In WoW the word “dungeon” is officially reserved for computer generated temporary environments that are sort of like “bubbles” of the world that are specially created for a group of five or fewer characters when they go through a specific “portal.” In the game these portals are depicted as a sort of shiimmering surface in the air, usually stretching across a cave entrance or doorway. As the first group member goes across the portal, the server creates a complete sub-world which contains all the maps, mobs and loot of the dungeon. The reason for this is to allow multiple groups to adventure in a well-defined sub-world without worrying about colliding with other teams as they pursue the same goals. It’s actually a pretty good system and not only works well mechanically, it also works well in terms of game design and continuity. A “Raid” is usually a “dungeon” designed for ten or more players, but it’s basically the same concept.
Because these dungeons are sort of miniature WoW worlds all their own, they are usually designed by a small team of WoW game designers who are going after a specific user experience, and as such these dungeons vary wildly in terms of look, feel and content. For higher-level WoW players who have grown bored with the “real” world content after months or years of roaming up and down the same roads and mining the same nodes, etc. these dungeons are considered to be a major part of the WoW experience, and as such the portal entrances are usually crowded with characters waiting for groups to assemble or just hanging around before or after entering the dungeon itself. (I tend to still call these “instances” since that was the Everquest word for the same thing).
So of course one of the main areas of interest with a new release (such as “Wrath of the Lich King”) is the execution of these dungeons. In a way these are the crown jewels of the game and as such are carefully evaluated by the long-time players of the game (which I still do not consider myself to be, although I’m at six months and counting now as a WoW player).
So yesterday and the day before I finally managed to get into a group that hung together and played well enough to actually complete a couple of dungeons. My opinion of them is that WOTLK looks like it will be considered to be a well-designed addition to the WoW world.
The two dungeons I’ve done are two of the easiest (since I’m still “low level” for the new area). The first was a standard castle dungeon crawl and was not terribly impressive, but it was decently challenging and required some good coordination from the group and provided some decent loot (I got a pretty nice piece of chest armor as my reward).
The other dungeon though was really well done. The dungeon was infested with giant insects and spiders. The spiders were particularly nasty and had two or three ways to incapacitate characters, including a quick web-wrapping that turns the character into a spider-web mummy until you fight your way out. Movement through the dungeon was both along normal cave paths and along gauzy spiderwebs that almost felt like walking in mid-air. The background music was creepy and included sounds meant to evoke giant bugs and spiders chittering and skulking around in the background, and the actual fights included creepy insect sounds along with the normal clash of weaponry and armor.
I thought it was very well done. The graphics and movement through the dungeon really felt like you were crawling through a creepy giant spiderweb. The gauzy, nearly invisible webs themselves created a real challenge for navigation, and we found ourselves having to search for the right path a couple of times. This is one great benefit of new content, normally if you do a dungeon there is someone there who has done the dungeon about fifty times already and so you tend to follow a standard script to complete the dungeon. With totally new content nobody knew the path, nobody knew the goal and nobody knew when to expect the inevitable sneak attacks.
As a result, of course, my character died three times, wich is costly since every death forces you to repair your armor, and high-level armor is not cheap to repair. But even so the newness and lack of knowledge of the intricacies of the dungeon really added a sense of foreboding to the endeavor, and when we did overcome the challenges, it was surprisingly satisfying to know that we, as a group, solved this dungeon on our own, without Google searches or the help of Joe the Ultimate Dungeon Sage.
I have to say that two hours of game play was worth the whole price of the game, and from what I hear, this is not one of the better dungeons.
So I have to give Blizzard credit on this. Well done!
Oh, and I got a real nice pair of boots!
Side note: After completing the dungeon I wandered around a bit in the far northern reaches of Northrend and suddenly came upon a giant steel gate set in a mountain pass. It looked a lot like the gate of Mordor. As I got closer and scouted around (it’s good to be a rogue) I discovered that the place was infested with all sorts of super-powerful undead monsters, including these awesome bone dragons that rained coldness on the ground (hitting me once). It was a very impressive graphical accomplishment, with the giant metal gate, the outposts “manned” by giant flesh golems, hordes of undead minions swarming around, and the bone dragons making their ponderous way across an aurora-draped sky….
Was pretty cool. Seriously.
Then I left before something found me and killed me.