Since then, Obsidian has formed strangely fond relations with fellow RPG company BioWare, to the point that its first two titles were sequels to BioWare games using modified versions of the originals' Aurora engine. This happened because by that point BioWare switched from producing licensed games based on established franchises (Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic) to their own original universes, and in the case of KOTOR, recommended Obsidian to LucasArts as an alternate developer for the sequel.
Obsidian's games have generally been fan favorites. They include deep and thought-provoking storylines on the level of the former Black Isle titles... and very buggy programming, usually requiring several patches to rectify (or in some cases, fan-created mods). Though most games are fairly bug-free with the final patch installed. This earned them the nickname "Bugsidian".
One thing to note about Obsidian is their business model. Obsidian is hired by publishers for fixed amounts of money, rather than being an internal studio or making a game then looking for a publisher to publish it. This results in Obsidian not bearing the financial cost or gain of the failure/success of any game they make beyond reputation or future deals. This mercenary model is responsible for their buggy reputation, as the release schedule or budget is not as extendable once the deal is made. In some instances, Obsidian had their QA budget cut by publishers. This came back to bite them in the ass with Fallout: New Vegas; their contract with Bethesda specified a tiered bonus based upon the game's Metacritic score. They missed the bonus by one point. They have since decided to get serious about QA work; in an interview with Kotaku, CEO Feargus Urquhart said, "We as a company got into a big room and we said, 'We are not gonna make buggy games anymore.'"
On August 22, 2012, Interplay revived the old Black Isle brand, but the announcement had little to no impact on Obsidian.
In October 2012, they greenlit Pillars of Eternity, a Kickstarted project that will be free of Executive Meddling (by publishers, at least). Released in early 2015, PoE became the best-rated game in the studio's history (rivaled only by Mask of the Betrayer), pleasing the fans and the critics alike.
On November 10, 2018, Xbox Game Studios announced that they had acquired Obsidian, alongside inXile Entertainment, making them both first-party developers for Windows and Xbox consoles, though Microsoft has stressed that they would like to keep the studio "unique" despite the acquisition.
Games developed by Obsidian:
- Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (2004)
- Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006)
- Mask of the Betrayer (2007)
- Storm of Zehir (2008)
- Alpha Protocol (2010)
- Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
- Dungeon Siege III (2011)
- South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
- Wasteland 2 (2014; in cooperation with inXile Entertainment)
- Pillars of Eternity (2015; Obsidian's first solo project, financed through Kickstarter; Paradox Interactive is the main distributor)
- Pathfinder Adventures (2016)
- Armored Warfare (original development until 2017)
- Tyranny (2016)
- Skyforge (2017, assistance)
- Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018)
- The Outer Worlds (2019)
- Grounded (2021)
- Pentiment (2022)
- Avowed (2024)
- The Outer Worlds 2 (TBA)
List of tropes persistent in Black Isle/Obsidian RPGs:
- Anti-Villain: Many of their villains, though not all of them, are portrayed sympathetically even as it's clearly laid out why they must be stopped. This includes Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Ammon Jerro in Neverwinter Nights 2, Akachi (posthumously) in Mask of the Betrayer, and Benny in Fallout: New Vegas.
- Author Avatar: Chris Avellone has admitted he often used Kreia to point out things that bugged him about the Star Wars universe. The same has been said for Ulysses of the Fallout setting.
- Author Tract: Their games penned by Avellone tend to have recurring themes that are strongly emphasized throughout their stories, including:
- There's no such thing as clear-cut good and evil. Even the most heinous sounding acts can be rationalized as Necessarily Evil, and even the most well intentioned of acts can have disastrous, unforeseen consequences. This theme is especially prevalent in Knights of the Old Republic II, which mercilessly deconstructs the archtypical Black-and-White Morality of the Star Wars franchise, and Neverwinter Nights 2, which reveals that the Eldritch Abomination Big Bad is a genuinely noble man who just wants to protect the empire he swore to serve, and whose powers have made it so he literally is unable to understand that said empire is long dead.
