An Example of a Good Dungeon

A short one this time:

You might want to click this to see anything.

I complained about how dungeons got boring. Now that I returned to LotRO (at least for the time being), I found a great antithesis to the bad design patterns I saw in WoW dungeons. Let me introduce: Goblin-town.

The dungeon is split into 10 small zones, with different design patterns. While the (incomplete) map to the right gives an idea of the expansiveness of the dungeon, it fails (like all LotRO maps) to convey its massive vertical size. The main area, divided into three subzones, is basically a long, dark, flight of halls, but crisscrossed by two additional upper levels of paths meandering along the cave walls and outcrops, with bridges and stairs connecting them. Most of the peripheral subzones make even more use of vertical design; some are deep enough to fall to your death if you’re taking a wrong step on a bridge (and you can fall VERY deep in LotRO before you die, I’d say at least 5 to 6 floors). Sadly, I tried and tired, but I couldn’t manage to get good screenshots to show off the vast, but still claustrophobic feel of this place.

The subzones, and the different halls of the main areas, are interconnected by tunnels that branch off, meet again, have numerous dead ends, and you wonder how the goblins ever made it out of this maze successfully. I got lost several times. At level, it was a classic dungeon crawl. I could spend hours inside there, and actually did, simply exploring and killing Goblins. It took me three evenings to reach the lowest areas.

In one word, Goblin-town is amazing.

Oh, and there’s cave paintings:

This one looks more like a prehistoric painting...

...while this reminds me of modern art.

And somewhere deep down inside, of course, there’s Gollum’s cave. In fact, Bilbo asks you to find it and map out how to get there.

After much back and forth, I found it in the end. And of course, I had to pose for eternity:

Preciousssss! *ahem*

I decided to recall out of the cave. I think getting out without a map would’ve cost me another hour or two. If I ever get another character into the right level range, I sure know where to go.

5 thoughts on “An Example of a Good Dungeon

  1. Goblin-town is a pretty neat dungeon. The unfortunate part about it is that it is at the top of the level range for the original game, so you end up either exploring it or running off to Moria as soon as you can.

    1. With the level 50 lock in place, it was probably nicer, just because you didn’t have to fear leveling out of range. I find the leveling curve in LotRO pretty steep anyway, especially when it comes to experience. Two levels can make a huge difference for many things.

      I postponed Moria for some time, if only because I am afraid I might tired of not seeing any sky for so long. It’s about time to go there now, though.

  2. I enjoyed this post very much, and enjoy the personal perspective of it.
    I keep being reaffirmed that good game design starts with good world design. In the MMORPG setting, it isn’t the (NPC) cast that makes the scene, it’s the background. With that in place, everything seems to flow.

    1. Thank you. My goal was always to have some posts about general game-related thoughts, and some posts that are more like a diary for later reference. (“When exactly did I reach Moria?”)

      And I agree for the most part. NPCs can be memorable and important to the game, but most of them are too static to be useful, always just standing around, with maybe one line of standard conversation. Funny enough, that is often especially true for A-cast characters, like the Fellowship members in LotRO.

      On the other hand, LotRO has great scenery. I often spend a lot fo time just riding around, because I like the scenery so much. Of course, LotRO has the advantage that they had a world waiting for them, so the design probably started with looking at this coherent world, and then splitting it up in zones. Instead, it feels most other games just decide they need “a snow zone”, “a lava zone”, “a forest zone”, etc., and then they get just placed next to each other without any rhyme or reason.

  3. Good choice. Goblin-town is one of my favourites too. Why? Because it is long and complex and you can just wander around exploring. Most dungeons in most games don’t feel like they should be explored or can be explored in 30 minutes.

    Gobble gobble

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