There’s been quite some discussion in our blogosphere recently about ‘Epic’ dungeons, meaning large-scale instances that you can literally get lost in. Ercles made a great post on this subject two weeks ago, and Jaedia over on Lazy Sniper made an interesting reply. Thats why I was extra excited when I read the following blue post from Zarhym the other day:
There’s a level 85 five-player dungeon you might just learn about soon which holds seven bosses in a single instance. It’s in a place you may have heard of before… Uldum (source).
Awesome news! 7 bosses would be a grand return to the old vanilla-tasty days when a dungeon represented an engaging trek through hostile territory, rife with challenge and lore. Of course I have considered the possibility that perhaps this instance will be mostly bosses and little trash, but I’m working on the assumption it isn’t because then it would become a massive loot pinata. So this is encouraging stuff for those players who, like myself, like their dungeons with extra helpings of content. Now its just one instance, so I doubt this is a shift we’ll see universally implemented, but hopefully it means that Blizzard have recognised its good to have balance. Perhaps in Cataclysm there will be fast, dirty instances and also a few long, epic instances. That would really make me happy.
“But”, cry those of you who just want a quick badge run, “long instances will be a pain for dailies, grinding and so forth”. This is true, and Blizzard have very much moved in the direction that casual players should be able to hop on for half an hour, do something fun and then log off, which rather undermines the whole epic dungeon concept. However there are solutions to this problem. My personal choice would be to scrap the random PuG system (I mean seriously, if you’re a DPS it still takes forever to get a group!) but of course that’s not going to happen, I’m living in the past. But a direction Blizzard could go is to make things less linear.
What do I mean by linear? Well its an easy way to sum up the most obvious difference between instances in vanilla WoW and in Wrath. Dungeons today exhibit a pretty clear line that you must follow, you come in at the start, fight through a series of connected rooms and reach the big bad boss at the end. It’s basically a straight-line with little or no deviation. Even those instances which are described as “non-linear”, like Nexus, actually are linear they just happen to give you a choice of where you start. Vanilla instances on the other hand often had multiple paths you could follow. Blackrock Depths for example had several different routes you could take and Stratholme was basically two whole instances crammed into one, as was Blackrock Spire. Upon entering instances like this you would often decide amongst the group which route you would take and which bosses you would aim for. It was a very engaging experience and really made you feel like you were lost in a massive enemy citadel. For the hardcore it also offered many hours of gaming in just one dungeon, as if you were dedicated you could fight your way through all the multiple paths.
This non-linear model is one I’d like to see repeated but of course it clashes with modern features like random dailies and badge grinding. A random daily in Stratholme would never work because there’s actually two different end-bosses at two totally different ends of the city. My solution: formalise the different lines of progression by splitting big instances into multiple instances. This would work similarly to the design of the current trio of Sylvanas/Jaina instances. Those 3 missions are all part of the same chain and story, but you can choose to hop in to whichever part interests you. It’s also what they did with Scarlet Monastery way back when, and that was a pretty notable success. Similarly, wouldn’t it make sense to just split Stratholme into its undead side and its Scarlet Crusade side? That is after all how players treat the place anyway, and you could have instance portals connecting the two, allowing you to wander from one into the other quite happily. All this does is turn an existing non-linear instance into two linked instances each with their own end-boss, but are still very much the same location. Epic-happy players like myself can run both instances and get sucked into the experience, whilst badge-grabbers can just do one chapter quickly and easily.
Will Blizzard do this? Well I know the odds are against it, in fact the map of Blackrock Caverns shown at Blizzcon was positively linear. But I still hope that they will go with some truly non-linear approaches for some dungeons. I mean, a 7-boss instance sounds pretty hardcore, I’m assuming a couple will be optional bosses off in a side-section somewhere! This is perhaps closer to where Blizzard will go; dungeons in which you can blitz through 3 or 4 bosses and grab your daily reward, but which have extra non-compulsory wings for when you have a group of friends who want to explore. Thats a compromise that would make me a happy gamer.