I’ve written before about interactive objects in MMORPGs, a feature I wish more games made use of to a greater extent. Dungeons & Dragons Online has so many different ways in which your characters can interact with the environment, whether through collectable objective-related things, dungeon progression objects such as traps and levers or just loot giving objects such as the barrels, crates and chests.
Our trio of adventurers have recently made a first foray into Ravenloft Castle in DDO, and the castle instance is crammed with interactive objects and NPCs, alongside the many fights and a rather maze-like multi-levelled layout. It’s a masterful piece of dungeon design.
Instances that only consist of pretty backgrounds, trash packs and boss fights are a wasted opportunity to give players a richer play experience. Having things to look for other than just the red name of the next creatures to fight keeps me, personally, from settling into ‘rotation autopilot’. If all I’m doing is fighting, resting, fighting, resting for the whole dungeon, then I’m likely to start getting bored.
World or Warcraft Classic does have richer dungeon environments than some of the games later expansions. Our static quartet is now in Blackrock Depths, a particularly large and complex dungeon. There are some notable interactive objects in this dungeon. I remembered there being Blacksmithing recipes here, though my Paladin lacks the skill to even open the containing scroll to take the recipe at the moment (/shakes fist).
The dungeon layout has a number of possible routes, with key-locked doors that offer shortcuts, and even a giant set of doors the top of which, when closed, provide a bridge to a particular later section. This kind of multi-layered and player-influenced layout makes for a really enjoyable and potentially varied experience as our group can choose specific objectives “get the Shadowforge Key”, and work out a path to fight through to meet those. It’s not necessarily plausible or desirable to complete the “whole dungeon” in one run, it would take hours and its not necessary to do so. That’s almost a forgotten design concept I think. Many dungeons in Classic have large level ranges for the monsters there, so from a XP-gain perspective it doesn’t make much sense to do it all in one long run (e.g. Gnomregan, Mauradon). But, popping into these dungeons and choosing an objective and section to work through is perfectly doable.
Dungeons have morphed over the years into much shorter and complete experiences, but that also means each run is the very same experience. That’s quite a loss over the longer term, as it’s much easier to get bored of a dungeon if its linear. This isn’t to say that all dungeons in Classic are equal, some of them are very much the linear model, Scarlet Monestary’s wings are small, linear and packed to the gills with nasty trash: we got so thoroughly sick of running them.
Even the very best of Classic’s dungeons are still pretty poor in interactive objects, it’s just not in World of Warcraft’s design aesthetic to have that your character can click on. World of Warcraft’s most recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth, did bring some new interaction to its dungeons, in the form of profession-specific boss fights. Similar to a mechanic that Star Wars the Old Republic featured in its Flashpoints, in certain BfA dungeons certain professions have an object to interact with that opens a hidden area and, in BfA’s case, gives access to an optional extra fight. The quest-heavy crafting progression in BfA was a hit and miss feature in the expansion, it was nice to have extra reasons to rerun dungeons other than loot, but that did also potentially block progress on levelling that profession if you weren’t able to get a group together (or PUG the dungeon).
Different MMORPGs and even different eras of the same game show variations and innovations on just how much players can interact with the environment around their characters inside of instanced dungeons. I’d usually vote for more rather than less, we tend to repeat these instances a lot over time, so having something to customise the experience is always welcome.