Dungeons play a major role in most MMO’s group content offerings. There’s the open, contested variety, mostly found in older titles, and the instanced versions meant for one group only to which we’re all so very accustomed to today.
Wether contested or instanced, you always gather a bunch of friends around you and raid some baddie’s lair/mansion/cave/whatever in hopes of fat loot.
While this basic premise is pretty much always the same the disparity in terms of complexity, difficulty and design sophistication between different game’s dungeons – and even individual dungeons within a single game – can be huge.
Many instanced dungeons these days are as linear as humanly possible. Just follow the path from one boss to the next, kill trash mobs in between. If you need to use your brain at all it’s only to overcome the boss mechanics. To me that’s boring as hell, and it’s no wonder that the majority of players wants to get through as fast as possible. FFXIV’s dungeons are a prime example of this.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. The other day Lakisa and I made a trip through Everquest II’s (in my opinion) second-best instanced dungeon, which is also the second-best I’ve ever played in any game: The Estate of Unrest. Boy, I had almost forgotten how engaging and immensely fun an MMO dungeon can be. We were a good bit overleveled and overgeared, but because it was just the two of us the difficulty was just right. Since I still remembered some details despite the many years it’s been I let Lakisa have the first shot at figuring things out of course.
Spoilers ahead, I guess.
Saying that Unrest isn’t linear would be the understatement of the year. This isn’t just a dungeon, it’s also a point-and-click adventure as well as a survival horror game.
You have to find keys (in a hedge maze, no less) and the corresponding doors, chess pieces (Resident Evil 2 says hi), music sheets and cooking ingredients. One group member then has to actually play that music and cook a meal while the other(s) have to fend off continuously spawning mobs.
You have to repair switches in different rooms and figure out that they have to be pulled simultaneously, forcing the group to split up.
Then you have to fight evil versions of yourself. I’m not making this up.
One boss occasionally teleports a group member into a cell that can only be opened from the outside, forcing the others to bail her out before everyone’s locked away. We didn’t make it in time, what with being only two instead of six people, so while the boss died we both ended up in jail. I had to leave the instance, go back in and run back to the cell block.
The next boss goes by the name The Hemogoblin and stands in a pool of blood, which amused Lakisa to no end.
After that we were closing in on the Big Bad himself. He tried to scare us away one last time.
Of course we didn’t falter, and soon he had to pay for his bad deeds.
I didn’t keep an eye on the clock, but I guess the run took us almost three hours. It was time well spent. We didn’t get anything tangible out of it other than AA XP and some collectibles, but the adventure alone is so much worth it. Needless to say the dungeon tells a compelling story on top of all that interesting gameplay, and we enjoyed every second of it.