the original motivator for comparing zelda games to mmos was the fact that i found so many of the ‘dungeon’ instances in mmos to be so painfully boring, and why i found dungeons in zelda so much more interesting. i got a little sidetracked by comparing narrative elements last time, but today i want to keep it all mechanics.
twilight princess’s dungeons feel freshest before you have too many hearts and too many tools to play around with. its a common problem with zelda games, where once too many tools are in the bag some either become useless or are obsolete. a similar problem exists in mmos that hand out abilities too freely, but thats beside the point. focusing on those early dungeons you get to see where the true dungeon design comes off.
later zelda dungeons tend to become a series of ‘aha’ puzzles and fights of minor annoyance. earlier zelda dungeons though, each fight could potentially remove half your hearts, and since the designers can’t dead-end you by making you have to search around for a tool, they have to find ways to make the exploration interesting and non-obvious. zelda manages to do this well, and personally i think its one of the series’ greatest strengths and a testament to its design.
compartively lets define the mmo-dungeon experience: a mostly linear tour of monsters and bosses, where the game usually assumes the player has a tank and a healer, and there are no surprises because the players have to repeat these dungeons repeatedly for rewards.
clearly zelda-dungeons have an advantage on that last bit: there is no advantage, nor any reason, to repeat a zelda-dungeon. there are backtracking bits that reward players with extra things for using new tools in old areas, but nothing quite as drastic as doing the same mmo-dungeon twice. still, part of the thrill of exploring a zelda-dungeons is that it is new territory to be mastered, there is a sense of unknown lurking behind every door, around every corner, and inside every chest. i think mmo dungeons could develop a lot by having some kind of randomized room and encounter template to pull from. maybe not every mmo-dungeon an mmo offers should be built this way, but having the option to engage in such an encounter would clear up the boring linearity and lack of surprise that plague the mmo-dungeon.
the second idea mmo-dungeons could steal from zelda-dungeons is the idea that it should be necessary to find and use tools to continue the dungeon. execution of this has proven tricky, as the ‘oculus’ and ‘grim batol’ dungeons in world of warcraft have shown. personally i think this is a problem that the tools given dont really empower the players, but instead give the player a new challenge to overcome. the tools given for ‘the black morass’ or ‘end time’ instances actually do empower the player in an interesting and useful way, and neither of those instances have draw quite the same ire.
…and this post is already too long for its own good. theres some good ideas to explore more in this post, but to delve deeper into them would be going too far from this mmo vs zelda exploration.