- Romances formed during times of war or other such crises are inherently unhealthy, dysfunctional, and more often than not end in pain. Examples include Neverwinter Nights 2, where the primary love interests are a borderline-Stalker with a Crush and a jaded, cynical Knight in Sour Armor.
- Things don't just magically get better once the Big Bad is defeated and all their evil plans have been thwarted. More often than not, the villains actions leave heavy scars upon the land and its people that, despite the heroes best efforts, will take years, if not decades, to fully heal, if they even heal at all. Knights of the Old Republic II, Alpha Protocol and Pillars of Eternity all make heavy use of this. New Vegas lets you murder the leaders of the two main factions, but the Battle for Hoover Dam will still happen at the end of the game.note
- Just because the protagonists are in the same party does not mean they have to get along. Each party member in an Obsidian game has their own specific beliefs, viewpoints and morals, and if one party member's beliefs clashes with another's, they will come to blows over it.
- Arc Words: Very noticeable in Chris Avellone's writing, with otherwise disparate characters repeating the same words and turns of phrase: "echo" and "wound" in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, "mask" (unsurprisingly) in Mask of the Betrayer, "hunger" in both, "shadows" throughout. His mouthpiece characters (such as Ravel, Kreia, Ulysses, and Durance) also tend to repeat themselves liberally, as a way emphasizing their themes (and the games') without directly calling them out, as the words chosen typically have multiple double meanings in context.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Several good ones, but the best is probably "What can change the nature of a man?" from Planescape: Torment, although "Who are you, that do not know your history?" is a close second.
- Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords more or less turns these into a method of attack, Socratically dismantling her foes (and ostensible allies) with surgical insight into their characters. The repeated phrase "Apathy is death," while not a question itself, highlights her underlying purpose: to pose questions that force the listener to choose, thus goading them into action.
- The Artifact: The "influence" system used in most of their games was part of the Exile's special bonding ability in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. The system still works without the story connection, though.
- Black Humor: The sheer crapsack-ness of most of their settings, combined with being Worlds of Snark, can only lead to this.
- The jewel in their crown is either Torment or New Vegas. Both allow the main character to joke — repeatedly — about being technically dead.
- Alpha Protocol allows you to befriend the thoroughly unhinged CIA op (or is he?) Stephen Heck, kinky Blood Knight SIE, and even coked-out-of-his-mind Russian drug lord Konstantin Brayko, each of whom provides their own unique brand of this. Snarky responses from Thorton tend to run along similar lines, with deader-than-deadpan deliveries of very dry Bond One-Liners — case in point: when you betray Leland in the Thorton, Inc. ending, Leland points out you've already given him the evidence...to which Thorton calmly replies that it wasn't the evidence, it was a mine. The look on Leland's face just before he explodes...Leland: ...What?
Thorton: Terrible last words.
- But Thou Must!: Alpha Protocol in particular was an attempt to subvert this. Obsidian has actually discussed this trope in a panel titled "But Thou Must" after the original trope namer, which got to the point where they made a drinking game of the word "Choice".
- The Chessmaster: Kreia, Parker, House, and the Voices of Nerat, to name but a few. Pillars of Eternity's Big Bad plays an exceptionally long game.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The entire management team of Czerka Corporation, Leland in Alpha Protocol and Alice McLafferty in Fallout: New Vegas.
- Darker and Edgier: It's practically the company name. Most of their games (except perhaps Alpha Protocol as it isn't a sequel to anything but still plays Spy Fiction as a pretty dark and gritty martini) can be considered this. This is most notable in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, which is not only much darker and grittier than its predecessor, but also more than the majority of Star Wars Legends (and that's saying something). One possible exception that is a sequel is Storm of Zehir, which is essentially a Lighter and Fluffier version of Neverwinter Nights 2.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Even Star Wars-based Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords has elements of this, alongside Light Is Not Good.
- Deadpan Snarker: One of Obsidian's favored dialogue models.
- Deconstruction: USS Obsidian, flagship of the Deconstructor Fleet. After making Darker and Edgier sequels to Knights of the Old Republic and Never Winter Nights, while being largely made up of the same devs who made Planescape: Torment and the first two Fallout games, you'd be forgiven for thinking the company was founded for this and this express purpose.
