Open Dungeons

I was absolutely gutted when I found out that World of Warcraft didn’t have any open dungeons. No idea what I’m talking about? 18 months ago I would’ve been shocked by that but not any more. Read below:

Open Dungeon

A MMORPG dungeon zone which is not instanced, can accommodate multiple groups and perpetually exists with continually re-spawning enemies.

Yeah, I made that definition up. I couldn’t find anything online. I don’t even know if ‘open’ dungeon is a proper term or not. I just know I like them and that I miss them. Some of my favourite open dungeons include Blackburrow (EQ), City of Mist (EQ), Grieg’s End (EQ), Tomb of Mithra (DAOC), Fallen Gate (EQ2), Runnyeye (EQ2), Sanctum of the Scaleborn (EQ2).. I could pretty much list any dungeon from Everquest or Everquest 2.

Open dungeons are an amazing experience because they allow for something which no MMORPG developer can program – social interaction. Sure, it’s fun to do an instance with a group of friends but I love the challenge of competing/working with (take your pick) against other groups and the surprise of bumping into new people. They also allow for a much longer gaming session as there is often no defined ‘end’ point (ironically it also makes it easier to leave too as a group can just continue on and search for a replacement.). Some of my favourite memories are of spending hours in a dungeon, turning it inside and out and bonding with my new found comrades.

Social interaction is an important point for me. It’s truly what separates MMOs from single player games or experiences like playing Diablo 2 over I also play on a PvP server in Everquest 2 and the thrill of bumping into an enemy group in a dungeon and the social interactions which occur as a result are second to none.

I think it was Anarchy Online that first introduced the concept of instances and I then saw it a fair bit in Everquest 2 and, I guess in my nativity, assumed they were still used in combination with open dungeons in all MMORPGs to provide different gaming experiences. Instanced dungeons are fantastic for tailor group adventures with a driven story whilst open dungeons are fantastic fun for experience, loot and bonding (note: not bondage) sessions.

Personally I think every MMORPG should have a healthy mix of open and instanced dungeons as to provide a variety of gaming experiences. I was very disappointed to find that WoW doesn’t have any open dungeons and it’s sad for me to think that all MMOs may be leaning towards instances more now and I can’t fathom why that is. Are they easier to develop? Do players just prefer them to open dungeons? I have no idea. What do you think?

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Related Posts

  1. Quests – The Biggest Grind
  2. MMO Communities
  3. The Changing Social Conventions In MMOs
  4. Social Morals
  5. Grouping Is Where The Fun’s At


  1. Grump says:

    I enjoy open dungeons, contested dungeons as I call them. I can’t wait for GU52, Kurn’s Tower!! It’s going to be a contested dungeon and a x2 raid instance!

    (Indecently, I found your site while looking for updates on Kurn’s Tower, your blog was listed in the side bar of

  2. Jim says:

    I really enjoy open dungeons too. I believe they are easier to develop for. They eliminate unknowns that other players may be able to put into an open dungeon. Games are also getting away from grinding mobs for xp and more toward quest xp for leveling which eliminates the need for a place to grind.

  3. Jeremy S. says:

    I totally agree and one of my favorite things, that might seem small but has a huge impact on my immersion level and enjoyment from said immersion, is how Vanguards entire world is as you put “open”. I think the correct word is persistent. Doesn’t sound like it, but usually when referring to anything out-and-about where monsters respawn is part of a “persistent” world.

    The first time I entered a cave, in Vanguard, and kept going around and down and down, for a long time, I loved it, it clicks in my brain that this is still a fundamental piece of the world and not some magical place I have to be “transported to”. It adds depth, realism, and immersion, for me to think “Wow, this world is HUGE and it’s a “real” world.”

  4. Beej says:

    I do miss those open dungeons. Some of my most memorable times in UO or SWG were in those open dungeons. In UO, there were rarely better places to grief and find PvP, and in SWG, there were basically raids going on all the time when new dungeons were released, and no one would coordinate, so crazy and fun times ensued.

    WoW was supposed to have tons of what they announced as “micro-dungeons” in the press releases, but unfortunately, they turned out to be nothing more than caves where people would run through as they quested to get a single named mob for a quest and move on. They all even had the same layout. I have to say it might be Blizzard’s laziest “implementation.”

  5. Myrix says:

    Completely agree. I love open dungeons.

