Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On WoW 5-man design

This is a response to http://bit.ly/1FK87X

Blizzard has updated it's 5-man design philosophies every expansion so far, to try and correct the weaknesses and failures of past philosophies. So here is my analysis of the Wrath 5-man design and where I'd like to see it go.

What is good?

a) Dungeons serve dual purposes, not only do they provide gear and the culmination of storylines for those who are leveling, but they also serve as a launching board into the endgame for max-level players.

b) Their short duration makes them accessible, and with a good group, take only as long as a few quests might.

c) Varied boss design and encounter mechanics makes each dungeon feel different.

d) Dungeon quests increase the incentive for going, and provide good loot and money.

e) Daily quests increase the reward:effort ratio further boosting Dungeon participation by max-level players

f) Badges let everyone profit.

What is not good?

A broken promise

We were led to believe that in BC and Wrath, that they were employing a Scarlet Monastery-like design to the 5-mans, with different wings of a dungeon in the same area. However, this isn't really the case. I feel that the dungeons, despite being in the same area, feel disjointed. Several of the hubs have very different recommended levels for the adventurers. While leveling, you can't finish Utgarde Keep and then say to your group, "Who's up for Utgarde Pinnacle?" This makes the dungeons feel separate. Furthermore, the dungeons tend to tell different stories. SM Library continues into SM Armory and then SM Cathedral rather organically (SM Graveyard does lie on the outside here).

Do your chores!

Badges, badges, badges. They keep people coming back to the dungeons, but not in a good way. Badges are great because they allow everyone to get something off of every boss that they can use, but it currently feels like we are being tethered to the 5-mans. We don't have a real need to do them, but we can't stop. As such, we find ourselves sprinting through the dungeons, trying to get them out of the way as fast as possible.

Is it over already?

All of the Wrath 5-mans range from 3 to 5 bosses. While this is nice, many (or some, forums are not indicative of general player opinion) would like to have larger, epic dungeons. They would like something that's on the same scale as a raid, but set up for 5 people at a time. This would provide epic scale, but an intimate environment. It would be more casual, friendly, and less stressful than a raid, but give you something grand to do outside of your scheduled raid time.

What's on the horizon?

In patch 3.3, we will be greeted not only with a new raid, Icecrown Citadel, but also with 3 new 5-man dungeons, the Frozen Halls. The dungeons will provide loot that is on the same level as Ulduar, but in a 5-man setting. The dungeons are set up with a linear storyline and have to be accessed in a linear fashion. Completing The Forge of Souls allows access to the Pit of Saron which allows access to the Halls of Reflection. Here we have an epic storyline, with a grand scale, that still permits you to be in and out quickly if you want. Having a grand total of 7 bosses, as well as at least one gauntlet like event, running the full series should be satisfying and profitable.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, I just wish we didn't have to wait +1 year after Wrath released in order to get it. It will be interesting to see how it works out.

Furthermore, if I remember correctly from the Blizzcon coverage concerning 5-mans in Cataclysm, I believe they previewed a dungeon in the Uldum area called the Halls of Origination that would have a larger than average number of bosses.

What would I do?

Bigger and Longer

I would have an epicly winged dungeon like the Frozen Halls available in the Cataclysm endgame from the beginning. This type of dungeon has a significant presence in the game world, and is something that is much desired. I would place more bosses in it however, at least 9.

Or, how about this, a 5-man that has a 1 week lockout, and require that a certain number of your party to have already completed the previous wings this week. If you haven't completed part 1 that week, you can't do part 2, etc. This dungeon could offer higher level loot and without creating rampant gear inflation by only offering upgrades for particular gear slots for every spec. It could offer a cloak, relic/wand, trinket, ring that would be good for every spec. I will admit, that this idea has problems. PUGing it would be difficult. But the design would be raidlike, having progression, and fears of 'dungeon ID stealing' are assuaged because each wing would have a separate dungeon ID.

Harder and Faster

Hard modes. Hard modes are a fun way to challenge yourself and your group. They provide better loot and would keep people coming back to the dungeons longer. Presently, I can think of 2 dungeon 'challenges'. The Watcher Corpse for Ahn'kahet, and the Bronze Drake run for Culling of Stratholme. The Watcher Corpse is lame, but Bronze Drake runs are fun, and because of it, Culling of Stratholme is one of the easiest dungeons to get a group for. Also, the hard modes could offer higher level badges and loot.

But what would make for a good hard mode for a dungeon? Speed runs leading to optional bosses are always fun. Imagine a Black Dragonflight dungeon that if you hurry fast enough, you can intercept one of Deathwing's Lieutenants and bring him down for better/more interesting loot.

Icecrown style hard modes controlled via a UI toggle are still good. With harder attacks and new abilities, bosses could stay relevant w/ higher gear.

Scalable hard modes similar to Sartharion would be fun as well. Imagine a dungeon where the early bosses are channeling their energy to empower the final boss. Clearly, you should kill the smaller bosses, and then the final boss. But what if you just went for it, and killed the final boss before all of the others were dead? Or a dungeon where you kite various elemental bosses to the same room and they combine to form a more dangerous boss. These options would be difficult, interesting, and above all else, fun.

Finally, one last recommendation. A giant dragon. People like Onyxia. People like Sartharion. Why not have a giant dragon one-off fight for 5-mans? I have one in mind, perhaps I will post it later.


That concludes all that I have to say regarding dungeon design. Blizzard has come a long way in their dungeon design, but they've always shown that they aren't afraid to raise the bar again. Perhaps however, 5-mans should swing back a little closer to the epic things that they once were, and the addition of hard modes would keep dungeons fun and compelling much longer than they currently are.

What are your suggestions? Do you disagree?