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My dungeon experiences across 14 MMOs

Now that I’m running a dungeon almost daily in FFXIV, it’s making me think of my long and sordid history with dungeon experiences in MMOs. What I’ve always noticed is that when it comes to dungeons, it’s not me — it’s the game. That is, I’m usually willing to run dungeons in theory but not every MMO makes it easy to do so or attractive to do so.

So here’s a rundown of the MMOs I’ve spent a fair bit of time in and my dungeon experiences in each:

Anarchy Online

Since my early years were mostly spent solo — and guildless — I wasn’t even aware of any dungeons existing here.

City of Heroes

The bulk of the game experience to me was grouping up and entering one of many modular instances. I don’t know if you can call them dungeons proper, but they functioned much the same even though they used templates matched with random mob placements and difficulties. Mostly these experiences boiled down to the tank pulling a large group into a room and having the rest of the team activate their special particle effects light show until the mobs surrendered due to being dazzled with our brilliance.

World of Warcraft

Obviously I did a lot of dungeons here, especially post-Vanilla when the dungeon finder came into play. Before then dungeons were more of a rare treat due to being a headache to organize (I did appreciate high-level players speed running us through Deadmines and letting us keep all the loot). Generally had a great time with dungeons here and even flirted with raiding in Kara. Wasn’t present for the LFR era.

Warhammer Online

WAR wasn’t really big on dungeons, if I recall. I think they had some public dungeons, per the design philosophy carried over from Dark Age of Camelot, but I only ran one in the Badlands (?) a couple of times and felt fairly disappointed with it.

Dungeons & Dragons Online

What dungeons?

Ha, just kidding. Obviously the entire game is nothing but dungeons, and as long as I could find a group or had a regular weekly team, they were pretty awesome. Great design and the addition of good storytelling (I still contend the invisible GM voice is one of the neater additions to MMO dungeons), puzzles, and traps made these dungeons a cut above the MMO crowd. Plus, you didn’t heal health the same way, so they felt a shade more dangerous.

Lord of the Rings Online

Dungeons were always something I wanted to do more of in LOTRO but never quite did. I did run several over the years, but really what I did more of were skirmishes. The Inn of the Forsaken, with the Goonies theme, was easily my favorite.


The higher end of difficulty and dungeon length made dungeons very unappealing here. I much preferred expeditions and adventures, which are instances under different names. Only ran Stormtalon a few times — and never finished it.

The Secret World

TSW’s combat system isn’t the zenith of the game for me (that would be storytelling, quest ingenuity, and environments if you care), so I can’t say that dungeon diving was what I lived for. Still, I did a lot of it since our weekly group did for a while. I appreciated the mostly trash mob-free approach. They could be very, very tough.

Fallen Earth

If I recall, Fallen Earth had public dungeons too. I only ever did one, the prison in sector one. It was really neat, but like some other MMOs, there was no easy system to group up and get right into dungeons here. You had to find a group and physically travel there, so that cut down on most people doing them.

Guild Wars

Were missions considered dungeons? Otherwise the game didn’t really have them, did it. Still, did a lot of instances with a team as I worked my way through the storylines.

Guild Wars 2

My disappointment for Guild Wars 2’s dungeon design still gets me a lot of comments on this blog. For the record, I thought the actual instances were neat and the multiple choices of how to approach a dungeon was a good idea. It’s just that actually running them became a wacky exercise of stacking, sprinting past mobs, and farming them (pre-Heart of Thorns) for gold instead of loot.


RIFT remains one of my favorite MMOs in which to run dungeons. The dungeon finder — in from practically the beginning — made it really easy to do so, and there were no strange twists for how the game did dungeon runs. Very straight-forward with a tried-and-proven approach, and I liked that. Ran many, many dungeons with groups here.


The Old Republic was much like RIFT: straight-forward dungeon design with tab-targeting and the holy trinity. Good stuff, plus some amazing set pieces. Did a lot of them and enjoyed most thoroughly.

Star Trek Online

Did STO have dungeons? It must have, I guess, but I didn’t do too much group stuff in this game so I never found out.

10 thoughts on “My dungeon experiences across 14 MMOs

  1. SWTOR received a lot of grief for it’s lack of group content over the years, but the reality is that some of the Flashpoints in the game were truly excellent in their design and execution.

    It is a shame they’ve largely ignored that part of the game for over a year now, with a focus on providing more solo or casual friendly content (Tactical Flashpoints are so disappointing).

