Syp, of the Bio Break blog, had an interesting post this week on “what makes a good dungeon run“. It’s a personal list of characteristics that he would expect in a good or bad dungeon experience mixing elements like the design of the dungeon and the behaviour or performance of the other players.
Dungeons have certainly changed rather a lot over the years, tending towards shorter and less complicated in layout. Difficulty rather depends on your point of view and skill level, I think it’s fair to say that in many of the MMORPGs that I play dungeon difficulty has probably been reduced somewhat over the years.
I can remember back to the time in World of Warcraft, pre-Cataclysm or even earlier, when many dungeons were complex in layout and took hours to clear unless you were significantly over the expected level or gear-level. Spending an entire evening wandering around an old-era dungeon in WoW such as Blackrock Depths or Wailing Caverns was normal to us as we didn’t rely on guide maps and we would usually clear all the content in there.
Dungeon running has changed by design in some more modern games. Pickup groups (pug) are the norm nowadays with randomised groups put together by queue system. My main experiences with such grouping has been in Final Fantasy 14 and even in that game, where friendly player behaviour is encouraged by design, the majority of groups were mostly silent and were ‘efficient’ if not outright rushed affairs. People might well say hello, or communicate a boss strategy tersely but there wouldn’t be much chatter beyond that.
The fact that story progression in FFXIV is locked behind pugging such dungeons is abhorrent game design in my view since the general community wants everyone to “skip videos” when you are in dungeons, meaning you are pressured to miss the clips of storytelling at the time the game is trying to show you them in context!
That illustrates where Syp’s view and my view of good dungeon runs divert. When I’ve enjoyed group content the most it has been because I was grouped with friends or guild-mates taking the content at a leisurely pace and chatting as we play. Syp’s top characteristic on the good list is “will clock in at 30 minutes”, which I see as a negative, it implies that dungeon runs should be “quick and over with”, something that contrasts with my reasons for wanting to play them in the first place. I enjoy playing dungeons with friends as small group content but dungeon design and layout are the background to the enjoyable part – the banter and the shared effort of tackling encounters with a varying group of characters.
Chain running quick dungeons for the gear rewards or tokens makes the experience too mechanical for me personally. For quick gaming sessions I’d rather just run some quests solo or duo in the open world – without the pressure to rush to the end in limited time.
I can think of our recent experiences playing SWTOR flashpoints (dungeons) as a trio or four and they’re really good dungeon runs. They often take us an hour or longer, partly because we never rush and partly because we’re just not that familiar with them yet. We have fun gradually wading through the trash fights and working out (or trying to remember!) the boss mechanics.
So my good and bad dungeon run characteristics would be as follows.
Good dungeon runs:
- are where the group sets own pace that all are comfortable with
- are long(ish) with some optional paths or dead-ends to make give some variety to repeat runs
- have challenging boss fights and easier trash fights
Bad dungeons runs:
- feel rushed either by group members or by dungeon design (e.g. time limited run)
- see you missing content or not really “taking in the dungeon” due to pace of group
- feel like a treadmill – you are running down that same “corridor” dungeon for the Xth time