Most MMO dungeons are normal songs. You start out and you have a pretty clear picture of the beginning, middle, and end; they don’t really change up much. But the endless dungeon is like improvisational jazz. Sure, there’s a beginning and often a fairly reliable end, but the space in the middle can be filled with all sorts of things. You don’t even know what’s going to be there until you’re already in the thick of it. It could be filled with creme! (Probably not, but hey, life is weird sometimes.)
Our reader Arsin asked us a while back about MMOs with endless dungeon modes of some sort, and well, we do our best to find these things out. The goal here is to have an online-only game with randomly generated content between the start and end. Arguably some of these might not fit your personal criteria, but that’s all right; there’s plenty of variety here!
1. Final Fantasy XI – Nyzul Isle
One of the many different systems at work within Final Fantasy XI, Nyzul Isle Investigations were introduced without much fanfare as part of the game’s third expansion and quickly became… well, present. They never took the entire game by storm simply because of the very nature of the game; it’s hard to be hopelessly excited about something when leaving town alone means stocking up on potions for invisibility and such. In fact, if memory serves me, this was always one of the least popular options in the game…
However, we’re not grading on that scale; we’re grading on the inclusion. And this was definitely there!
2. Guild Wars 2 – Fractals
Functionally, Fractals have become less an alternative to standard dungeons and more the game’s equivalent of dungeons, which I think is a bit to its detriment. Then again, Guild Wars 2 has (and had) some issues with dungeons anyway. Perhaps it’s to be expected.
You can, of course, argue how “endless” Fractals really are, but that was one of the selling points when they were first introduced. I always thought they were a neat idea hampered a bit by their being the only option; a little predictability can be nice for dungeons. But the idea remains a good one.
3. EVE Online – Abyssal Deadspace
A fairly recent addition for a game that isn’t really usually in the dungeon-delving mold, Abyssal Deadspace was the content that prompted this question in the first place. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the coolness of the concept, shall we? There’s something just neat about a single ship drifting deep into dark, uncharted space, searching out things in dangerous territory. It’s a very neat image, and I’d be surprised if some classic science fiction to that effect didn’t inspire the content.
4. Trove – Adventure Worlds
The core of what makes this stuff neat – at least to my thinking – is the idea that you’re never actually done with the game. Sure, it’s always just going to be similar parts arranged in random fashion, but that alone makes for a memorable experience. Trove rolls with this with its random and endless Adventure Worlds. There’s always going to be something other there to try, some new challenge… or some non-challenge that you can sort out within a matter of moments. Again, random.
5. World of Warcraft – Island Expeditions
No, this one isn’t actually in the game yet. But isn’t it nice to know that World of Warcraft is finally getting in on the idea? For that matter, it’s familiar territory for the company, since Diablo II‘s running around through randomly generated dungeons was one of the things that introduced lots of players to the gameplay style.
Island expeditions are being added with the next expansion, so we don’t know whether they’ll be among the more popular options or considered annoying scenarios. But they are role-agnostic and randomized, so that’s fun.
6. Final Fantasy XIV – Deep Dungeons
We’ve got two Deep Dungeons in Final Fantasy XIV at this point, Palace of the Dead and Heaven-on-High. These are actually quite popular for their combination of random content (always a plus) and the fact that they work wonderfully as leveling spots for several jobs, very useful for a game where you’ve got more than a dozen things to level on one character. Also, there’s loot. And weird lore. And lots of fun traps.
I’m a big fan, you see.
7. Diablo III – Nephalem Rifts
Wait, is this cheating? Maybe, sort of, but Diablo III is always online, so I’m going to go ahead and count it. And the Nephalem Rifts are exactly the sort of thing we’re celebrating here, random hops into other randomly generated dungeons away from the game’s core random generation where you can randomly get random items with random powers and…
Seriously, how do you play this game without feeling like you’re constantly drawing blindly from a deck of cards? I suppose that’s part of the fun. But yes, it’s randomly appearing random dungeons in your random dungeon. Feel free to post that ancient meme about “we put random in your random.”
8. Star Wars: The Old Republic – Star Fortresses
Honestly, it felt like people kind of slept on these Star Wars: The Old Republic dungeons, which is a shame. I really liked the concept behind the Star Fortresses. Random dungeons alone or in groups, with lots of mechanics and no certainty about what you’d encounter each time? Yeah, that’s my jam. And the fact that you had extra stuff to hunt down which was also randomized? Totally on board.
Yet it seemed like most people found these annoying rather than fun. And I can certainly see it; there was only one aesthetic for the dungeons, so it feels more like a good first pass of the system than a final version. Plus, no one was really super on board with the Eternal Empire stuff. But a neat idea that should have been expanded just the same.
9. Path of Exile – Incursion League
Oh, Path of Exile, you crazy. Yes, it’s random dungeons showing up. But going through these random dungeons wreaks changes to a modern dungeon, which you can then go through as another dungeon to make things even more crazy. It’s a really cool idea; I just wish PoE would stop using so many cool ideas on time-limited modes. Gets people playing, I suppose.
10. City of Heroes – Radio missions
Yes, the game is gone, but I still feel like radio missions and the subsequent heists were some of the more brilliant examples of what you could do with the format, and it’s almost heartbreaking that every game hasn’t yanked this by now. Random missions with random locales and enemies? That’s good enough. But then the culmination of several in which you either foiled or pulled off a bank heist, complete with random surrounding events that could completely change the nature of things?
The best part was that these missions were dynamic in neat ways. Fail at stopping the robber right away, and you can still stop them from fleeing. It made for fun ad-hoc adventures even without formalized roles in your group, even if you were just a collection of Blasters shooting things.
Then again, City of Heroes already felt like freeform jazz much of the time, so perhaps this was just a variation on the theme.