What Makes a Good Instance?

Dungeons and Raids are the core endgame content when it comes to an MMO. These are the things that keep players enticed with playing the game. But what makes a good dungeon or raid? What makes an instance of content that is memorable, enjoyable and is something players will either revisit in the past or pine for the “good old days” when it was current content? I decided to analyze some of my favorite instances and raids from “World of Warcraft” to find common links. I’ll preface this that most of my time was in Wrath but I played a little of every expansion save for Warlords. With that disclaimer, I’ll continue.

B.U.N. Content

istock_000008440542xsmall1

B.U.N. is the term is use to describe content that has the three core tenants of what I consider a good raid: Balanced, Unique and a “New Take” on something. Each point has merits worth discussing because there’s a lot of nuance cut down into a single word or two. Many of this will likely seem obvious at a glance but it’s worth bringing it up to distinguish an OK fight from a fantastic one.

Balanced: Balanced is something that comes from a variety of levers, but it all comes down to how enjoyable it is to run the dungeon itself. Besides how easy and/or hard the bosses are, part of the balance also comes from how long it takes to complete the dungeon itself. A prime example of time ruining balance would be the “Return to Karazhan” instance in Legion. Originally one massive dungeon, the instance was split into upper and lower sections because of just how long it took to complete. Conversely, instances like the Argent Tournament instances were often too quick, forcing the fights to be harder to compensate for the lack of trash and travel. Another good example in balance is difficulty, albeit it’s more surface level. Wrath dungeons often were the subject of much criticism because of how easy they were. Conversely, the Cataclysm dungeons ended up being so difficult Blizzard had to patch them for the playerbase. A fair but challenging difficulty curve is what should be aimed for in every dungeon, not just locking the real difficulty behind ten-to-twenty modifiers like Mythic +35 with bursting swarming tenacity minions.

Unique: It’s difficult to make a truly unique situation because someone will always draw comparison, be it a model, a mechanic or otherwise. Still, sometimes old mechanics can be combined in new and interesting ways. For example, The Lich King fight of Icecrown Citadel is often remembered for both the spectacle of fighting the Lich King and the mechanics: The crashing platforms. The spreading plague. Being killed near the end of the instance to experience Arthas’ cinematic downfall. It all combined into a grand spectacle. Unique doesn’t always mean better, however. The Spine of Deathwing is often (and still) regarded as one worst boss fights despite the fight having unique mechanics such as Deathwing rolling, managing blobs and peeling off plates. A “good” unique mechanic should make a fight interesting while being balanced and not frustrating. Managing insanity with Yogg’saron is fun! Nefarian breaking your gun as a hunter is frustrating.

“New Take”: In many MMOs, you’re often going to a place that holds major significance in the lore. If a player approaches an instance less as “Oh my god we’re going to the Black Temple to fight Illidan” and more as “We’re going to this new raid because this is the best gear we can get right now”. There’s always going to be a subset that care more about the raw numbers or gear but one should still strive to create a major, significant take on a canonical instance. Assaulting Ulduar. Facing against Deathwing. Diving into Onyxia’s lair. As a counter example, part of the reason why I felt that Mists of Pandaria felt so flat was because of the lack of lore significance or take on a new area. There wasn’t much interesting sights to see because Pandaria was such a mysterious land. We had very little emotional stake and it reflected on how the instances really didn’t mesh until we ended up fighting Garrosh in Orgrimmar.

With these three pieces put together, it becomes clearer to tell what fantastic content is and what has fallen flat. In addition,  it’s also possible to dissect content that may have been great but didn’t quite hit the mark in every category.

Examples, Faults and Triumphs

madness_of_deathwing

In my opinion, almost every main raid of Wrath was a success. The one outlier, if you were curious, was the Argent Tournament raids. The main raids of Naxxrammas, Ulduar, and Icecrown Citadel all served to make fun, interesting fights with thematic hooks that drew you in. They were also tough but fair, fights like zero-light Yogg’saron taking quite a while to complete while other raids like Naxx were made easier so gearing up wasn’t a chore. The five mans were also fantastic, from the iconic Culling of Stratholm to the thrilling Icecrown assaults. If there was one complaint about Wrath, it’s that older raids became trivialized quite fast. With as many instances as they had with both normal and heroic content for five, ten and twenty five players? Gear began to inflate, a problem that persists even to this day with Legion content ranging from A 750 ilevel all the way up to almost a thousand.

Cataclysm and Pandaria succeeded in some ways but failed in others. Most of the Cataclysm five mans and raids ended up being quite challenging, with only Firelands being the true standout raid. The hard swerve into extreme and challenging content came as a shock to players, which ended up causing Blizzard to revisit this. It’d also be the basis for creating challenge and mythic modes. The instances were interesting and unique enough but not always in a “good” way, sometimes provoking ire because of poorly designed fights that focused on a neat mechanic rather than a healthy fight.

Pandaria’s fights were a step up in balance and unique aspects but they sold on things that look cool more than established lore. It was difficult to establish a connection because we had to grow close to these characters with little connection outside of it. Legion has this problem to a degree but they make sure to establish connections with pre-existing characters or lore so that we’re not fighting with absolutely zero emotional connection outside of what we make in the zone.

Legion’s Current State

legion0812151280jpg-9970b9_1280w

So where would Legion fall on this scale? After going through most of the raids and fights, I think certain raids will be more fondly remembered than others. Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor weren’t fantastic raids but serviceable, easy to run and complete. The Nighthold, however, was far more entertaining and enjoyable. I think it’s likely my favorite raid of Legion. Tomb of Sargeras is alright but it has a huge problem of raid-finder not preparing you for the normal raid at all, lacking major mechanics that you find in normal which make transitioning into them difficult if you ONLY play raid finder.