    I think designers worry that a.) the increased population makes open dungeons difficult, and b.) that players ultimately don’t like competing over spawns, quest mobs, and bosses.

    I think that should be taken as a challenge to be overcome instead of an insurmountable obstacle.

    To tackle A, I’d simply make the open dungeon absolutely massive. Give it four or five different entrances and maybe even some teleportation squares to make travel into and out of it easy rather than annoying, but then make it large enough to accommodate a large number of groups.

    For B, you could do things like triggered spawns, where the players must collect certain items or achieve a certain goal in order to spawn a boss, and have that boss either only visible to them or already tagged for them so that others cannot interfere with it. You can also borrow from Warhammers public quests, making most quests in the open dungeon in this fashion. That way, players do not feel like they are competing for quest mobs. They actually want to help each other because the end goal will be completed for everyone participating whether they are grouped or not.

    While instances also have their place, I hope we see some more attempts at open dungeons in the future. They really can offer a completely different experience.

  6. Gordon says:

    Wow, I’m surprised so many people love open dungeons just like me. I kinda figured they were old hat now but I’m so glad to see that people still like them as much as me.

    Love the idea of huge dungeons with triggered spawns, Myrix :)

  7. You’re right in that shared/open/contested dungeons do provide for social interaction, but that can be both good and bad. A lot of times you’ll have people who will just selfishly try to take needed spawns themselves instead of working with others who need the same spawns. I’ve seen this a lot in outdoors type areas in games that have lots of instances otherwise. Stopping to group up seems like a chore for some people, because it takes a few precious seconds they could be using to finish the quest.

    Even if you want to cooperate, you have problems in grouping together. Say max group size is 6, and two groups of 4 meet each other. How do you cooperate? In theory you could share spawns like some did back in EQ, but that’s not as efficient. The best option would be to allow both groups to work together somehow.

    Private instances are part of the whole “I prefer to solo” mindset of current MMO games. It’s just faster and easier to go into an instance and tackle things yourself or with friends. You can go at yoru own pace instead of being harried by someone else wanting to “play through”. But, then you lose all the positive social interactions that keep these games fun in the long run.

  8. ZachPruckowski says:

    WoW used to have open dungeons, Jintha’alor was one. There were a handful of other ones, where there were elite mobs and a bunch of quests aimed at the area. They were nerfed during The Burning Crusade because there weren’t enough people grouping to do them. The nerf made the mobs non-elite, removing the need to group.

  9. SmakenDahed says:

    Open dungeons are a must for me. There is just something special about delving a dungeon and coming across another group. There is also the added risk of people screwing up who aren’t even in your group.

    The bigger the dungeon, the better. I like the risk of exploring and pushing deeper in the dungeon knowing things are going to get tougher and having a sense that stuff is reappearing behind you – it’s almost like a trapped sensation, you feel you have to do it right or die because fleeing stops being an option when you’re that far in.

    I think that was a cost to instancing. The dungeons got smaller when they no longer needed to support multiple groups.

    VG had some pretty good dungeons too, you just had to find them and stick around long enough to get to them. My personal favorites were Trengal Keep, Greystone, Vol Tuniel and Nuisbe Necropolis. The elf one that was all stilts and platforms was neat, but pathing was really bugged.

  10. Wolfshead says:

    “Open dungeons are an amazing experience because they allow for something which no MMORPG developer can program – social interaction.”

    Well said. I’m glad someone has decided to revisit the subject of open dungeons and instanced dungeons.

    In reality instanced content is the bread and butter of WoW; it is their premium content. Everything else in WoW is fluff compared to instancing.

    Instancing makes no sense within the lore framework of Azeroth. It requires far too much of a suspension of disbelief to work in my opinion. It is the equivalent of the Looking Glass of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. It is the Achilles Heel of WoW which can’t be explained away. Just how is it that Van Cleef died 498 times today on my server? Or even more ridiculous, how was it that Onyxia was vanquished 17 times today on my server?

    Blizzard must think we are fools if our brains are so soft and filled with mush that we accept this preposterous lie of instancing.

    It’s done far more damage to MMOs then it has solved problems. The competitive nature of gaming has been removed because of it. Competition for scarce resources is worthwhile because it creates conflict and drama among players. Where some see a customer service problem I see a great opportunity for engaging gameplay.

