self stealthy, that means you're not going to be as much of a fighter as say Kai is, and you're not going to be able to have these mechanics that draw aggro, like Kai does. So we wanted to say, okay, "Kai, you're that part of the party." Or same thing with Giatta, giving her the ability to be more of a healer and support; these are an extension of the player's abilities.

RPG Site: Do companion abilities also intersect with exploration and traversal around the world?

Gabe Paramo: Yeah, we have companion interactions is what we've been calling them. We have elemental interactions, which would be, like, brambles that you can burn, which is what we've shown. I've heard the term Metroidvania thrown around, but I wouldn't call it that, per se. They are a key to a lock, but we wanted to make sure that if the player didn't choose that companion, that we also provide the player with an additional tool or key to unlock that type of door. Other routes might be a little bit more difficult for players, meaning, hypothetically they're going to have to go to a merchant and purchase something like Magran's Fury first; that's going to be a little bit more of a challenge for them. Or they can just choose to have Kai in their party and then that gives players a little easier access to those types of doors.

RPG Site: Bouncing back to ...

Gabe Param: Oh sorry, Magran's Fury ... since you haven't played Pillars. Magran is a God and that is a throwable. Think like a Molotov cocktail, essentially.

RPG Site: Ha, I was thinking it was like a weapon of some sort.

Carrie Patel: You can also have an enchanted weapon. So yeah, that's the thing, as Gabe's saying, there are lots of options.

RPG Site: When looking at some of the deep dives you've done, when you're progressing through a quest, it seems like one of the things you've highlighted are multiple avenues to approach it, whether it's stealth or busting through or maybe a secret door .. is that something that you really wanted to emphasize?

Gabe Paramo: Yeah, but I would say it's not something where every single encounter in the game passes for every single mechanic, right? It's something where we did want to teach certain mechanics. And then when the player is presented with those options, they are aware of them, and if they want to take those more intentional routes, they can do so when they do see them.

RPG Site: You showed dialogue options in one of the deep dives, where some of the dialogue options had an icon that indicated a skill or a trait of some sort. Can you talk about dialogue choices, especially options that may only be available to you because of how you built your character?

Carrie Patel: Some of your dialogue options are going to be available based on whatever background you've chosen at character creation. So if you're a war hero, for instance, there are certain things you might be able to say that are convincing or compelling in certain situations. Other unique dialogue options are going to be based on the attributes that you're leveling up. So, if you have a really high Might or Resolve, you might be able to intimidate someone. If you have really high Perception, you might be able to notice something that can be persuasive to another character or provide a particular insight to you. Some of those checks are going to be harder, some of them are going to be easier. It's really just based on the context.

And then just as importantly, depending on what quests or content you've done in the past, certain choices you've made, those will also unlock other options for you at certain moments. So if you're, you're trying to get in good with a particular character, and you've helped out a buddy of theirs in the past, you can bring that up and that may be persuasive in the moment.

RPG Site: So are any of the dialogue options a dice roll in terms of, based on chance, it may work or it may not?

Carrie Patel: We don't have any dice rolls in the background for dialogue. Either you meet the threshold or you don't. But also, not every locked dialog option is always going to net you a better outcome, just blindly picking "Oh that one has an icon so it will turn out well." 

RPG Site: That's great, I really like hearing that. Ah, what is the release date?

Carrie Patel: 2024

RPG Site: I'm not sure if this is something you can say or not, but is there any plan for additional content in the future in terms of an expansion or DLC?

Carrie Patel: We're really focused on the base game right now.

RPG Site: Is there anything we haven't touched on yet that you wanted to bring up about Avowed?

Gabe Paramo: For me, we've shown so many things, and there are even so many more things to break down. I'm excited about that we've shown the Grimoire and the play-style fantasy that is more of the wizard vibe in our game. Grimoires are an offhand-only weapon; they allow you to execute a number of spells that the Grimoire holds on them. We've shown attributes, we've got gear stats that the player can upgrade and enchant. We have armor slots, clothing slots, ring slots, accessories, right? We've got all these mechanics that we could spend hours and hours talking about, and it's difficult to succinctly get into the details of them all. It's exciting for the player to be able to experience that and learn about them as they play through the game.

Carrie Patel: I'm really excited for players to get to discover the world. We've built a world that's very colorful, very strange, but still has a lot of very grounded elements. At this point, players have seen some pretty big chunks of two very different regions between Shatterscarp and Emerald Stair, which I think shows off just the breadth of the locations, the vibe, and the experiences that they're going to get across the game. I'm definitely excited to get to show more of the regions. They're all very beautiful, evocative, and distinct in their own way. And I think that makes the journey through the Living Lands memorable

Avowed is set to release for Xbox Series X|S and PC in 2024.