Single-try dungeon challenges in MMORPGs

It’s a rarity in modern MMORPG gaming to face a challenge that you can’t retry. In single player RPGs there may be consequences for failure in fighting a boss or other encounter, though with save games such consequences are usually not so permanent. In MMORPGs, usually, there are no chances to “load back” if something goes wrong, but then you can just respawn and try again anyway. I’ve written before about death-zerging encounters that are maybe too high level or too tough for my character. In some cases you are able to reenter the fray after defeat before the fight even ends and can whittle down the boss’ health by repeatedly rejoining the battle.

It was with some consternation then, that we faced a “one-shot” challenge in the WoW Classic version of Scholomance, yesterday. Our beta-team Horde characters have finally reached the last tier of dungeons in Classic, and are now facing off against these rather challenging instances. The packs of trash mobs are large and dense, so very careful pulling is needed and downtime for mana regen is the norm.

Clearing this room takes AGES!

We used the rare drop item, Blood of Innocents, to summon Kirtonos the Herald. On this first pull things went badly and we wiped. Returning back into the dungeon we found the boss had fled. The signal fire used to summon the boss was still lit, and thus we had no way to resummon him. That was quite a disappointment, getting the blood in the first place took a lot of time to clear the first main area, so resetting the dungeon would entail a long slog just to get to the stage we could give this encounter a second try.

The summoning dance did not work…

It reminded me of another super annoying one-shot challenge in this very dungeon: the Paladin Charger mount quest chain. After investing time and money in this medium length quest chain to get various components and best smaller challenges, it was with no small frustration that I realised that the quest Judgment and Redemption shows this very same design philosophy.

Basically you have to gather a group to go to Scholomance, fight a good way into the dungeon and then survive waves of attackers to complete a ritual. We haven’t actively played our Alliance main characters for some time, so this is still incomplete on my Paladin. We tried twice on different occasions with our static 4 group plus a friend of a friend to make the necessary full group. On both occasions we seemed to be doing well, until suddenly we are overwhelmed by numbers and the tank or healer (myself) can’t keep up with the number of monsters or the incoming damage.

None shall pass

Wiping means hearthstoning back to Stormwind to abandon and reset the quest, you can’t retry it straight away since the one-use item that triggers the encounter is gone. If one person dies you can’t even get back to the room where the encounter occurs since a special gate has appeared blocking all access deeper into that section. It’s overkill, in my opinion: I’m all for having challenging boss encounters, and have no problem with needing to try a fight a few times to get the tactics. But if an encounter or a quest has a hard limit on tries, or imposes a lot of hassle on how you can retry it, then I think that’s going too far.

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3 Responses to Single-try dungeon challenges in MMORPGs

  1. bhagpuss says:

    An interesting alternative would be to have lots of genuine single-chance events, quests, bosses, dungeons and so on but for none of them to be connected to the desired reward by direct success. You’d have to attempt them and if you succeeded you’d get the desired item or update but if you failed your having tried would open up a new and different route to get the same result. It would make sense for those to become easier and easier, since a series of failures would suggest a deficiency of some kind in the player)s) skills or ability.

    Things could be structured in such a way that if you managed to run through all of the possible variations and still didn’t succeed at any of them some agency within the game could step in and do it for you. Better players would have the advantage of getting the desired reward sooner but everyone would know they’d get it in the end and no-one would have to do the same thing twice, which would certainly be more interesting than just brute-forcing the same content until you manage to break it.

    That way you could have what is to me the more important psychological outcome of your character having had a single throughline with no credibility-breaking respawns and resets but failure would lead neither to a complete shut-out nor a tedious series of repeat attempts. The downside from the developers point of view would be more work setting it up but it could be arranged so that the various options interallated and could be re-used (from a design perspective) for multiple purposes even though any given character would only see a subset of them all.

    • Telwyn says:

      Do you think any games have come close to this, MMO or otherwise? An example would help me understand how this would function. I like the idea of failure being meaningful (not just respawn / retry) but that it isn’t a complete block on progress. But I have a hard job imagining how that might look in an MMO.

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