The leveling dungeons disconnect

I read with interest the recent LOTRO post over at Massively OP about the group finder. It brought a few thoughts together that I’ve had of late regarding grouping and the impact that has on my enjoyment and motivation levels when playing MMORPGs. Firstly that I love running group content in MMORPGs, it’s a big reason why I play these games over single player RPGs or other genres. More recently I’ve played a lot of public group style content (GW2’s events or Neverwinter’s heroic encounters), but dungeons have always been a big part of my online gaming hobby.

A LOTRO dungeon run

The background to this is that my first proper MMO experience was WoW around the time of the Burning Crusade launch. I was invited into the game and a family-oriented guild by a close friend. For years (through to the Cataclysm era), my time in game was dominated by small group content – leveling with people, and running dungeons as often as possible with various combinations of characters and guild-mates.

Since then I’ve played many other MMORPGs, often with the same close friends, but never with such a tight-knit and social guild. My husband and I have tried joining guilds in FFXIV, Tera and Neverwinter. I myself have also been in other guilds in Rift, DDO, EQ2 and LOTRO. Invariably all those guild experiences have been soured by the dominant trend in the genre – players rush to the level cap and then focus on the gear grind and other end-game progression (e.g. tiered raiding). This means that leveling dungeons, especially for latecomers are an after thought and often bypassed.

‘Under-manning’ a dungeon in Rift

These types of guilds are fine if you’re able to be active a lot, and if you can keep up with the level curve and gear progression. Otherwise you’re likely to be only enjoying the chat channels because the grouping opportunities aren’t for you. The crux of my problem for years now has been, as indicated in the linked Massively post, how to enjoy leveling dungeons at the actual level while it’s relevant content. I’ve experienced this problem myself in LOTRO, but it’s far from limited to that game. I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of grouping in EQ2, DDO and Tera as well. Bringing your own premade group is one solution, one that has worked on occasion and for limited time as it reduces your pool of group mates to such a small number.

pre-made groups rule

Group finder exist for random groups in most games, but my overwhelming experience of these groups is that they rush like crazy and are often poorly coordinated or non-communicative. This was certainly true of my early experiences in DDO and equally in Tera. In DDO, way back in 2009, most players were veterans (before F2P brought a rush of newcomers in) and it was painful trying to find any group other than ‘speed-runs’ for the earlier content that I was seeing for the first time. Years later I faced a similar problem in Tera as I joined after launch: I did try pugging dungeons, but generally groups were veterans who knew the dungeons well and were only interested in rushing through – barely stopping to grab loot even.

Random groups are a very mixed bag

So I’m left with a dilemma between games’ design limitations and player-evolved social conventions that seem to, so often, develop within these games. Many MMORPGs encourage a singular focus on end-game activities and goals, which leaves any newer players or latecomers out in the cold where grouping is concerned. I’m ideally looking for a “friends of nice and slow” type guild that take pleasure in simply playing the game’s content (all of it) through playing with whoever happens to be online. I’ve tried finding such guilds in numerous games – most of the guilds that I’ve come across are focused on end-game (even if they profess to not be!) and the lack of EU-time zone guilds in some games further compounds this sense of frustration.

A pug grind-group EQ2 style

Very few games have a designed solution for keeping leveling dungeons accessible beyond the initial post-launch/post-expansion release period. Games with a heavy emphasis on pug grouping, like modern-day WoW, Neverwinter and FFXIV have partially solved the problem by incentivising players to rerun low level content or to play multiple alt characters. Sadly running dungeons at-level alongside veteran players on level-synced characters (or twinked alts) is rarely a fun experience in my humble opinion. It is difficult to learn boss mechanics or the layout of a dungeon if you’re constantly running to keep up with others or where the poorly implemented level-sync completely trivialises the content.


Despite the tone of this post I have looked for and found good dungeon-running experiences in several games. I really enjoyed a summer of dungeon-running in Neverwinter a few years back. When I return to WoW, sessions are still dungeon-heavy and great fun for that. But in the other games that I play, or try to commit to more deeply, the lack of leveling-dungeon running groups and culture is often an issue.

So in the end, are group finders the only solution to this genre-wide problem? Equally can guilds actually provide a good experience for newer players wanting to see this content and learn their class?

This entry was posted in DDO, EQ2, FFXIV, LotRO, MMORPG, Neverwinter, Rift, SWTOR, Tera, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The leveling dungeons disconnect

  1. Jeromai says:

    I wish more MMOs designed for opportunities for forming a stable group of friends (or at least keep putting similar players around you so that the names become recognizable and might conceivably become friendships.)

    I find that being able to go through dungeons slowly and learn mechanics at a pace I’m comfortable with, only comes with a patient group of friends willing to put up with my initial slow start, either because it’s hoped that future runs will become a smoothly oiled machine of incredible speed, or it’s a one-off done for me expressedly because folks are nice.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have that stable group of friends out-of-game to drag along to every game I play (and the concept sounds terrifyingly exhausting for an introvert anyway) and each game becomes a lottery of “I wonder if I can make any connections in this game.”

    Generally, the answer is no, and then one ends up soloing and dealing with the vagaries of pugs who expect you to have done homework by watching videos first (a concept that is so not-in-my-generation and quite alien to my nature – I read textbooks to learn, not watch videos; and why do I have to watch someone play the game in order for me to learn how to play?)

  2. Gevlon says:

    The solution is that servers should be tiered. A leveling player should be on a leveling server with other leveling players, forming leveling guilds. Then – when he reaches the top level – he transfers to the “gear up server” and play with other newly top level players. In the meantime a new player or alt joins the leveling guild, so its playerbase would constantly change, but it would still provide some stability and culture.

    • Telwyn says:

      An interesting idea, I believe Aion introduced something like this – accelerated XP, PVE servers for fast leveling of new characters. But I never tried them as it seemed pointless to level a character in a game so focused on PVP when I have zero interest in that.

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