The slower pace of dungeons was something that was announced well before the expansion actually launched, of course. So I think it’s interesting to look at the slower pace, at the stated goals, and see how well the changes have actually achieved those goals. Or, perhaps, if the whole thing didn’t work out very well and we should hope for an uptick again in the next expansion.
In the base game, we were more or less swimming in dungeons. This made sense, at the time. There was a much bigger spread of levels and plenty of dungeons to give a hard mode; it wasn’t all that hard to get three new dungeons out of the game with every patch.
Of course, this came with a down side, specifically that every single patch had at least one dungeon no one liked very much. Pharos Sirius and Sastasha (Hard) are the ones that stick out in everyone’s mind, but I remember people being unhappy to get a single dungeon in every single patch. Clearly the development team agreed, at least to an extent, since Heavensward cut the number of added dungeons down to two per patch. One new one and one hard mode, instead of two hard modes.
The bright side to this approach was that the extra development time did indeed shine through. Each dungeon felt better-tuned and more suited to running, and while we had the occasional patch with particularly easy dungeons (3.3 in particular had “the one with easy mechanics or the one with no mechanics”) it was a far cry from making dungeons that were just plain unpleasant to run.
Unfortunately, fatigue still set in because the Expert dungeon rotation now consisted of precisely two dungeons. By the time the next patch rolled around, you had seen those two dungeons countless times. So while I don’t think anyone really expected to get more dungeons per patch, the need for a wider rotation of new dungeons was felt keenly.
This, I think, was where some of the apprehension came from when the announcement came that we would be getting only one dungeon every other patch. True to form, we’ve been getting one dungeon on odd patches and a new hard mode on even patches, but the rotation of dungeons has largely worked out all right. Having a two-dungeon rotation during 4.2 was a drag, but having three again makes it far more enjoyable; hopefully whatever is added for 4.4 will rotate out the older dungeons while keeping Compass in the mix.
From a resource standpoint, it’s worked out well. By the time the end of Heavensward rolled around, the game was mining out its leveling dungeons for hard modes; there were only 11 dungeons that hadn’t yet gotten an upgrade, and some of those arguably had no options for an upgrade. By contrast, at this point we’ve got 20 dungeons which could theoretically get a hard mode, and we’ve gotten a wider Expert rotation.
These are positive things for the long-term health of the game. We’re getting slightly fewer dungeons, but it’s balancing out decently with quality. And we’re also getting a wider variety of different roulettes to flesh out our time, so we’ve got a wider spread of content to run and more reasons to do so.
I feel like it also frees the dungeon team a bit more to do more interesting things with dungeons. Doma Castle, for example, is going to be hard (at best) to make a hard mode out of if anyone ever tries. But the dungeon could also be designed without a need for any sort of hard mode. Compare that to Stone Vigil, where there could be little to no sense of immediacy as you moved through the dungeon; you were just there, completing part of the story, with no real connection to the place or what you needed.
At the same time, it also does feel a bit off that we’ve been getting fewer dungeons all around. In fact, this becomes particularly bothersome when we’re in single-dungeon patches; because every new dungeon has its own gear, this means that the drop tables are overloaded and there’s one dungeon with much better gear than the other two. Rolling the singleton into the next Expert following the release of two new dungeons would help this a bit, though not completely.
We’ve also definitely fallen into something of a rote pattern with dungeons in the game – a few trash pulls, then a boss, repeat three times. In fact, the dungeons we’re dealing with these days seem to have the weakest sense of uniquely arranged packs of enemies, with most of our fights just being “and here’s a group, pull it to the gate.” There are efforts made to provide some different mechanics along the way in Compass, but none of them really come down to much in the end.
This is a bad thing; one of the most memorable bits of a dungeon is when individual trash fights have their own mechanics and patterns. The latest groups don’t seem to have that cadence, which makes the fights less engaging and tends to encourage just gathering everything and AoEing it down. (Which is better now that pretty much every job has some interesting AoE tricks, but still.)
Insofar as the stated goals were to make individual dungeons more fun and more memorable, I think the change in rollout has largely succeeded. We’re getting slightly less, but it’s higher quality and it’s still fun. And the various runs don’t feel worse; even the two dungeons we’re more familiar with don’t feel like they’ve completely worn out their welcome. Especially since we’re no longer forced to run Expert quite as often.
I think there could stand to be a bit more examination of how and why content rotates in and out of Expert, but for the time being, this is working. And if this is where the next expansion starts and stays, that would be all right.
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, as we’re still in a bit of a lull, I want to start in on a rather ridiculous project. It’s time to rate the beast tribes. We’ve got a lot of them, this should be fun.