Climbing over gates and through farms, traversing the Portuguese countryside, the Something Wicked Games team is on a pilgrimage. They finally arrive at their destination, the Castle of Tomar. Before them stands the ominous and monumental military construction that boasts a history spanning hundreds of years. The castle has seen more than they could ever know, and it is every bit as exciting as they had hoped it would be. No stopping here; the Something Wicked team ventures forth into the dark corners of the fortress. This is no ordinary trip, it’s an expedition in the name of RPGs – led by veterans of Bethesda and Obsidian.
It is in these ancient ruins that the idea of Wyrdsong was cemented. Set in the Middle Ages, it will focus on an alternate history of the Knights Templar. You may think of the Templars as the bad guys from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. But Wyrdsong is set to explore them in depths that we haven’t seen before, and I, for one, am very excited.
While historical accounts place the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem, an alternative history claims that Portugal was one of the order’s most significant bases in Europe. Rather than create its own world, Something Wicked Games is using all of the country’s dramatic landscapes, awe-inspiring castles, and diverse history. The country is a “blank slate”, CEO and founder Jeff Gardiner says. By rooting Wyrdsong in the familiar, the team can expand upon smaller details to create expansive and beautiful areas to explore.
The country has felt the influence of several civilizations, religions, and ethnicities. “It's a mixing pot of different cultures”, Gardiner says. “What fascinates me is how to make a game in that setting and to represent all those things in a positive way”.
When the devs embarked on their pilgrimage across Portugal, they were met by countless megalithic and immense structures, but the Castle of Tomar stood out among the rest. Not because of the broad walls that engulf the skyline, but because underneath its intricate architecture lies a secret.
Impenetrable except for a secret passageway that cuts through the mountain beneath the castle into its foundation. This fortification was never meant to protect the townsfolk living below. Instead, it may have been used by the Knights Templar to complete “their initiation rituals”, Gardiner says.
Some believed that the Templars incorporated mystical Sufi elements into their initiation rites, combining catholicism with Islam and being inspired by the ‘assassins’, Islamic warriors. Others thought that the Templars worshipped an older form of Christianity behind closed doors, one that the Catholic Church despised, Cathar Heresy. But no one knows what really happened within the walls of Tomar, maybe we will find out in Wyrdsong.
But there is more to Tomar than Templar initiations, the site sits across a ley line. "The Templars went to existing local populations, existing sacred sites and built their churches there," Gardiner says. "Now did they do so because they had some kind of mystical elements?" It's a question you may explore in the final version of Wyrdsong,
Gardiner and his team have shown nothing of Wyrdsong besides the atmospheric teaser above, and he’s keeping tight-lipped on specific details about how the game will play. For instance, while his time at Bethesda working on Fallout 4, Fallout 76, and Skyrim may suggest a first-person RPG, the team is also made up of ex-Obsidian developers, so there is form isometric RPGs, such as Pillars of Eternity and Tyranny, too. Gardiner also nods to games like Elden Ring as we talk, so perhaps it will be a third-person RPG. For now, we only know the inspiration, not the game it’s forming.
All we know for sure is that Something Wicked Games wants to make the most of its open world. With everything that Portugal offers, Wyrdsong will be full of wonderful possibilities. However, that’s not to say that more is better.
I find the maps in games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla become stuffed with markers, signposting every secret, taking away my role in discovering them. With so many ancient sites and ruins dotted across Portugal’s landscape, Wyrdsong runs the risk of being overcrowded with Templar mysteries. Gardiner is all too aware of the issue, saying, “often, I don't even get to the end of a game because I've already played 90 hours of sidequests.”
The team is looking to Elden Ring’s map for the solution – “That game didn’t do any of that crap,” Gardiner says. “You had no idea what you were getting into." That was the beauty of it. Sometimes you got your ass handed to you and sometimes you smashed your enemy into tiny, tiny pieces. But you were always surprised by the challenge that you were met with.
Wyrdsong isn’t going to be a game when all you are doing is “checking off tasks”, Gardiner says. He hopes that with the help of Portugal's magnificent sites and histories, the team can build a world that encapsulates the weird and engaging stories of the Knights Templar and their alternative histories.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.