Thursday, June 12, 2008

Are MMOs slowly turning away from dungeons?

So far I'm a fan of Age of Conan and and I've made it over the mid level hump that is usually the deciding factor in whether I stick with a MMO or not. In both Tabula Rasa and Lord of the Rings I spent about three months playing and trying out the different classes but never really got a character past the middle levels. In the end I noticed my play sessions were becoming shorter and decided to cancel my account. I think part of the reason was definitely a lack of dungeon content in those games. Tabula Rasa and Lord of the Rings both over used quest instances in place of real dungeons and that just kills a game for me. In all honesty Age of Conan should be in the same situation but they saved themselves by being a little bit more forward thinking in their instance design.

Funcom definitely put a lot of effort into their art assets and they managed to avoid having any instances look too similar. Even the early quest instances like the Burshur House, Pyramid of the Ancients, and the Maze all look very different. During the early levels of Tabula Rasa I kept seeing the same enemy base and cave environments over and over again. Lord of the Rings was better with its quest instances but had very few real dungeons. While Age of Conan doesn't introduce a real dungeon until right before its mid game, it at least allows you to choose an epic version of an instance. Thus you can sort of turn the early quest instances into dungeons if you want some experience working in groups.

And isn't the whole point of having dungeons, so that players can gain experience working as a team? You don't want people getting to the end game and having no idea of how to play their class in a group environment. World of Warcraft is notorious for bad pick up groups but at least it has a nice spread of dungeons throughout all of its levels. The problem was that the rewards weren't really that good and a lot of players waited until higher levels before running dungeons. I think Scarlet Monastery was the first one that people actually ran because it had quick instances with decent rewards.

I think developers have interpreted players skipping a lot of the lower end dungeons in World of Warcraft to mean that players would rather have solo content. It certainly seems like this is the case based on the latest string of MMO releases. Even Everquest 2 had an expansion where it was faster to solo quest then visit any of the dungeons! I can even see why developers are doing this since it's so quick to level nowadays that lower level dungeon gear doesn't even get worn that long. This is especially bad in games with itemization problems, where a slightly higher common item is better then a rare. In situations like these developers are unintentional steering players away from the group content.

In all honesty there is too much time spend on developing quests over dungeon content in modern games. The skill set is less intensive for creating a standard "kill ten rats" quest and I'm sure it's cheaper. Dungeons involve hiring a lot more artists and programmers and probably cost an arm and a leg. But I think its worth it, especially with the decreasing quality of quests I'm seeing in modern MMOs. I think most game studios have a standard set of tools used for creating quests and they're just randomly turning Q/A people into quest designers. I like questing over grinding but some of the dialogue that's getting written is just soooo bad.

In the end I would like a format where there was a real dungeon every ten levels and a shared quest instance every five levels. The shared quest instances in the beginning of Age of Conan were a lot fun, even with the gankers. Though most of the objectives in these instances were soloable you still saw other people and it made the game world seem more alive. Also the longer you go not having a real dungeon the harder it becomes for players to actually pick up how to play in a group. I know that I really didn't get to experience tanking in Age of Conan until level 37 and that I probably caused some deaths while learning how to position mobs.


Anonymous said...

The dungeons are cool, but I never ran them when I was leveling up. While the MMOs encourage group play the time constraints to get the party going are prohibitive.

I spend 95% of my time soloing. If I cant do that, I quit.