    I do think that RIFT, FFXIV and SWTOR have the best group content you can get in the current crop of MMOs, maybe not the best raids, but small group content is excellent in all of them.

  2. I don’t think “nadir” is the word you meant to use in the TSW para.

    I used to like open-world, non-instanced dungeons that you have to travel to overland and for which you need to form groups by recruiting through normal chat channels. I think that’s an experience unparalleled by any other form of group content in MMOs.

    That said, I am lazy. If developers are going to make it easier and easier to get a pre-packaged, bite-size dungeon-like experience then who am I to argue. It’s the difference between grabbing a quick snack at a fast food joint and sitting down to a full meal in a restaurant, though.

  3. My issue with dungeon runs in most games is that by the time I get to them, other players have determined the “best” way to quickly run through. This, I think, is what happened in the GW2 dungeons. People determined that you have to stack for this fight, have to stand in this semi-exploity spot for that boss, etc. Anyone wanting to strategize more with skills was left out.

    I really liked dungeon runs with my guild in WoW when we had to plan out crowd control rather than just DPS speed-run it. I just don’t see that kind of thing anymore, either in design or in players. Are any out there these days? I am just getting back to Elder Scrolls Online a bit and would like to check out dungeons there.

  4. I guess I’m a bit like you in that I like dungeons in theory, but most games don’t do enough to support them or otherwise screw up the design around them, so I don’t do them as much as I’d like to.

    WoW is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of dungeon design. Whatever else they might screw up, Blizzard does a fantastic job of its five-man content. The dungeons are pretty, they usually have a good story that nonetheless doesn’t slow down the gameplay, they’re a good length, and they’re very accessible due to light difficulty and a strong dungeon finder tool. Dungeons have traditionally been my bread and butter content in WoW.

    TSW’s dungeons are designed very well, but the lack of a dungeon finder and the poor rewards for lower difficulties have traditionally kept them from being something I spend a lot of time with. The new challenge system has somewhat turned that around, though, and if they ever launch that dungeon finder they’ve been working on, I foresee a lot of TSW dungeons in my future.

    Did a fair bit of dungeons in Neverwinter. Queue times tended to be very long, but I liked their relaxed take on the trinity and the joyful chaos of the combat in that game.

    I’ve given up on dungeons in ESO. Either the dungeon finder is broken, or no one runs dungeons in that game.

    GW2’s dungeons were among the most miserable experiences of my gaming career. Soul-crushing, mindless, chaotic wipefests.

    I think SW:TOR’s dungeon experience has been improved a lot by the addition of tactical flashpoints and making the more story-heavy ones solo, but their dungeons are a bit long for my taste. So. Much. Trash.

  5. “TSW’s combat system isn’t the nadir of the game for me (that would be storytelling, quest ingenuity, and environments if you care), so I can’t say that dungeon diving was what I lived for.”

    Nadir means “lowest point”. Are you saying that TSW’s combat is better than its storytelling? Or do you mean “zenith”?

  6. I’ve played many of the games you mentioned, so let’s see.

    – Anarchy Online

    Dungeons there still up to today connect to one word to me: Train!

    Dungeons there were not party-instances, but still were open to everybody. Thus you had groups of people throughout the dungeon. That was fine as long as things were allright, but all too often somebody somewhere noticed that he pulled too much agro, and instead of simply dying (which would’ve cost him XP) he ran all the way to the dungeons exit. Agro was not reset by distance to the spawning point, but Mob did not follow through the portal.

    Unfortunatly by running, the fleeing person body-pulled every mob he ran past. With sufficient runspeed, the mobs did not catch up to him, but when passing other players still in combat, who used any ability (e.g. healing) those mobs then went over to attack the player he just passed.

    As a result, the fleeing player likely killed several other players, the warning call for that was the shout (channel for the whole dungeon) that this mass of mobs was just pulled somewhere, and the call for that was “Train!”

    – WoW

    I only played that game when it was still very new. Despite the absence of the LFR too, i found it not too hard to gather a group to do dungeons. I only after a rather short time lost all interest, due to the low quality of the community. The only place where i managed to find a comparatively hostile and toxic community as in WoW dungeons was in some MOBA games.

