The Daily Grind: What elements make for a truly great MMO dungeon?


Not all MMO dungeons are created alike. Some were assembled by C-minus students in shop class, slapped together with rusty nails and bare minimum standards. Some are works of art that should kick the Mona Lisa to the floor and be hung up for millions to admire in the centuries to come. And there’s everything in the middle, too.

So what elements make for a truly great MMO dungeon? Is it the level design? That perfect trash mob-to-boss ratio? Fun theming? Memorable quotes? Generous loot tables? Speedy completion? Places to explore? Challenges for every role?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Ardra Diva

can’t be a good dungeon without some skeletons.


Story Mode.


Good question! There are a whole lot of things that I think make an awesome dungeon.

  • Great aesthetics. Dungeons are often the big set-pieces of an RPG, the equivalent of a car chase in an action movie. Accordingly, they need great aesthetics to draw us in and get us excited for what comes next, not to mention setting the mood of the place
  • Clearly set level of difficulty. Easy dungeons are just as valuable as hard dungeons, it’s just important to set that level of difficulty, be consistent through the dungeon, and clearly inform your players.
  • Mechanics that extract the most out of the game. Lets face it, nearly all open world solo content is faceroll. A dungeon, with its player caps and set difficulty level, can be designed to draw out the best of the mechanics. If you have action combat, make the bosses require the most action from the players. If you have really deep mechanics, design bosses to draw out that depth.
  • Lots of options! I’m mostly refering to group setups and tactics here. If there is only one tactic, one group setup, then dungeons just become complex choreography that don’t stand up to any form of repetition. This also means no enrage timers! If one team wants to kite a boss for an hour rather than use the “proper” tactics that takes 5 minutes, who am I to stop them?!?!?
  • Loot. I hestitated about adding this one, but honestly, I think we all enjoy getting cool loot, and if the dungeon has been sufficiently time consuming or difficult then its nice to get that extra reward at the end. Loot also helps with repetition.
  • Good pacing. Not only in terms of keeping the action going, but also giving sufficient downtime for socialising and team-building. This also applies to total duration: a dungeon should be able to be completed in a single session, putting a max duration of about 3 hours for an average team, but something closer to 30-60 minutes is probably better.

What elements make for a truly great MMO dungeon?

The music:

It’s the ONLY thing that makes those boring “mandatory timesinks” tolerable for me (I never liked any dungeon in any MMORPG I have ever played). And unfortunately Square Enix is the only MMORPG developer that understands the importance of variety of good music in places like that.


But I was just able to experience the music (the only good part) without having to slog through the “everything else.” So why would I tolerate the tedium, bad mechanics, time wasting, forced grouping and grind? I just got the only part worth having.


I’m not qualified to answer “what makes a good MMO dungeon,” because I hate the fact that they even exist. To me, the best MMO dungeon is the one I never have to play, look at, think about, or hear about. ( OnO )


Has to feel like a world you are part of whilst not being the chosen one among thousands of other chosen ones.

Preferably it has to let you express yourself so enough variation in either character development, or character looks or even housing without making the game look like a landscape of 90’s luna parks.

Personally i also have an affinity for MMOs that allow me to go down a non combat path Runescape is good in this and so are others, something else than just killing things ad nauseum for a day, although i find that every MMO does need some challenging small scale PvE content.

And last different paths of progression, i do not mind that Raids are considered to be the best place to get loot but there has to be more than just scraps for solo players, who generally get the short end of the stick as all they really get are catch up systems build in that actually is there to aid people to get raiding.

IronSalamander8 .

It needs to be more than just a ‘loot tunnel’ which unfortunately describes a lot of these things in several games. I want puzzles, traps, some kind of reason as to why it exists and to why the things that live there are there in the first place.


For me it’s mainly gameplay; as long as going through it is fun in itself I will be doing it regardless of rewards (or lack of), lore, graphics, theme, etc. I mean, those other things can’t be so bad that they drive me entirely away, but as long as they are at least passable that is enough for me.

The specifics vary with the group size, though.

A solo dungeon? I want those fiendishly hard. Lots of avoidable attacks that will kill me in seconds if I fail at avoiding them (or try ignoring them), mobs that I need to position correctly in order to have a chance, environmental effects that I need to use, etc. Think Dark Souls-level unforgiveness, if not harder.

A small group dungeon? I want those to be easy, so I can chill and have a good time with friends (or random strangers). I want those easy enough that a PUG without voice communication and where everyone has the bare minimum recommended gear can still beat the dungeon more often than not. And, due to scheduling issues, I absolutely need the run to take less than half an hour, including the time it takes to assemble the group; any longer and I’m likely to have to leave before the run is done.

A raid? I don’t care, I will never play those (and will leave the game if something I either need or really want is locked behind them).

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Variety, if all dungeons have same patterns like number of bosses and mobs between them then i feel all dungeons are the same, with just different themes, this is boring.

I like dungeons when they are different from each other, to have from 1 to 20 bosses (why not?!) to have things to do other than killing mobs, to have secrets areas and treasures, to have some randomness, random rare mobs or random layout.


Context: the dungeon first of all has to have a reason to be, and then the design support that. Generic Cave 6 with (randomizing…monster 52853) can be challenging, but it’s not interesting.

Theme: the design, layout, art, textures, sounds, inhabitants all have to support that context. While the deep dungeons in ff14 can certainly be fun and are a strong way to get to, I don’t find them particularly memorable or engaging. They’re just more video game levels like in Mario.

Creativity: something we haven’t seen before. I like not knowing what’s around the next corner. I like being surprised by a theme I haven’t experienced.

Scale: I like big dungeons and I cannot lie. I *like* dungeons that are large enough that they require a determination and commitment to complete from the players. Yes, that means they’re harder to run frequently, but Cf creativity above should suggest that running a dungeon for the 74th time isn’t particularly compelling to me anyway. I frankly despise Blizzard’s fragmenting of dungeons like Mara and brd to make them more runnable for dungeon-finder pugs, despite that being aimed squarely at my time-short, filthy casual demographic.

Challenging: I don’t think you should just win a prize because you try. I don’t mind content that’s so hard, you don’t always win (and understand, as I age I recognize I’m on the increasing side of that curve), it adds a meaningful sense of success when you do.

It should surprise nobody that my favorite instances are things like BRD, Kara, and in a slightly different context, Moria. I’ll give a nod to some of the instances in ff14 as well, ghimlet(?) Dark, tam-tamra, amaurot(?)…even tho I haven’t played ff14 for a bit now, their instances tended to be meticulously crafted and story focussed.