Perfect Ten: Endless dungeons in MMOs

    
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And on and on and on...

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!

Way down we go

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.

Always something new to adventure.

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.

Back to the same.

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.

You made it sing, all right.

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.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Alex Willis

Err…all of Warframe’s content?

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Zen Dadaist

Although for endless in size that would more specifically refer to Sanctuary Onslaught. No bosses as such, but randomly selected tiles with randomly selected mobs and the occasional randomly selected enviro hazards. Stay in ’til you can stay no longer.

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Mailvaltar

I’m pretty sure Path of Exile will add the Incursion mechanics to Standard a while after the league ended, as they have done with most cool league mechanics.

Actually this is the first league I’m playing in years, most of the time when a new one starts I just continue to play on Standard and wait for the new mechanics to arrive later (albeit with lesser spawnrate).

Although I have to admit I kinda wish I had played Abyss and Breach leagues, because those don’t spawn nearly often enough for my taste nowadays.

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Arsin Halfmoon

Oh man! Thanks for this article! It’s now literally the only article on the internet that talks about this. I wanna try out the FFXI one, but man, kind of slim pickins considering the age of the genre.

Reading the comments, its so mind blowing that this hasn’t been fleshed out more in MMOs. I didn’t even know it went as far back as Anarchy Online. Looking at the list, it looks like the genre hasn’t gone deep (no pun intended) with this concept and, like many of you say, it’s a good way to keep players satiated for the long haul.

I think they should focus on stuff like that honestly, its a good way to address challenging small party content. The Deep Dungeons is a good start but I think this is certainly the step in the right direction, but its being used as a leveling tool and for personal glory, which isn’t enough. Heck, slap in a 4 man instance where each floor randomly stitches together sections from all the dungeons we have so far, randomize the mobs with monsters from different dungeons, add some insane random mechanic to make killing said mobs more challenging, challenge the players to complete as many floors as possible and promise of some exceptionally high end loot for dedicated statics and you’ve got challenging small party content that won’t need as much attention as a trial or a raid.

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Loopy

As useful as PotD was for leveling alt jobs, i’ll be honest – i disliked the design. I love the idea behind a randomly generated endless dungeon run, but the execution seemed very arcadey, artificial, and simply lazy. The square design with square rooms and square corridors that only did 90 degree turns became repetitive super fast.

I think i’m in minority though, because everyone i talk to in-game absolutely loved PotD, but i only did it as a means to level up quickly and efficiently, and not because i enjoyed it.

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Arsin Halfmoon

HoH plays with different room shapes and the areas past floor 100 in PotD has this awesome “center of the world” feeling to it. Problem is, to get there, it takes some serious dedication to get there. I mean, the concept is still relatively new, so im eager to see how the game will flesh it out even further

packagegrope
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packagegrope

city of heroes has a small glimmer of hope. check out the segs emulator.

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Jeffery Witman

When they’re done well, they can be a sure fire way too keep players active and engaged. I’m always surprised more Dev teams don’t bother including them. They’re not a new concept and they’re not technologically complicated, for the most part. I would love to see something like this in Secret World Legends, but since they went the boring route with Orochi Tower that seems unlikely.

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Avaera

I remember a short-lived dungeon crawler called Warrior Epic (terrible name), that I absolutely loved for its randomly generated coop dungeons. It was playful and vibrant, with plenty of class flavour and destructible elements… And it had playable pangolins!

Alex Js.
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Alex Js.

Not sure if “endless dungeons” is a correct phrase, I think FFXIV has the better definition of “deep dungeons”. Because they do have limit (in case of FFXIV it’s either 100 floors for HoH or 200 floors for PotD) and also pre-defined “bosses” and other monsters. Only thing that’s “endless” (compared to regular dungeon) is that the monsters will keep respawning on each floor (at least in FFXIV).

I do like them in FFXIV, though, since they allow a very dedicated people to challenge themselves to complete all floors solo (it is possible and I think there’s at least one person who already completed all 100 floors for HoH, in an addition to all of PotD) and also provide an optional alternative to level up your character even after you run out of all the quests (or just feel bored by the regular quests/dungeons/public quests), and I do wish more MMOs would integrate these “deep dungeons” into them.

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Cosmic Cleric

Not sure if “endless dungeons” is a correct phrase

Randomly generated dungeon?

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Rheem Octuris

Kinda surprised Anarchy Online isn’t on here. It had randomized instances at launch. With a ridiculous amount of customizibility.

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Cosmic Cleric

Kinda surprised Anarchy Online isn’t on here.

Ageism in MMOs! :D :p :/ :( :'(

:P

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lestrade

I remember the Anarchy Online Mission Terminals, oodles of randomly generated Door Missions.

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Tobasco da Gama

Ah, yes, I have fond memories of being shot at through walls by mission targets. :P

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Castagere Shaikura

AO was my first mmo. And i heard players saying this happened to them a million times. But it never happened to me in all those years.

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Tobasco da Gama

I think they eventually fixed it, but I played during the closed beta.

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Castagere Shaikura

Its funny as no other mmo caught on to this feature. You could even set the difficulty of the missions or the type of missions. Man i miss that so much.

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Rheem Octuris

Funcom is throwing money away by not making a sequel. :(