What does it mean to have a fresh start? This is the question at the heart of Guild Wars 2’s upcoming expansion Secrets of the Obscure, due for imminent release on August 22.
The 10-year-long saga that precedes Secrets of the Obscure is a tough act to follow, but Narrative Director Bobby Stein and Narrative Lead Indigo Boock are committed to stepping up to the challenge.
Speaking with the two writers, it’s clear that the narrative team intends to use the end of Guild Wars 2’s Dragon Cycle as a chance for a “direct pivot” into new storytelling territory. In the tradition of the best RPGs, Guild Wars 2 has always placed a premium on storytelling, but Secrets of the Obscure aims to take things further by drawing inspiration from fresh sources.
“This is what happens when you put a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons nerds in a room,” said Boock. “We’re gonna do demons and wizards, and it's gonna be very over the top, but still feel appropriate to the game’s thesis statement of moving on and finding our footing in a post-dragon world.”
Secrets of the Obscure is built around a central “thesis statement”, the expansion’s plotlines are calibrated to convey a sense of “moving forward”. Having rejected both the gods and the apocalyptically dangerous Elder Dragons from the previous arc, the world of Guild Wars 2 is “very much in a position where it needs to find its own next steps.”
“This is kind of a metaphor for us as a studio”, elaborates Boock, “because we also get to figure out what our [own] footing is and who we are in a post-dragons world.”
The lands between
Neither Boock nor Stein were coy about looking for new sources of inspiration when writing Secrets of the Obscure.
For Stein, an “additional layer” of storytelling was necessary to do justice to the “very rich” lore. “For the people who really care about that stuff, we like to seed it into the world, whether it's journals or side conversations.”
Boock elaborated on this point, emphasizing how FromSoftware’s soulsborne titles helped inspire this approach. “There’s a lot more exploration that we can lean into, and that Dark Souls boss kind of storytelling, about how much we can tell through visuals… was really important to us”. Stein echoed this sentiment, emphasizing how the team also looked to Dark Souls and Elden Ring when attempting to weave the “rich tapestry of the world.”
Elden Ring’s environmental storytelling is notoriously detailed, leaving nuggets of exposition in the world for players to pick up on at their own pace. It’s a technique Stein admires: “Not everyone is going to play the game the same way… our job as narrative designers is to [not only] put in enough so that people feel invested, but also making sure that there’s a bit of flexibility in how people experience the story.”
“The beauty of that style is that it forces you to be economical”, continued Stein, “we definitely have our moments where things are alien and strange, and you have to go and seek the answers that you’re looking for. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be a very Guild Wars type of story… more like a play or a TV show, but we’re [still] trying to pull the tone to be a bit more serious and a bit darker.”
Boock was keen to add that Secrets of the Obscure is also “inspired heavily by script writing and teleplays'', drawing a distinction between “character-driven drama” and “history-driven drama.” Both writers have “really tried to hit” a “balance” between these two poles, using the visual storytelling techniques of Elden Ring and the more character-driven beats of the likes of fantasy staples like Dungeons & Dragons to “make sure that players feel invested”.
Wizards and warlords
All of this helps reinforce Boock’s goal of bringing a “much more mature voice” to Secrets of the Obscure. “It feels like a really good evolution for the game… we still have our light moments of levity… but we also lean very much into a serious tone where we’re talking about ancient beings and ancient races… it’s just a really interesting kind of progression of the story.”
When it comes to the campaign story itself, “We wanted to rip off the tonal band-aid to signify that we’re going to be having a change of pace,” said Boock. However, both writers are committed to having this tonal shift for Guild Wars 2 be more than just superficial. The new expansion is all about exploring “deeper mysteries that we’ve never interacted with before”.
To this end, and in the interest of making the new story arc more newbie-friendly, Boock explained that “we introduce a mostly new cast to propel [the mysteries] forward and to keep [the story] very interesting, while also referencing everywhere that we’ve been historically.”
The new story arc itself centers around the disappearance of a mysterious wizard’s tower, which has long been floating in the sky above one of Guild Wars 2’s zones. Players have long wondered what the significance of this tower might be. So intriguing is this tower that it “managed to squeeze its way into every single pitch that we had for the expansion”, said Boock.
“The wizard’s tower specifically is something that has excited the [writing] team for a long time… and one of the ways that we could demonstrate the next steps for Guild Wars 2 was really going back to one of the things that makes everybody really excited.”
This choice of narrative focal point gave Boock and the team a chance to “be a little bit more explosive and to really make a statement following the [end of the Dragon Cycle]; doing something big to promise our players that we’re not slowing down.”
It’s in this spirit that Boock set out to channel a “new tone of darker fantasy and higher fantasy - of something that’s very lore centric and character-centric as well, because that’s usually how some of the best on-the-face stories are told.”
From a narrative perspective, Secrets of the Obscure is a highly ambitious project, attempting to modernize a title that’s impressively long in the tooth. Though Boock and Stein have had their work cut out for them, it looks like the beloved MMO’s next big story arc could well be the best yet.
If you're looking for alternative games to sink into before the newest Guild Wars 2 expansion releases, it's worth checking out our list of best PC games, or if you're more console oriented, it might be worth checking out the best Xbox Series X games, or the best PS5 games to pass the time.
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.