    Without drama and conflict the social nature of people congregating in dungeons has also been removed.

    Don’t like your instance? Easy, just step outside and “reset” it. What a shameful and despicable feature to have in a virtual world.

    MMOs have become like vending machines today. All predicated on the misguided notion of giving the customer what they want with the result being a litany of dumbed-down gameplay such as WoW.

    With WoW, you are not in a world at all — you just think you are. In a real virtual world things persist. The only thing that persists in Azeroth are the mass hallucinations and gullibility of it’s inhabitants.

    • rowan says:

      Clearly you have a different concept of what WOW should be from the developers and most players seem to want, Wolfshead. In WoW the goal, apparently was to to make the story the focus. Is this any different than the Warcraft or Starcraft RTSs? Blizzard incorporated an epic story into what had been and in many cases continues to be a mechanic driven genre. If you played the RTSs, you did the same thing as thousands of others, you got to be Thrall or Arthas, or Kerrigan or Jim Raynor. I personally didn’t like WCIII when I tried it, and you don’t have to like WoW. But to dismiss the idea that each person can be a hero in their own story because you can’t suspend your disbelief?

      Blizzard introduced Instances for one simple reason. People are assholes. For every great interaction you claim to have in an open dungeon, there probably two or three people who think it sucks because they have to wait in line to kill the boss; or worse some high level griefer is ruining the area by camping and one-shotting things before anyone else can.

      Oh, and Blizzard tried the one-time-only-thing with the opening of the AQ gate. ONE person out of thousands from each server got to do that, and they all were tanks as I recall. Must have been awesome, because they haven’t done anything like it since.

      Again with the late comment, but hey I’m reading the posts, Gordon.

      • Gordon says:

        “Again with the late comment, but hey I’m reading the posts, Gordon.”

        I’m just actually flattered you’re reading them! :) I love it when people go back to old posts, it’s nice to think the content is worth the test of time.

  11. Gordon says:

    Well said, Wolfshead, well said. Although I think WoW is a great game it certainly is very confining in it’s scope. I don’t think games need to be “sandboxes” (I don’t believe in that term anyway) like Darkfall but I like to see the content driven by players and social interaction. This doesn’t mean sitting around and chatting about lore in taverns but it means actually engaging with other people on occasion.

    Fundamentally it’s why I’m bored of leveling up alts via quests in WoW yet I could do it all day long in EQ2 via open dungeons because everytime the experience is unique and different.

  12. [...] Wolfshead posted an interesting comment on my Open Dungeons article from the other week and it made me start thinking about questing and the whole ‘grind’ structure of MMORPGs. [...]

  13. wilhelm2451 says:

    The thing is, Wolfshead, flipping the coin and making the dungeons open doesn’t do much for suspension of disbelief either.

    So instead of the Deadmines being a place to be tackled by you and four friends, it should become a morass of players wandering hither and yon with competing groups camping Van Cleef, waiting for him to appear so that he can be immediately killed? That is somehow more realistic? Belief in that is somehow easier to suspend?

    I came from EQ and recall fondly evenings in open dungeons and interesting social interactions that occurred. But I also remember more often such places being over-camped messes that my friends and I would end up walking away from after a very unsatisfactory evening.

    The thing with WoW is that it is frequently about content on demand. My regular group, none of whom has the unlimited free time of youth any more, can set a time, log on, and be assured that we’ll be able to attempt the content we have planned on without it becoming a wash because five other groups are already there fighting over who gets the next spawn.

    And, frankly, having come from AD&D before EQ, the idea of “people congregating in a dungeon” seems to be somewhat backwards. People congregate in towns. Then they take off in small groups to find adventure. If you got to a dungeon and found a couple dozen other adventurers there competing for the same loot it would be tough to explain why you went their in the first place or how there could be any loot left in such a popular location.

    Well, that might be interesting to role play once, as a change of pace. I knew one DM who could have made that work. But it would hardly make for a staple, a regular mode of adventure, which is what you seem to be suggesting.

  14. Gordon says:

    I think instances have their place but to me I miss the thrill and interactivity that online an open dungeon can give. I don’t want to see an end to instance dungeons by far – I just want to see more open dungeons in games and for them to recognised as a viable play style.

  15. [...] before the wife kicks your ass? Go solo. Got a whole a morning to kill? Grab a group and hit an open dungeon for hours on [...]

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