The five mans are, unfortunately, forgettable in my mind. They don’t really have that many interesting mechanics and most of the fights grow tiresome after you’ve done them a few times on alts. I’ll make special mention, however, to the Karazhan and Court of Stars instances. Karazhan is a bite-sized version of the old raid and, while it needed to be cut in half, was still enormously entertaining to do. Court of Stars had a bunch of small mechanics in the instance itself that made it quite entertaining to do. After all, what kind of madman poisons a boss before the fight even starts?

It’s hard to say how people will remember Legion but if I had to guess, Nighthold and Karazhan will probably be the standouts when you look back. The other raids and instances were…serviceable. The connection to cool content was there but I never felt that the fights were all that shocking or interesting. In the end, I think Legion satisfies most of the B.U.N. scale but falls a bit flat in unique. Which is a shame, because there is some stuff to love in Legion.

Moving Forward

Legion was a revitalization of Warcraft and it shows. They’ve successfully recaptured some of the old success of Wrath and Burning Crusade but they’re finding their footing after a few years of rough releases. For the next expac, I hope to see more fantastic mechanics that challenge my perception of a five man. The raids I’m not too worried about but I sincerely hope that the five-mans grab me and make me invested in what is to come. Other games could also learn from this approach and, in my mind, Warcraft is still quite above the competition when it comes to instance-style content.

Legion was a decent step forward but with some stumbling after falling down. I only hope WoW can continue the forward momentum with fresh, original dungeons and raids.

Advertisements

How Roleplay Helps You Write

When it comes to learning to write, I find there’s no better place than the roleplay community in MMOs. Be it World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 or any sort of massive congregation of people all playing a single video game, you can bet that there will be a large group of people hanging out at the tavern. How exactly does roleplay make you a better writer though? Well, there’s a little more to it than simply saying it gives you experience writing.

Roleplay and Language

This is likely the most no-brainer of the group but roleplay will quickly and surely hone your grammar and spelling skills when it comes to writing things. When I first started at the young age of twelve or so, my spelling and grammar were a mess. It’s to be expected however. I had never touched anything even remotely like roleplay and my previous writings were done on pen-and-paper with only the look over of my parents.

Not only will you learn through osmosis and interacting with others but you’ll quickly get critique about your writing be it verbal or non-verbal. Maybe your edgy demon hunter with the most tragic backstory filled with death, murder and spelling errors doesn’t get any play? Conversely, maybe your earnest-yet-bumbling dwarven shaman sees all manner of interaction and is routinely praised by others.

Roleplayers are a community and, like any community, you learn as you go. Sure nobody is going to start as a roleplayer in their prime but it’s something that everyone will pick up as they continue to roleplay. Don’t be intimidated! Even that verbose engineer started as someone putting emotes in their text.

Roleplay and Storytelling

On a less obvious note, roleplay will teach you basic storytelling. Sure, it’s not to the caliber of something like the Odyssey or the Iliad but you’ll learn to pace yourself. Storytelling requires all manner of parts, from softer and quiet moments to character developing moments to tragic events and somber realizations. If you spend all your time roleplaying with your girlfriend about how much you love each other, nothing gets accomplished now does it?

You might argue that this is obvious even in storytelling but it becomes exacerbated when it comes to roleplaying with another person. You notice patterns, you notice repeats and you’ll notice when things don’t seem to move. Static characters are something most-often avoided and these small things will add up over time.

Roleplay is great at teaching you the basics of character building and making coherent stories, as well as showing you faults and errors in your own writing that others can help you fix or correct. Speaking of others in roleplay…

Roleplay and Community

Unlike writing your own work or writing in a completely unique world, roleplay will teach you how to work with others and the finer points of creating writing in an existing world. This is especially useful if you want to write for video games, as nine-out-of-ten times you’ll be working with a setting you yourself didn’t create and characters that you either didn’t create or had worked with others to create.

Other roleplayers aren’t readers. They’re not passive critics who will read what you wrote. They, for all purposes, will be part of your story for the majority of it. This means that you’ve got to pay finer care to your audience and those around you. Sure, every writer writes for themselves on some level, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from criticism. If you suddenly start railroading (forcing others on a track) another person’s character? You WILL get a slap on the wrist from that person!

On the same note, writing in a world you didn’t make is far different than making your own work. You have to adhere to rules, you have to be careful about new inclusions and most of all? You have to be wary about the things and creations you put out there. Does that mean you shouldn’t make new things? Of course not. But it’ll be easier for someone to believe you’re another foot soldier than Logan Thackery’s son who is even stronger than he is.

Roleplay Overall

These are just some small, general things that roleplay will help without being big enough for a whole point:

  • Aesthetic design of your character.
  • Creating storyhooks from things you have. (Such as a hunter’s pet!)
  • Matching character tone with other roleplayers.
  • How to approach and interact with others.
  • Dealing with “dead end” stories.
  • Correct drama vs. Incorrect drama.

I wouldn’t say roleplay is for everyone. After all, roleplay servers can often come off as elitist and annoying. Yet it’s important to give it a try at least once. Being able to play as your character and discovering the story behind what you assumed to be a simple one-off nobody can be far more enlightening to yourself than you’d initially give it credit for.

Just be sure to use the right name. Nobody is going to take Hunters4Jesus78 of Stormwind as a serious person.