It has been a weird time to be a Guild Wars 2 fan, with a lot of ups and downs lately. End of Dragons was, in my opinion, the best content ArenaNet has ever produced, but it was followed up by a lackluster year, with very little to do aside from the rereleases of Season 1 and the new Gyala Delve meta map, the latter of which turned out to be kind of a dud (with an even more disappointing story).
Then we got the news about Secrets of the Obscure, a new expansion with less content but promising a new mini-expansion yearly. The reaction was mixed, with many players excited for more frequent updates and others (including me) voicing some concerns.
MassivelyOP was recently invited on a guided tour of the expansion’s two new zones led by the developers, so let’s share what we saw.
Secrets of the Obscure comes with two new zones and a new hub (think Arborstone). First we were shown Skywatch Archipelago. It is a series of sky islands (very trendy this year) that are actually fractals of the mists. You will visit islands lifted from familiar locales such as New Kaineng, the Crystal Desert, and Maguuma Jungle, but in true mist fractal fashion, they are versions of those locations from other times or alternative realities, such as an un-destroyed Rata Novus. And it’s all stitched together in a very whimsical way, with absolutely no regard for the laws of gravity.
I’ve seen a lot of grousing about this zone since it was previewed; some players have claimed that it is a lazy copy/paste of existing content. While that is somewhat true, especially when it comes to mobs (did we really need to bring back the pocket raptors?), I think it’s unfair to pretend that this took no effort. This is not the same thing as Champions, where the content took place in instanced copies of existing zones, with some fire and destroyers slapped in. These are recognizable locations, but very different versions of them, arranged, not stitched together on a flat plane but laid out on a series of self-contained floating islands.
I share the concerns that this expansion was rushed and that a yearly cadence will be unsustainable without sacrificing quality, but I’ve come to believe that if you actually play this map and give it a fair chance, it will not be the tell-tale sign of the game’s crumbling infrastructure and impending demise that doomsayers seem to think it is.
The other zone is Amnytas, a massive, city-sized arcane library and museum built by the wizard’s court. The architecture of this zone is gorgeous, with buildings sporting beautiful gold and marble columns and spires, gracefully reaching into the sky, with idyllic greenery throughout. It is divided into six bastions, from the bastion of the natural, which is all about nature and healing, to the bastion of strife, where knowledge of various destructive magics are held.
The fact that it is basically a massive library doesn’t mean it’s quiet; Amnytas is currently besieged by the Kryptis, a faction of demons from the mists (demons, also very trendy this year) emboldened to plunder Tyria now that the elder dragons are gone, all in an effort to try to take its collection of secrets back with them to the mists.
We were shown some of the meta event for this zone, and while we were asked not to share spoilers, I can say the scale of it is quite impressive. It makes nice use of the new skyscale mastery mechanics debuted in this expansion, such as the midair fireball attack and mounted ley line gliding.
Finally, connected to Amnytas is the Wizard’s Tower, the new hub for this expansion. This is where you will go to craft, trade, and launch this expansion’s two strike missions. Yes, as has been pointed out by many, it’s basically GW2’s answer to Dalaran. We have been asked not to share too many details of what can be found there – again, for fear of spoilers – but there are a lot of fun Easter eggs to uncover and interesting characters to bump in to. And if jumping puzzles are your thing, you will want to do some poking around in this zone!
One of the main focuses of our preview was rift hunting. When describing this new endgame open world PvE activity, ArenaNet designer Kirk Williford said, “We wanted folks to have content on demand, whenever they want, to play with their buddies or to play solo, with the press of a button.” While there is no shortage of scaling open world content in Guild Wars 2 – indeed, that is where this game really shines – sometimes it is nice to have some direction when you log in with your friends with no particular goal in mind. Rift hunting can be done in any zone, not just the new ones, but players will need to have purchased Secrets of the Obscure to participate.
The rift hunt begins when one player uses a Kryptis motivation item, which come in multiple tiers and can be crafted or bought from other players. The more players who activate a Kryptis motivation, the better the rewards will be. The higher the tier, the higher the difficulty, and again, the better the rewards. Tier 1 rifts can be easily soloed, but higher tiers will require a group.