- Dialogue Tree: Used liberally, and in many games the choices you are given become a game in their own right.
- Evil Is Petty: Obsidian is often credited with averting or outright inverting this trope, whereas moral options in many RPGs play this straight. An exception is Neverwinter Nights 2, which is usually seen as playing this trope all too straight comparatively.
- Evil Old Folks: At a rate of at least one significant example per game, running the gamut from party members and mentor figures, to prominent villains like Alpha Protocol's Conrad Marburg or Tyranny's Graven Ashe, right up to the Big Bads of Knights of the Old Republic II and Pillars of Eternity.
- Game-Breaking Bug: Before Pillars of Eternity, this was pretty much universal in the initial release of a game, though in many cases these bugs are patched later on after development. Neverwinter Nights 2, arguably one of their worst games so far as this is concerned, is (as of the most recent patch) pretty stable.
- This was apparently a result of using 1990s-era QA on more modern and complicated projects, down to the point that Obsidian was using pen and paper bug tracking as late as the early 2010s.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, your ability to influence your companions and swing their in-universe Character Alignment is explained via an uncommon Force ability. In Neverwinter Nights 2, the reason monsters are constantly after you and the way in which you progress as a character is explained via a MacGuffin. In Mask of the Betrayer, a specific game mechanic plays an important role in the story. In Fallout: New Vegas, you have the option of playing the so-called "Hardcore Mode," which incorporates your need to eat, drink, and sleep into game mechanics as well as the fact that certain statistics can lead to other options in dialogue.
- Gray-and-Grey Morality: The exact grayness of a particular game's morality is variable, but generally Obsidian stays pretty close to this trope. Villains will usually have sympathetic or at least understandable motives and goals, heroes are frequently ruthless or given to vices or pettiness, and moral choices are sometimes pretty murky. This isn't to say that they don't present clear villains (because they do), but their character-centric writing means that these villains have understandable motivations and are often not entirely wrong.
- Guile Hero: Obsidian does its best to allow you to play one if you so choose. Alpha Protocol, its only standalone game, and Fallout: New Vegas (which is part of a franchise that it effectively started) play this the straightest, allowing you to complete near-perfect Pacifist Runs and solve almost every problem through stealth or diplomacy as well as force.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath:
- Steven Heck in Alpha Protocol, described by more than one reviewer as a human version of Max, is a sadistic torturer and a violent maniac who might have only become a secret agent through sheer delusion and audacity. He's also unwaveringly loyal if you choose to play along with his...antics.
- Comedic Sociopathy abounds in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout, but the Think Tank in Old World Blues stands out as the goofiest and among the most dangerous — not individually, but rather in the event that their madcap brand of superscience were to spread to the outside world. Yet despite the horrorshow that they've made of the Big Empty, they were trying to save pre-War America, and with the Courier's guidance, their scientific brilliance can in fact help the post-War world to finally move on.
- Horror Hunger: Darth Nihilus consumes all life he touches, and has devoured entire worlds. NWN2's Spirit Eater eats spirits, both living and dead. Cannibals of all sorts, mutant, ghoul, Ghost Person, and ordinary human alike abound in the Mojave Wasteland. Revenants, guls, and fampyrs in Pillars of Eternity hunger for the flesh of living kith, lest their minds rot away with their bodies. Wichts, also from Pillars, aren't undead, but as soulless Hollowborn children with the souls of animals grafted into them, they're feral and will attack and eat other humans.
- Joisey: Project New Jersey (AKA "Seven Dwarfs", a fantasy game using Unreal Engine 3) was canceled.
- Karma Meter: Present in every Obsidian game except for Alpha Protocol and Tyranny, but it's actually very rarely used in a way that matters. Instead, Obsidian seems to much prefer the various variations of its "influence" meter, a mechanic that is omnipresent in their games and codified by them and which often fulfils a similar purpose story-wise that the Karma Meter does in other RPGs. Rather than adhering to some arbitrary moral standard, your actions affect the opinions of those with whom you interact. Certainly some will prefer kindness to cruelty, but others may applaud cunning manipulation, direct action, brutally efficient logic, verbal sparring matches, thoughtfulness, entertaining lies, or rapier wit.
