Lands of the Dead vs. Darkness Falls: Don't mess with perfection

Mythic recently announced plans for a huge "live expansion" called Call to Arms that would span several months and culminate in the release of a new mega-zone called Lands of the Dead. LotD has been described by the developers as a spiritual successor to Darkness Falls, a dungeon that is considered by many as the best thing to ever come out of Dark Age of Camelot.

This announcement has many people drooling and speculating on the possibilities because we haven't been given many details to work with. What we do know is that players will have to fight for control of it. The zone will be called Lands of the Dead (aka Nehekhara) and themed on the Tomb Kings. Controlling the zone will give you access to public quests, instance lairs, and a massive dungeon that holds secrets of something called the Casket of Souls (similar to the Ark of the Covenant).

If Nehekhara is going to be as good for Warhammer Online as Darkness Falls was for Dark Age of Camelot, I believe Mythic must mimic its predecessor as closely as possible. Continue reading below the cut where we'll discuss how they can succeed and how they can fail.
Avid MMORPG blogger, Keen, has several pieces of advice for Mythic if they want to properly implement a "spiritual successor" to DF in WAR. I agree with his points wholeheartedly and will elaborate on many of them here, while also discussing different angles.

Let me say this up front: I am extremely fearful that Mythic will screw this up by trying to modernize all the old mechanics of DF in the new LotD dungeon. I believe everyone has such fond memories of DF because of exactly what it was. There were no instanced bosses in DF. There were no public quests. There was no influence. There was no Vegas Loot System. There were no bind on pickup items. There were no caps on the amount of people who could enter. There were no high level requirements to experience the content. There was no zone lockout system. This may sound "old school," but I urge Mythic: Please don't mess with perfection!

Why is everyone so excited about the prospect of a DF 2.0 in WAR? Why has this been the number one requested feature? I think it's fair to say that most of us simply want a carbon copy of DF 1.0 with a new theme and layout. Yes, nostalgia can add a bit of gloss to an old system and many of DF's mechanics could be seen as harsh by the post-WoW generation of players, but I think the original model can still work. Let me detail exactly how I want to see the new dungeon laid out.

I don't care if Nehekhara is full of PQs and instances as long as they're kept out of the Tomb Kings dungeon. Seriously, do whatever the heck you guys want out there. Inside the dungeon, however, I would like to see the zone split into two wings where both sides work their way toward the center. Mobs should be easier near your spawn point and become increasingly more difficult as you go deeper into the dungeon. These mobs should drop coins and tokens of varying quality, which can be used to buy properly itemized gear for players of all ranks (10+). You should be able to trade these tokens to help boost WAR's lackluster economy. This dungeon should be a viable place to gain XP and players should be encouraged to group to get the best XP possible. There should be several non-instanced mini-bosses for players of all ranks to enjoy. There should also be non-instanced bosses/encounters for large groups of max-rank players to take on. There should be a tier of tokens for the max-ranked players to collect for competitive suits of armour (wards for the end dungeon bosses perhaps?). And of course, there should always be the risk of getting jumped by the enemy...

Mythic needs to figure out a way for Destruction and Order to capture this zone/dungeon. Back in DAOC, DF was gated by RvR and the realm with the most keeps could enter it. Currently, flipping keeps in WAR is disgustingly easy, but I think it can still work this way if Mythic improves the current system. Making keeps more dynamic and difficult to capture is a step in the right direction (e.g., better siege options, keep claiming/improvement system, etc.). Of course, you'll still need players to defend them, but I think this will naturally occur if people have more to fight for. Defending keeps was a badge of honour in DAOC for many reasons; one of the biggest reasons was to maintain control of DF.

On the other hand, flipping control of LotD shouldn't be made too difficult because a huge part of the fun is the RvR that can take place in this zone. The offensive and defensive RvR dungeon sweeps were an amazing experience in DF, so I hope they make their way over to the new dungeon as well. Mixing your PvE and PvP is a recipe for the best adrenaline rush you can experience in an MMORPG. It is for this player anyway...

Can the public quest, influence, instance, and Vegas Loot Systems work in LotD? Yes they can, but I don't believe they're necessary. One of the coolest parts about DF was how open it was. Keen describes it best by calling DF a little sandbox within a linear MMO. Adding public quests with influence gives players too much direction, which really limits the potential of what players can accomplish if left to their own devices. Influence is a very linear path to gear that has a defined end: your elite reward. But what's the point of going back once you've filled your influence bar? No-one goes back to open-world PQs once their influence bar is filled and it would be a disaster for the critical population mass this dungeon will need to succeed. As for the Vegas Loot System, we all know how borked contribution currently is. Even if they could get it working properly, is it really any better than a token system where the group leader can set the loot rules? Consider all the additional benefits of a token system (e.g., trading, selling, the freedom to choose which gear to purchase and in what order, etc.). Finally, instancing can really kill the feeling of community and sharing that made the original DF so great.

"The one thing that ticks me off about designers, is they don't know when to bloody well stop designing. Fun, you ****ers!"

We have already seen how dungeons can work without these systems in WAR, and most agree that they work pretty well. None of the Altdorf or Inevitable City dungeons have public quests, influence, or Vegas Loot systems and I've never heard anyone complain. It's one thing to have innovative systems like this and use them where necessary but to overexpose them to your players just cheapens the experience, especially when they aren't needed. I really hope Mythic's ego doesn't get in the way here. There is absolutely no need for these systems in the Tomb Kings dungeon. As for the rest of Nehekhara, go wild.

Mythic has a chance to capture lightning in a bottle once again with their new Lands of the Dead mega-zone. As they move ahead with their development, I want them to always keep one question on their minds: Why did everyone love DF so much?

If they deliver a New Coke system over the Classic we all know and love, I believe they may yet again help set everyone's expectations at a stratospheric height only to watch them come tumbling down. This is an opportunity for redemption. I'll leave you with a quote by Paul Barnett that gives me a bit of hope:

"The one thing that ticks me off about designers, is they don't know when to bloody well stop designing. Fun, you ****ers!"
This article was originally published on Massively.