Once a rift is activated, members of your group can use the Heart of the Obscure, a new mastery slot skill (where skiffs, fishing rods, and jade bot waypoints reside now), to get a visual indicator of the relative direction the rift is in. I know Guild Wars 2 has had a rocky history with directional indicators – there has never been any consistency across different content, and often they end up being very difficult to follow, especially if your quarry is below you and the indicator ends up shooting straight into the floor – but this one is really good, with a bunch of particles flying all around you in a cone shape every time you activate it, heading toward the rift.
As far as I could tell, there is no indication of the distance to the rift – that’s part of the challenge, I guess – so party members will want to spread out across the map to speed up triangulation. Once your party tracks down a rift, the rest is pretty standard Guild Wars 2 open world event stuff: kill several waves of Kryptis within a time limit, then a boss will spawn. Once you down that boss, you will use your Heart of the Obscure to close the rift and get some loot. Of course, other players can happen by your rift and help you close it, so be on the lookout for rift events throughout the world even if you aren’t actively hunting them.
The bosses failed to spawn in our preview despite trying two different rifts, which is somewhat concerning so near to the launch, so I really can’t give you any idea of how interesting these fights may or may not be. The devs assured us that this was an in-development build, so cross your fingers that they have that issue nailed down by launch.
ArenaNet’s devs were also eager to point out that there is no cooldown on rifts, so your group is free to farm them as fast as they can find them for as long as you like.
So there are tons of activities in this and every other MMO that involve hunting and killing baddies, but what about the rewards? For one, all rifts will reward essence, which can be combined with other crafting mats to make Kryptis motivations. Essences, just like rifts, are tiered, and each rift will drop the essence required to hunt a progressively higher tier of rift. It sounds like the rewards for lower-tier rifts are pretty standard fare, but higher-tier rifts have a number of unique rewards, including minis and weapons with unique skins. Essences will also be involved in the new non-raiding legendary armor crafting, though that won’t be in at the expansion’s launch, so you may want to bank those up if you are looking to chase that stat-changeable, account-wide set.
Speaking of rewards, we were also shown a little demo of the new wizard’s vault system. Essentially SOTO’s replacement for zone dailies, the wizard’s vault will task players with daily, weekly, and “special” objectives that reward astral acclaims. There are PvE, PvP, and WvW objectives on offer, so players can pick and choose which content they like best and still work toward these rewards. Better yet, if you just don’t like one of those content types, you are able to opt out of them, so the system will not assign objectives of that type.
Astral acclaims can be exchanged at the wizard’s vault for various unique goods, including weapon skins, emotes, and mount skins, like the Enchanted Owl griffon skin. The wizard’s vault’s offerings will change periodically with content releases, but the presenters were quick to quell our FOMO: As new rewards come out, older rewards will filter down to the legacy reward tab, similar to the black lion statuette vendor.
I went into this preview with mixed feelings and came out… still feeling mixed. On the one hand, the number of bugs we encountered was concerning, especially given the fact that this game doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to squashing bugs that have been there since the content’s launch; the New Kaineng meta still bugs out and blocks progress in similar ways to what we saw with rifts, and don’t even get me started on the Icebrood Saga strike missions (I think I’ve had to reset Whisper of Jormag more times over bugs than wipes).
That said, it seems as if the content is overall solid. The new skyscale abilities are fun to play with and as intuitive as you can be with a mount flying in three dimensions. Rift hunting seems to be a nice activity to do when you just feel like mindlessly farming. And the new daily system seems as if it’s actually worthwhile.
I wasn’t able to get in and see any of the story content, so the quality and quantity of the narrative is still a big question mark for me. And of course, there is a lot riding on patches coming later in the cycle, such as the new open world legendary armor acquisition method, new weapons for each class, and legendary relics.
All things considered, I am excited to play Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure with all of you when it launches next week, August 22nd!