- Tellingly, of their three standalone (and therefore not burdened with a legacy Karma Meter from the setting or prior games in the series) games thus far, the only one with something like a karma meter is Pillars of Eternity — which effectively merges it with their influence system by having it be several separate meters that explicitly count what you have a reputation for.
- Light Is Not Good: Present in many of their games, but played surprisingly straight in The Sith Lords, which is set in the often black and white Star Wars universe.
- Malevolent Masked Men: The Author Appeal is strong with this one, with the Big Bads of KOTOR2, Mask Of the Betrayer, and Pillars of Eternity all wearing sinister masks.
- Used frequently but with less significance thanks to the practicality of wearing a gas mask in the postapocalyptic future in Fallout: New Vegas, with notable examples including the hideously mutated Ghost People of the abandoned Sierra Madre casino, and Ulysses when you finally track him down in the Lonesome Road DLC. There's also Legate Lanius's helmet, molded into a scowling bearded face, and White Legs war chief Salt-Upon-Wounds' feathered headdress. Inverted with the heroic (but still intimidating) NCR Rangers, as seen on the box art, and the brutal (but reformed) Joshua Graham, whose heavily burned face is wrapped in bandages.
- Tyranny gives us Tunon the Adjudicator, Archon of Justice, and the Voices of Nerat, Archon of Secrets, who are implied to not even have faces under their masks.
- Darth Nihilus, Tunon, Nerat, and the Spirit Eater's mask all appear on the box art for their respective games, an NCR ranger stands in for the power-armored soldiers of previous Fallouts, and Joshua Graham is the face of the Honest Hearts DLC. Even Torment: Tides of Numenera, as the Spiritual Successor to a game made by Black Isle, gets in on the act, with the First Castoff's elegant mask and disfigured face looming over the rest of the cast.
- Optional Sexual Encounter: Notable in that Fallout: New Vegas, the only Obsidian RPG besides Storm of Zehir that lacks romance, plays this trope straightest.
- Relationship Values: Obsidian's most significant contribution to RPG design is probably bringing these back into fashion.
- Romance Sidequest: Present in most Obsidian games, but the company as a whole appears uncomfortable with the trope and outright avert it in Fallout: New Vegas. JE Sawyer (lead designer of said game) in particular has been quoted as having a rather derisive opinion of the subject. Chris Avellone, too, has stated that he finds love stories uninteresting/difficult to write (especially if they're traditional and cheerful) and prefers other forms of interpersonal interaction.
- Despite all that, Sawyer and Avellone also said a romance was planned for New Vegas involving Cass where she and the Courier would get hammered and wake up in Vegas married by The King, but it was scrapped due to time.
- Screwed by the Network: The company has been on the receiving end of this quite a few times.
- When developing Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, LucasArts told them that they were going to delay the release until a bit into 2005 (Some speculate LucasArts were hoping to cash in on the renewed interest in the franchise thanks to Revenge of the Sith). Obsidian decided to use the extra time to expand on the game, before LucasArts suddenly decided to revert back to the original Christmas 2004 release date. Since the delay at this point had been a spoken agreement and not a signed contract yet, Obsidian had no choice but to rush the game out of the gate, meaning that several quests and mechanics, including much of the ending sequence, were left incomplete or broken. And when Obsidian offered to put out a free patch fixing most of these issues, LucasArts denied them permission to do it, leaving the fans to try and pick up the pieces with mods. The point may have been academic; the game sold most of its copies on the Xbox and wasn't enabled for Xbox Live, meaning it couldn't be patched.
- When Alpha Protocol was nearing completion, SEGA said they weren't too happy with the current state of the game, and announced they would push the release date back a couple of months. Obsidian hoped that this would leave them with more time to give the game some much-needed polish, the logical thing to assume since the game was delayed anyway, but when they appealed to SEGA for more development time in the delay period, Sega flat out refused to greenlight it.
