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And the dungeons keep on shrinking

Matthew Rossi

I've run the new Scarlet Monastery dungeons on the beta several times now. They're fun, well-designed, interesting dungeons. They are a bit jarring if you're familiar with the current Scarlet Monastery, however. The current four dungeons have been cut down to two, and it's been achieved by removing a lot of the long hallways full of trash pulls we're familiar with now. The Armory section of the new dungeon almost feels abrupt if you (like me) ran SM over and over again in the olden days of WoW.

It's not that the new dungeons are bad. They're objectively good, even great at places, with a good sense of the history of the place and call-backs to the classic dungeon.

They just feel kind of short to me. Smaller. Actually smaller, not in terms of the size of the hallways or anything but in terms of how much real estate they cover. And while I often rail against nostalgia, lately that sense of scale has been driving me to run older content not even to gather loot for transmog but just to see it, to look around at the scope and scale of the older dungeons.

Now, I don't want to pretend that these dungeons weren't often hideously irritating to run at the time. Getting a 5-man group all the way through Stratholme back when it was all one big, interconnected burning city full of undead and no one ever wanted to clear both sides wasn't anything but an exercise in learning colorful new metaphors as they spewed from your own mouth. You'd end up amazed you even knew the Basque term for that particular deviancy.

Still, there is something to be said for the epic scale of some of the older 5-man dungeons.

The dungeons keep on shrinking
A living, breathing city

I'm probably going to talk the most about Blackrock Mountain and its many dungeons here because I've been running them, over and over again, just to get a sense of their scale. Blackrock Mountain is to me a dungeon zone that uses its architecture and layout to tell a story. The sheer scale of the Blackrock Mountain dungeons, their dwarven architecture (crumbling and ruined in many places), their broken hallways infested by invader orcs, trolls, ogres and spiders, the grand ampitheatres and vast, denuded passages now used as rude halls for dragons and core hounds -- you don't even need text to understand that this is a place that has fallen as far as can be imagined from what it originally was.

Blackrock Depths
was the kind of dungeon you packed a lunch to run. Even after Cataclysm, with the mole machines connecting passages and the ability to queue for specific sections of the place, it's still a vast, interconnected, sprawling underground city. There's a bar down here. (I often go down with my Direbrew's Remote just to hang out.) The rivers of lava cut their way through rock and throw a cherry-red light like a coal fire over many ornate stone windows watching over it.

Yes, it was terribly long, so long that I very rarely managed to finish the dungeon with the same group I came in with. More than one time, I killed Thaurissan with a group that had to stop and recruit new players so many times that I was the only person who had been there at the start. And I'll never pretend the Lyceum was anything other than tedious.

But yet for all that, Blackrock Depths succeeded in making you feel like you really were inside this enormous space and in a place that had a life outside of your particular visit to kill things and take their stuff. BRD felt like an actual city, more so than even the ones like Ironforge or Stormwind we spent so much time in.
The dungeons keep on shrinking
Ascent into adventure

Blackrock Spire, for its part, does a very good job of feeling like an ever-ascending path through a world fallen to the grubby hands of invaders. First off, the place keeps going upward. You cross over bridges and look around and realize that you can see everywhere you were below you. There are places inside the Spire that you can actually fall out of the dungeon. The scale is Cyclopean, immense and vertical. I have often skipped bosses on the way up, killed Wyrmthalak, and then simply dropped down to go back and kill the earlier bosses, since it is actually faster. Granted, I can do this because at level 85 I can easily kill everything I run into with one or two swings of a weapon, so being at half health isn't really an issue.

Again, I'm not blinded by nostalgia here. Running Blackrock Spire back in the day was an endless parade of bodies in and out, arguing over which bosses we were going to do, half the group needing their dungeon set piece from Wyrmthalak and the other half only wanting to kill Rend. Throw in needing Blackrock Spire for the Onyxia and BWL attunements, and you saw churn in groups to an extent I can still barely countenance. It was only through my using the power of having the key to UBRS that I managed to bludgeon groups to run the bosses I needed.

But I don't think anyone can argue that Blackrock Spire wasn't extremely well-executed visually. It absolutely felt like you were storming a bastion of evil, and the fact that you were ascending to fight the dungeon's bosses rather than descending really struck a chord with me. It was unusual. No dungeon before it had ever really done this, and while Karazhan certainly ran with the concept, it was Blackrock Spire that first gave me that taste for dungeon climbing.
The dungeons keep on shrinking
Breaking up for convenience

A dungeon that probably took sprawl a little too far was Maraudon. Three wings that were completely interconnected, a host of bosses scattered all over the place with no real linear progression between them, it was made to cause your group to break up after arguing over which way you were going to go. Getting people to actually kill Gizlock was torture itself. Nowadays, it's a lovely place to go back and see, with the absolutely gorgeous waterfalls and passages of stone, but I have few fond memories of it.

Dire Maul, I actually loved at the time and spent many hours in, but the recent changes that blocked the passages between wings have cut back on the sprawling feel of the place, similar to how Stratholme is now two completely separate dungeons. In both these cases, these changes were for the best in terms of ease of running them and focusing players through them, I admit that. But I do miss the days when I could just start running DM east and keep going through north and west until everything was dead.

Dungeon design has moved forward, and the Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance revamps in Mists of Pandaria are almost entirely improvements. They make the dungeons far easier to run, focus the player experience, and give you a sense of progression through events. I especially enjoy the storyline of these new dunegons and the lore they bring with them, even including my favorite undead character of the past few years.

But I do miss that feeling of pure, sprawling size to some of the old-world dungeons. Nowadays, you only get that kind of scope in raids, and I think that's kind of a shame. I don't think we need to roll back to an older era or anything like that. But I wouldn't mind it if we got one new 5-man that was just huge, a big space with that kind of feeling of life outside of your deciding to come wreak havoc there.

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