Surprise! Guild Wars 2's fourth expansion, called Secrets of the Obscure, will release on August 22. This will be the first in the MMO's new style of smaller, more frequent expansions, which is why it's releasing so soon after last year's End of Dragons.
I'll get more into the what and why of this expansion below. But first, here are the four biggest things you need to know about what ArenaNet is cooking for this release:
- Lore nerds: It's finally happening. Secrets of the Obscure is going to pay off one of the major mysteries still lingering from Guild Wars 1's release back in 2005. We're finally going to find out what's inside the Wizard's Tower floating above Kessex Hills.
- Buildcrafters: The Weaponmaster Training feature will give each profession the ability to freely equip the weapons previously tied to their elite specialisations.
- Loot fans: Secrets of the Obscure is adding a new Legendary armour set, this one earned entirely through open world PvE activities.
- Animal lovers: The Skyscale mount is going to be easier to earn, but will gain new functionality for those who have already completed the long and arduous quest chain.
With the dragon threat dealt with, Secrets of the Obscure is our first major taste at what's next for the game's story. "The adventure will begin with a climb through the Skywatch Archipelago, the first of two new maps being added to the game on release day," says ArenaNet's press release. "Hanging high in the sky above Tyria, these floating islands are under attack from the Kryptis, a demonic race of malevolent beings streaming through instabilities in the Mists and threatening the fragile peace of the world in the wake of the defeat of the elder dragons. What follows is an epic struggle into the Demon Realm, where the fate of the world rests in the hands of the player and their secretive new allies."
You'll note there the mention of two new maps. As announced earlier this year, Secrets of the Obscure is the first of Guild Wars 2's new style of expansion. These smaller releases will feature just two maps on release, with a third arriving as part of the free post-expansion update cycle. The test for this new style is going to be its consistency: old expansions and Living World episodes were infrequent and sporadic, often leaving the playerbase to wonder if the game was going to continue at all. Even if each new release offers less stuff, it will be a net positive if ArenaNet can keep up with a regular release and update cycle.
A new, floating hub
The Wizard's Tower itself is going to act as a new hub area to launch expansion activities, presumably including its two new Strike Missions. It also sounds like there'll be a new progression system tied to a new group called the Astral Ward. "Players will be able to join a band of treasure hunters and adventurers known as the Astral Ward to help protect the world, undertaking monster hunts and bounty contracts throughout the game to rank up and earn new rewards and abilities." A new currency, Astral Acclaim, can be earned for completing daily, weekly and seasonal achievements, and will let players buy armour, weapons, mount skins, gold, legendary crafting materials, and more.
In terms of features, it seems that the Heart of the Obscure is this expansion's version of End of Dragons' Jade Bot—a multipurpose tool that bundles together several disparate functions. "This important tool will serve as the player’s master key to explore the new expansion," explains the press release. "As they make progress in upgrading this mystical stone, they’ll earn the ability to open special doors and reward chests, create support items like leyline and updraft generators, and open and seal the rifts for the Astral Ward."
New masteries will also be added for the Skyscale mount. This is, hands-down, the most useful mount in the game, but previously was locked behind an absurdly long questline across Living World Season 4 maps. Acquiring the Skyscale will be easier in Secrets of the Obscure, but it will still reward players who have already earned it. You can see a breakdown of the new masteries below, as laid out in ArenaNet's blog post. And while the bonuses for owning both mastery tracks may initially seem slim, do not underestimate the usefulness of an improved Wall Launch—arguably the most impactful traversal tool in the Skyscale's kit.
|Tier||Effect||Bonus from both Mastery Tracks|
|1–Air Rescue 2.0||Grants Air Rescue||Air Rescue grants Bond of Vigor|
|2–Fireball||Grants an aerial flame attack while mounted on the skyscale||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3–Wall Spring 2.0||Grants Wall Launch||Upgrades Wall Launch to charge faster and launch farther|
|4–Wind Beneath Your Wings||Flying mounts can use updrafts||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5–Combat Launch||Gain the ability to mount your skyscale in combat||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6–Ley-Line||Acclimation||Flying mounts can use ley lines|
|7–Rising Spirits||Updrafts regenerate the skyscale’s flight meter||Row 6 - Cell 2|
Both in-combat mounting and updraft use will also be available to the Griffon mount. Also, in case you missed the delicious support combination here: The Skyscale will be able to use the updrafts that the Heart of the Obscure will let players manually create.
Elite specs are gone, but...
If there's one thing the community is most wary about when it comes to the new style of expansion, it's the end of elite specialisations. Previous expansions would give each profession (ie, class) a new elite spec, which took the form of new combat mechanics and a new weapon to equip. Instead, for Secrets of the Obscure, ArenaNet is divorcing weapons from their elite spec requirements entirely. "Each of the game’s nine professions will now gain the ability to equip the weapons previously reserved for their elite specialization, unlocking new gameplay and build options for players." Mechanists wielding the Scrapper's hammer? Sure, I'm game.
I initially assumed this would open up the possibility for future releases to offer new weapon options for each profession—or even new specialisations or combat mechanics—without undergoing the work it takes to create a full elite spec. And yes, in a post on Guild Wars 2's site, ArenaNet lists a new weapon proficiency for each profession. These should arrive in the second major update following Secrets of the Obscure—expected to be around six months after its launch.
- Guardian: Pistol (main and off hand)
- Revenant: Scepter (main hand)
- Warrior: Staff
- Engineer: Short bow
- Ranger: Mace (main and off hand)
- Thief: Axe (main hand)
- Elementalist: Pistol (main hand)
- Mesmer: Rifle
- Necromancer: Sword (main and off hand)
Two other notable new features are listed in the press release. Relics are a new equipment slot option that will house the variety of rune set bonuses that are currently applied by equipping six of the same rune type. Presumably this will make it easier to mix-and-match runes themselves, more finely tuning your stat bonuses. Finally, a new legendary armour set is arriving—this one earned entirely through open world activities. As someone who spent much of last year earning my raid set, this will be a nice change of pace—even if it'll still likely feature the same massive material cost and timegated requirements of other legendary equipment. Legendary armour is absurdly useful, so having a way to earn some without having to undertake raids, PvP or World vs World feels like a good move.
As a smaller expansion, Secrets of the Obscure will be available at a lower price than a traditional Guild Wars 2 release. But not a lot lower: It'll cost $25/£22 for the base version, with Deluxe and Ultimate variants offering a selection of cosmetics and gems.
Later this week, on June 29, ArenaNet will trial the new Weaponmaster Training feature in an open beta event—giving players a special character slot to try mixing-and-matching elite spec weapons.