- During the development of Neverwinter Nights 2, Atari demanded that the game have a Christmas release, forcing Obsidian to rush to a finish, cutting out a lot of characterization for your party members and two romance arcs in the process. The worst part, though, was that they hadn't finished working all the kinks out, so when the game was released it was horribly buggy and hindered by bad gameplay. Later patches fixed that problem, but the fandom was left seething for a long time.
- And, of course, there's the infamous "New Vegas got an 84 on Metacritic, so no bonuses for you" incident, which almost killed Obsidian outright and actually led to a lot of accusations of skulduggery on Bethesda's part from the fanbase. Notably, quite a few reviews took a couple points off the game's score because of bugs, and Bethesda was responsible for the QA for the game; meaning if Bethesda had done their job properly, Obsidian wouldn't have been tossed into dire financial straits. Some of the more malicious tongues claims that Bethesda did a bad job on purpose to avoid having to pay Obsidian a bonus, but Obsidian themselves has denied this to be the case, and most people point to Hanlon's Razor, noting that Bethesda's QA work has always been infamously poor.
- South Park: The Stick of Truth is an odd case: it got screwed by the "network" imploding like a black hole. THQ went under completely and the project had to be picked up by an entirely new publisher (Funnily enough, by a company whose logo looks like an imploding black hole.) before it got out the door. Frankly, it's impressive the game got out the door at all, considering.
- Armored Warfare ran into it as during their time on it, it looked to be the superior tank game until the publisher decided it'd be better to replace the developers and go for a low end World of Tanks knockoff. Naturally this caused the game's esteem to plummet.
- All this is what eventually spurred the development of Pillars of Eternity, a property owned and produced by Obsidian and with all profits going straight back to them. It's given them a much more stable financial base from which to produce their licensed efforts.
- Sincerest Form of Flattery: When the Pentiment project, a Detective RPG, was announced to be in development, it was fully admitted that the game would be heavily influenced by Disco Elysium.
- Shellshocked Veteran: Past wars and past sins feature prominently in many characters' backgrounds in almost all of their RPGs, and a great deal of time and text is used to explore the cost of those wars and how their effects linger on the soldiers and their loved ones and communities long after the war is over.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty much all their games lean towards or are knee-deep in the latter. Although, some of them (especially Fallout: New Vegas) have a speck of optimism to them.
- Sliding Scale Of Linearity Versus Openness: All over the map, although there's been a general trend over time towards the latter. Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Mask of the Betrayer, and Alpha Protocol are Type IV, Neverwinter Nights 2 is somewhere between Type III and Type IV, and both Storm of Zehir and Fallout: New Vegas are between Type V and Type VI, leaning toward the latter.
- Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Atton in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Sand in Neverwinter Nights 2, and potentially you in any of their games.
- Talking the Monster to Death: An option in most of their games.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: If you have a party in any Obsidian game, they are very unlikely to get along. Not in a harmless, sibling-ish bickering way, either. They will genuinely despise each other - manipulating, tormenting, injuring, and murdering rivals if they can get away with it. This is downplayed in later games, such as the Pillars of Eternity series or The Outer World, where while the party might bicker there's generally a much better sense of camaraderie overall (or more specifically, there's just one particularly frustrating asshole).
- What Could Have Been:
- A sequel to Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords that would have continued directly after the ending of the previous game was in pre-production at one point but unfortunately never got off the ground.
- Aliens: Crucible was an Alien RPG being developed by Obsidian Entertainment. The game was cancelled in 2010 when the publisher, Sega, preferred the release of the game Aliens: Colonial Marines instead.
- Obsidian considered making a Fallout game set in the former Los Angeles area, the Boneyard, as Fallout: New Vegas 2, or Fallout: Los Angeles.
- Futureblight was going to be a Fallout-style RPG running on the Neverwinter Nights engine, that could have been published by Take-Two Interactive.
- Dwarves was going to be a PS3 and Xbox 360 third-person action game and prequel to Snow White Andthe Seven Dwarfs, that could have been published by Disney Interactive Studios.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Continuing their traditions from their Black Isle days, Obsidian likes doing a closing narration detailing what the choices you made during the game eventually entail for your companions and locations you visited on your journeys.