Why MMO Dungeons Are Irrelevant & 5 Ways to Change Them

The Solution

The best solution to MMO dungeon design is, funnily enough, to take more cues from tabletop games. Make dungeons less static and more responsive to player input, and they suddenly become fresh. Pretend that the dungeon is being run by a DM with a streak for improvisation, and less like somebody reading a module purchased at the local gaming shop.

1.) Add a dungeon finder

If your game has dungeons, give it a dungeon finder. I could write another article solely on why leaving a dungeon finder out of your game is an awful design decision. I don’t care if you think leaving it out will promote social bonding and communication. It won’t. Players want to play your content first and foremost, and restricting access to it based on some vague principle of social connection just hurts your game. Follow Blizzard’s example and put a finder in your game. I’m staring directly at you, ArenaNet.

2.) Create dungeons more like themed instances with multiple activities, less like a linear gauntlet of enemies

While making dungeons a get-in, get-out experience is appealing on a primal level, it sacrifices the true potential of dungeon creating: crafting a cohesive, interesting story about a particular event or location. In this respect, Guild Wars 2 is the example to follow. Create multiple paths through a dungeon. Give players reasons to be there besides killing the boss and grabbing some loot. Give players things like gathering activities, minigames, puzzles, and sidequests. Treat a dungeon like a hub for players to play around in, not a path to a boss.

In addition to that, I would love if dungeons had a smaller solo area that ran alongside the group area. The solo area could explore a little bit of the same story and give some reduced rewards compared to running the full dungeon. It would allow players without the time or inclination to run in a team the ability to experience partial dungeon content. The chronicles in Rift are a good example of this. Some exploration-focused areas off the beaten path would be nice as well. Areas where you can rummage around and find a randomized rare mob or some achievement goodies, but not 100 percent of the time.

3.) Change dungeon enemies and tactics between runs

This is a long shot – and something that players would probably rebel against – but I think it would do a lot to alleviate that lack of danger I mentioned earlier. At the moment, dungeons are static and unyielding. You always fight the same kinds of enemies, and you always fight the same bosses using the same tactics. Making enemies change as you beat a dungeon is a great way to make it feel fresh again.

Change the standard enemy types each time the player clears the dungeon. Make subsequent dungeon playthroughs have consequences on the dungeon. Make bosses have a large variety of tactics and attacks, but make it so that they never use all of them through the course of a fight. If a player is fighting a boss again, maybe make the boss change their tactics based on how the player fought the boss the last time. In short, surprise the player. Give them reason to experience and learn the dungeon again besides just grinding it for that sweet loot.

4.) Create rewards that are accessible to both new and veteran players

This solution is easy and straightforward. Give players more tokens and less drops. Tokens enable players to delay rewards until they really want them. Power-levelers can save the tokens until they hit the level cap, and casual players can spend the tokens to get lower-level gear to add to the experience. Creating new, level-specific items that players can purchase with the tokens they collect gives them more control and makes the game feel like more of a sandbox. Players appreciate that kind of control. Similarly, dropped or purchased items could have stats that scale with the character’s level, much like the player-made items I mentioned in my article on crafting.

As for existing dungeon drops, make them character-specific instead of party-specific. You never have an item drop for you that isn’t useful to your character, and you never have to fight for it. Rolling for an item sucks the fun out of doing dungeon runs, and sometimes you end up with items that are completely worthless for your party, like a bow for a party full of mages. Making items drop specifically for a character in the party means that you always get something you can use by doing a dungeon run. It also means that you can alleviate problems like a raid clearing out a difficult, multi-hour dungeon and receiving nothing substantial for their effort.

5.) Make dungeons desirable for characters of any level (beyond the minimum requirement)

All dungeons should have a minimum required level, but what if the player is significantly beyond that requirement? Do you let him just breeze through the dungeon? Of course not! Dungeons should tune themselves and their dropped rewards to a player’s level, rather than simply offering a static, unchanging gauntlet. If I play a level 20 dungeon on my level 80 character, the dungeon should tune itself to level 80. Alternatively, make a character’s effective level change depending on the dungeon they are in. Guild Wars 2 does that, and it works fairly well.

In the end, all I want is for dungeons to be more significant, interesting, and desirable for everybody. In their current incarnation they act as little more than monster slaughterhouses. Dungeons should be mysterious and alluring, not a chore you work through to get a chance at a neat item. Leaving them in their current state is sacrificing great potential for the familiar grind.

Do you have any suggestions for how MMO dungeons could be improved? If so, leave some comments below! More perspective is always better.

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2 Comments on Why MMO Dungeons Are Irrelevant & 5 Ways to Change Them


On February 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm

The best dungeons I’ve been in have all been a part of the original EverQuest. They were massive maps with different paths, different endings, different styled areas, paths that went down and up rather than a straight line. They were large, confusing and very fun.

Modern dungeons are a straight line from A to Z, but then again, so are the games. You follow the set path of this quest to that quest, to this quest hub to that quest hub, until you hit the end. Freedom has gone from almost all new MMO’s, until the developers can open up the actual worlds, the parts inside those worlds, the dungeons, are going to be just as linear as everything else.


On February 9, 2013 at 6:27 am

I’ve played World of Warcraft for several years, and being a dedicated healer I’ve always enjoyed dungeons more than anything else – and yet I agree with your points. Personally, my favourite dungeon areas were Blackrock Dephts and the Dire Maul complex (East, West, North): vast, diverse, with extraordinary landscapes and many different challenges. Bar fight? Check. Arena? Check. A run when the party had to avoid the bosses instead of killing them? Check! It was extremely rare to find a group wishing to do it all, but the very few times I could clear the entire DM and BRD with decent parties were some of the best hours I’ve spent in WoW.

Of course, such dungeons fell out of flavour. The Burning Crusade still had some interesting ones (and a great raiding dungeon, Karazhan), but The Wrath of the Lich King consisted pretty much on short, linear and pretty much irrelevant dungeons.