There were just 540 days, or a year and a half, between the release of End of Dragons and Secrets of the Obscure – the two most recent expansions for Guild Wars 2. A complete change from the past, when players had to wait several years for new expansions. But to compensate there was “Living World”, mini-addons so to speak, divided into episodes and seasons. They were free when released, but had to be paid for later if you “missed out”. Now it’s over – more frequent smaller extensions with free post-launch updates. Secrets of the Obscure is the first content pack based on this system. Hence, we first wanted to wait and see what a post-launch update would bring in this new era.
“Lifting the Veil” on November 7, 2023 was the starting signal for us to review SotO. This was an important concern for us for a long time, because the new expansion represents a new beginning, not just in terms of the payment model. The game’s story and world also leave behind ten years of dragon hunting.
From dragons to demons
What is particularly interesting for lovers of lore and history is that we actually leave familiar kingdoms behind: the new areas of SotO are located far from all known points on the map and are located at high heights, below the atmosphere of Tyria. There reside Astral Watch and its avid rift hunters, both part of a mysterious community that has long protected the game world from demonic threats, more specifically the “Cryptis”.
In contrast to the more isolated demonic monsters of the past, the Cryptis form an organized empire led by the so-called Midnight King Eparch. The cruel tyrant has dark plans and wants to finally tear down the veil between this world and the dream world of demons. Of course, any means is acceptable, so we and all members of the Astral Watch have to deal with mental attacks again and again, while real enigmatic monstrosities pose painfully real threats.
The war above the clouds against bloodthirsty nightmares is a welcome change from the magitech talent of recent years: no more Asura shenanigans, charr machines, and jade technology! Back to magic circles, arcane tools and all kinds of mystical magical arts. Finally, the Astral Watch is also led by the Court of Sorcerers – powerful individuals who wield magic and are sworn to protect Tyria. Its members are all exciting characters. A former norn shaman of the spiritual worm. An ancient Jotun from the time just after the fall of his people. A stone-skinned dwarf from an alternate reality. And we even have a damn Mursaat as our ally. So Lazarus was not the last!
Each member of the court, but also their subordinates, are fantastic insights into a wide variety of stories and people, which delight not only GW2 fans, but GW1 fans as well. Finally, the Wizard’s Tower, the legendary location of Kryta, is the new “capital” of the expansion.
As a former “commander” of the pact, we are even a celebrity there – the members of Astral Surveillance followed our ten years of fighting against dragons with the greatest enthusiasm, which is the typical “New expansion, let’s hunt boars” feeling of MMO genre prevented. The story also directly explains why Astral Watch just watched the world almost go to hell and we had to save it. Short version: While we were dealing with this world, the magical guardians were also busy – the fact that The Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik destroying the mist world was of no use to the mages above the clouds.Speaking of which, what did we find there?
How is the new map design?
The zones are very different from other areas in GW2 – literally. After all, the Skywatch archipelago is all about floating fractals, while Amnytas is a golden city made up of individual islands at towering heights.
When it comes to the archipelago in particular, you might initially think it’s just lazy recycling: there’s a Shiverpeak area, the Maguuma jungle, Kryta buildings, desert segments, and even part of the Jade Tech Metropolis of Cantha. But do not worry! These corners of the map are structured refreshingly enough to make visits worthwhile. Not only because of the lucrative events, but also because of the exciting stories that these areas tell. What if the utopian city of Rata Novus had never fallen? What if Balthazar, god of war, had subjugated Elona? What if the dwarves hadn’t had to give up their existence as a species in the war against the destroyers?
The whole thing is particularly lively thanks to the vertical structure: these maps are made simply for griffins and sky scales. So we rush through the air at the speed of light, chase events and master one task after another in the archipelago, just like in Amnytas. New skills help us a lot.
The scale of the sky reigns above the clouds
Among other things, SotO finally brings with it universal mastery, with which all players have access to the scale of the sky. The flying mount was previously firmly intertwined with the living world – so it was not unlocked for all players and was in no way taken into account in the map design. With Skyscale as an expansion feature, the new Skywatch zones Archipelago, Amnytas, and Nayos (post-launch map) are structured in such a way that the mount is a given. Especially since players are also given temporary access to the pangolin before it activates. By the way, if you already have the kite, mastering it will unlock great extra bonuses that make flying even more luxurious.
There are new Skyscale skills for beginners and experienced pilots. For example, learn how to use Heart of Thorns updrafts and ley lines with Skyscale and Griffin. Or shoot fireballs with which you can specifically attack new flying and ground opponents. Since the Nayos area has been opened, his Skyscale can even do siege damage. This was previously reserved for the turtle from End of Dragons. But besides the strengthened Skyscale, the second important domain is clearly the Heart of the Obscure.