    – Warhammer Online

    Unknown to many, this game actually had a few theoretically very nice dungeons. There was one dungeon for each zone tier, two in each capital city and one in the land of the dead. Not only were they beautifully designed and showed very nice and interesting new aspects of the Warhammer lore, in several aspects they even were ahead of their time. (E.g. the branching dungeons, which GW2 picked up again. ) Also while some of the fights and bosses were simple tank and spank or obvious copies of WoW bosses, a good number of them actually were newly designed there, had interesting mechanics and were both fair and challenging at the same time. Not surprisingly, several of them were copied by WoW in later expansions.

    After this much praise, i have to point to the “theoretically” up there. While the lost vale and the dungeons of the cities were fine and sometimes also fun to do, all the rest suffered of numerous and frequent bugs, which never were fixed. An additional showstopper was the fact that the developers couldn’t leave them as “save PvE” option. Instead, they decided to make it possible to invade dungeons. Considering that dungeon groups were set up differently than PvP groups, the outcome of such an “invasion” was very much predestined. Next to that, there was a problem with incentives, there were good rewards for invading and winning, but if the defender won, all he got was the right to continue with the dungeon till the next invasion happened, albeit with a high chance that the invasion broke the mechanic of one of the next bosses and you could never beat him. Thus it was no big surprise that people who were invaded in a dungeon usually just ran away and called it a night.

    With a little more thought into it, and a bit more bug-fighting, WAR could’ve actually had a strong PvE community despite the low number of dungeons, but it was forcefully culled by the developers, only to then wonder where all the players went to.

    – Lord of the Rings Online

    I did a few dungeons there with friends. Mind you, the game itself already was not my cup of tea, so that might influence how i experienced it, but i found dungeons there to be no fun at all. They were an exercise of frustration, while at the same time bringing no interesting mechanics at all. And don’t even get me started on the “combo”, which required the party to suddenly stop their rotation, wait for the first player to hit the right key, then wait for the second player to do so, etc… no fun at all, but it clearly showed WHO messed up, encouraging a lot of blaming and fingerpointing.

    Coded toxicity is several levels of fail in terms of game design, rolled into just one mechanic.

    – The Secret World

    I still don’t get the big gripe about the combat system. I’ve read some explanations, i accept some stuff, but most of what i was told i consider to be made up. I actually came to the conclusion that TSW could easily switch from the whole “bad combat” to “great combat” with just two changes: add some absolutely stupid and unrealistic animations (e.g. not firing your assault rifle the way you do, but spin around, shoot over your shoulder and stuff like that) and add a massive pile of particle effects to cover it up. But alas, if they’d do that, they’d have to rename the game to GW2. *evil grin*

    On the dungeons, i really enjoy them there a lot. Due to the almost complete absence of thrash-mobs you spend all of the time in interesting boss-fights instead of slowly grinding your way to the bosses. Many of the bosses have interesting mechanics, and as far as i know, many of them are even unique to this game. (Or in some examples, were copied by other games later. For example the TSW flappy fight i also encountered in GW2s HoT expansion… ) But while interesting boss fights are already an advantage, i give the biggest bonus to the community. The games LFG tool really is not great, only on par to what many other MMOs offer. (Just go to GW2 and use the LFG there, by all means it’s the same tool, comment function included. And the same can be found in other games. ) But unlike other MMOs, you can get a group going here without the tool. The superior community even has channels like “Sanctuary” and “Noobmares” running, where you can find help and dungeon groups, even groups which are made with the goal of a relaxed run where you can learn dungeon mechanics.

    I yet have to experience something like that, on this level, in any other MMO.

    – Fallen Earth

    I’ve run two of those “dungeons” in the game. Unfortunatly they both left me with the same impression: there is no way my character can ever carry enough ammo for a whole dungeon, the crafting times (hours or RL time) prohibit restocking ammo inside, and once i am out again, i have to spend several hours of collecting materials again to restock. All this for a minimal reward just made them not worth the effort.

    Would i have had a melee character, i might have experienced them differently, but since my character was a crafter, thus had high dex and int (and little strength) and only was able to deal significant damage with a ranged weapon, i did not enjoy them at all.

    I couldn’t say much about their design or challenge, all i remember was that after a while i just ran after the rest of the group and only fired a few shots at an enemy when things looked really desperate, knowing that each shot i fired now could be what i miss later.

    So all in all, the generally powerful crafting system very much killed the dungeons for me there.

