A long time ago I remember playing EverQuest and hearing word from the World of Warcraft alpha/beta that there would be instanced content everywhere. At that time I and my guild mates thought, “oh, that will be great!” Here it is years later and I thought today, “it would be great if there weren’t so many instances anymore!” You certainly can have too much of a good thing and I think we might need to look into doing away with all this instancing! To undo an instance you need to understand why you have one in the first place!
EverQuest was a pretty amazing game when you were playing it. However, it had some annoyances. One of those, especially before Kunark came out, was that you had to share everything with everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I do like to share, but this was ridiculous! For any given level range you’d have one to three dungeons and you had to fit everyone there or find alternatives. This lead to a lot of fights, camp disputes and some interesting incidents regarding trains. There just wasn’t enough real estate in certain places. You had too much competition for a finite resource at some key choke points. Blizzard figured that the best move to solve this was to give you and your friends your own instance! Thus, instancing en mass was born (not to be confused with Blizzard inventing instancing. They didn’t).
Now when you wanted a dungeon, you had one! World of Warcraft would give you your own playground and nobody could horn in on it! All the named mobs were yours! The shiny loot that they dropped couldn’t be stolen away by another puller! Nobody outside of your group could get you killed and things were good. Despite early success, WoW initially kept the instances limited. You still had a very robust and large world to level and interact in, even if it was concentrated on chore hubs. Things worked well but now they seem to be out of hand! Everyone seems to be instancing greater percentages of their game. This is especially true when you reach max level. Once you cap out you technically never have to interact with someone outside your friends list or guild again. Dungeons? Instanced! Raids? Instanced! Battle ground? Instanced! Girls Locker Room? Instanced with female only flag! This is a problem.
On any given server I no longer know anyone outside of my guild or the annoying fools who never shut up in general chat. I’ve become so insulated by the instance system that I have no sense of community on Oasis. I no longer have great stories of heroes and villains in that population. There is simply no humanity and that makes me sad. The whole lot of us seem to be on prozium (bonus if you know what that is without Googling it). We don’t experience the great lows of someone competing for our spawn or stealing it. At the same time we don’t have the thrills of derailing a train, saving a failed group, or winning back a mob from a thief. It just isn’t the same.
EverQuest 2 threw me a bone in Sentinel’s Fate by including the Hole as a non-instanced dungeon. It is large, has named mobs, some loot, and an experience modifier that makes you actually want to be there. I’ve enjoyed running into other players and competing a bit for mobs and loot. In all honesty it has been my favorite part of the entire expansion. The execution is superb and I applaud it. It is only one dungeon, however, and it still isn’t as well planned as many of the ones in EverQuest. I think more time spent swinging the innovation arm back would go a long way.
In truth I believe we should always have at least one instanced dungeon per leveling tier. That way, if the open areas are packed, you always have somewhere to go. The great part about open dungeons is that you can also use them as a kind of story and progression. Perhaps at level ten you can begin Ferrel’s Castle and kill some of the simple monsters that roam its outer courtyard and walls. At fourteen you can move into the inner yard and fight harder monsters. The deeper you go the higher the level until eventually it becomes trivial. This mingles high and low level people at a cross roads and I think that would be fine. By doing this you wouldn’t need as many dungeons as you do instances. I might also recommend that each open dungeon have a “maximum capacity.” When it reaches that you can open a second one like EverQuest 2 does. This way you’ll never have the EQ1 system of waiting for a camp for hours.
Grief is also going to be reduced with the way encounter locking works. Yes, you’ll have to compete for spawns, but healthy competition is a good thing. It gets the blood flowing and makes players focus. It is harder to sleep through contested content than an instance. Developers could also break up the camp system by not allowing mobs to spawn on one point. Give each named a chance to spawn in a given area. There are other solutions to that problem as well. The environment has just changed so much from the EverQuest days. It isn’t the same and I don’t feel like we need the fix anymore. Uninstance me please! Let’s bring the community back together.