Secrets of the Obscure: Looking Back and Forward

by The Guild Wars 2 Team on May 28, 2024

Hey, Guild Wars community,

Josh Davis here, Game Director for Guild Wars 2®. Last week’s content update was a significant milestone for us—both technically and symbolically. It marked the final major release for Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure™(SotO), our first foray into the annual expansion model first announced in early 2023.

As we conclude one chapter with the final content update of SotO, we are eagerly preparing to unveil the details of our next expansion. Before we all get swept up by next week’s news of what’s coming for Guild Wars 2, I want to take a moment to reflect on the development of SotO and some of the high-level learnings that we’ve taken forward with us into our fifth expansion. You won’t learn about the specific features, setting, or story of our next expansion in this blog post (that’s for next week), but you’ll have a better understanding of how we’re approaching its development.

The Key Art for the SotO expansion


A quick history refresher. A little over a year and a half ago, we announced that we we’d be transitioning from the long-standing Living World model to smaller, more frequent (annual) expansion releases. This was a significant shift, but the new direction was born out of an examination of the pain points experienced by our players and our developers. The reasons we laid out for this change, and what we hoped to achieve by it, were simple but deeply important:

  • Deliver content updates in a more consistent and timely manner.
  • Provide better support for the systems and game modes that make up the Guild Wars 2 experience.
  • Enable ArenaNet employees to enjoy a better work-life balance.

Now that we’ve completed a full expansion release cycle, I can confidently say that we’ve made significant strides toward these goals. But as with all things, there’s room for improvement—both in terms of the content we deliver and the processes through which we deliver it. For today, I’m going to focus on some of what we’ve learned on the content side of things.

The Key Art for the Through the Veil update


The conclusion of the Elder Dragon saga in Guild Wars 2: End of Dragons® presented us with a unique opportunity to delve into a different kind of storytelling. We aimed to focus on deeper narratives grounded in the characters and circumstances around the player character. However, with SotO our ambition led us to take on a broader scope than was feasible. We introduced a lot of new characters, and the plot was too complex for what can be reasonably handled within an annual expansion. This left some character interactions feeling rushed and story threads unexplored. More isn’t always better.

We learned a lot from this experience and have a much greater understanding of story scale within our new release structure. For our next expansion, we’re going to tell a more grounded story set in a new region of Tyria, with more of a focus on local threats and the global conversation around those threats. Tyria, despite all its challenges, has continued to stir. While we leave Nayos and the Kryptis to enjoy their newfound freedom, the story will pick up on some threads started in Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure—continuing with the Astral Ward arc, their moral ambiguity, and their relationship to Tyria.

The Key Art for the Realm of Dreams update

Map Design

In SotO, we delivered three new open-world maps. The first two, Amnytas and Skywatch Archipelago, came with the expansion’s launch in August 2023. The third map, Inner Nayos, was released with the first quarterly update in November 2023 and was then expanded on in our second and third quarterly updates with new playable space and event content.

After extensive adventuring in Inner Nayos in recent months, it’s clear that using a single map as the main focal point for three releases is not ideal from a player or developer standpoint. Our decision to do so originally stemmed from production constraints and overlapping development timelines between expansions, but we’ve since identified some ways to mitigate those issues—both in terms of release structure and process improvements.

For our next expansion, our first two maps will be released at the expansion’s launch just as they did in SotO. However, the final map will arrive in the second quarterly update and be expanded upon in the third—meaning it will be expanded on for two total releases like Bjora Marches and Drizzlewood Coast. Not only does this give our team a bit more time to develop the third map, it also means that the story during the next expansion cycle will better leverage all three maps and take you back to familiar areas from your past adventures. While the first quarterly release after the expansion’s launch won’t include the third open-world map of the expansion, as it did with SotO, there will be plenty of new content to keep you busy in that timeframe—in terms of story, open world content, and encounters. I know that’s a little vague (again, check back in next week), but rest assured, that first quarterly release will include something really exciting that players have been requesting for over 5 years.

The Key Art for the Midnight King update


MMOs are made up of numerous gameplay systems and content types, each with a different role to play in the game experience. As games go on, they tend to accumulate more and more systems and features from expansions and the like, which…is fine…if there’s effort put into maintaining and updating those systems. Looking back over the game’s history, I think this maintenance and upkeep is one of the areas where we’ve fallen short, at times even falling into the trap of releasing new features for the sake of releasing new features even if they overlap with something that already exists. This is something we’ve been referring to internally as “putting a hat on a hat.”

Over the last two years, we’ve put much more of a focus on upkeep and iteration of systems and avoiding unnecessary bloat where possible. We put more of a focus on maintaining live game systems, and with SotO we even went to the extent of entirely reworking existing features to make room for more modernized solutions. The Wizard’s Vault is a good example of this strategy working out well for us, and you can expect to see a new system being introduced in expansion 5 that adds a meaningful new way to spend your time in Guild Wars 2 while using this as an opportunity to greatly improve the player experience with related, existing game systems.

Overall, we were a bit conservative with features in Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure—trying to strike the right balance between scope, schedule, and risk while navigating a new content structure. We’ve ironed out a lot of the kinks here, and it’s allowed us to be a bit more ambitious with our next expansion. Next week can’t come soon enough!

Such a Tease

We closed out one of our recent blogs—which introduced the Cosmetic Inspection feature and recapped some of the quality-of-life changes that have gone into the game thanks to the development approach we took to Guild Wars 2: Secrets of the Obscure—with a screenshot preview of an area you’ll discover in our next expansion. We thought today would be a fun opportunity to build on that, so I’ll leave you with an additional environment preview.

On behalf of ArenaNet, I want to express my sincere gratitude for your continued support, your passion, and your feedback! It’s not lost on us just how incredibly lucky we are to have such a dedicated community behind us, and we look forward to discovering more of Tyria’s secrets together with you for years to come.

Thanks for reading! I can’t believe that we’re just a week away from announcing what’s next for Guild Wars 2. I’m really excited about what we’ve created, and I think you will be, too.

—Josh Davis, Game Director

A timeline of major updates to Guild Wars 2 from 2023 to 2024.