    – Guild Wars

    The first one had no dungeons. On the normal areas and teams, it’s really a difference of day and night on when i played. Shortly after the game was launched, groups were hell, i hated the people. You formed a group, one of the group asked if we could not only do mission X, but also do mission Y, as the target for that was just around the corner. We all agreed and went into the zone. Second after the boss for mission X was killed, all but me and the one who wanted to do mission Y teleported back to the city and left the group.

    This happened so often and reliably that i gave up on the game and community. The more i was surprised when i returned to the game a few years later (a friend wanted to give it a try) and found out that while the playerbase shrunk a lot, the remaining people suddenly were mostly friendly and helpful, and you could do stuff with them.

    – Guild Wars 2

    The different paths of the dungeons are one of the nice things copied from WAR. The variant with “story mode” was what GW2 invented by themselves, as far as i know, and in theory is very nice. In practice it suffers from the same “i know the story, faster, faster” people which you also encounter in SWtoR.

    So all in all, nice dungeons, adequate LFG tool (see TSW), abysmal community as long as dungeons were still the way to earn money there. Since that was changed and most players are not interested in dungeons any more, they actually became more enjoyable. Dungeons now have less players overall, but a higher percentage of people who play in a more relaxed manner. This meanas less blaming and fingerpointing, less “push, push” attitude and less elitism. Instead you now often experience at least a minumum level of communication and actual cooperation. Dungeons might not “feel” as fast as with the “hurry hurry” people, but actually usually don’t take longer, while now actually sometimes even being fun.

    – Rift

    Hmm. I haven’t done much dungeoning there, but the way you praise the dungeon finder here i start to wonder: what’s the difference? From all i remember (i didn’t play since two years) the dungeon finder tool there was technically the same as in GW2, TSW or many other games. Maybe i forget or miss something, but i yet have to understand why the same tool, same features, is praised to heaven in some games and damned to hell in another, while being virtually the same.

    That being said, the community seems to be a mixed bunch. I had a few enjoyable dungeon runs there, but also experienced quite rude behaviour. I thus rate it as “average” and have to admit, i could still be in the game if i wouldn’t have realized one level before reaching max level, that by programing in-game macros the game can play itself better (in terms of damage rotation) than i could ever do that. After making myself redundant by macro programing, i just had to move on to other games.

    – SWtoR

    My experience here was just in the few months right after launch, and my feelings were mixed. I very much appreciated them when the two friends i started the game with were online. Then we took our time, experienced the story and things were allright. After all, we were able to 3-man them well enough. There was a bit too much clearing of thrashmobs for my taste, but it was before TSW, so it didn’t bother me that much. Several of the bosses were done well enough, some had good mechanics, the fights generally were allright. While the quota of bugs in the first month was almost WAR-esque, unlike in WAR a lot of them were fixed in time, so things moved in the right direction.

    As soon as we were not all three of us and had to rely on other people, things quickly went south. All the negative from other games came back in force. It was all hurrying, no communication but rushing forward (for some reason it seems to be better to wipe five times, than spend 10 seconds to communicate), then when things went back due to not coordinating, it was all blaming and fingerpointing. That’s even before mentioning all the complaining and kick votes if somebody dared to listen to the conversations in the cutscenes instead of hurrying through them with the spacebar.

    I consider it quite possible that the community got significally better after loosing so many players, but considering the message the game gave me when returning for just an hour after going to it’s very own version of F2P, there’s no way i’ll ever log into this game again unless they significally adjust their monetisation scheme.

    – STO

    No dungeons there in old times, but some boss fights where people were looking for groups or even masses of players were introduced with some of the expansions.

    I didn’t find them too hard, but also not too interesting, but i also only experienced the very first two of them, so perhaps things got more interesting later.

    So, interetingly things boild down to this for me: many MMOs have nice dungeons and interesting concepts. I seem to care less for graphical effects and “fancy combat” than other gamers, i don’t need some obscure extra-features on LFG, the most important factor for me is the community. The players you play with affect my experience far more than any game mechanic or boss mechanic and thus influcence my choice the most.

  7. Why do people seem to think that Guild Wars had no dungeons? Eye of the North added them, with some being brutally hard (Shards of Orr, specifically had so much CC that it was brutal). Additionaly, in the core game there was also Fissure of Woe, Domain of Anguish and the Underworld, which would also be classified as dungeons (or maybe even raids, due to their size and difficulty).

    STO does have dungeons, in the form of the STFs. The ground ones resemble the typical dungeon, while the space ones are more like open arenas with objectives.

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