Login with Patreon
EditorialMay 8, 2024 8:00 am CT

When did we lose the fun in dungeons?

In the wee hours of the morning of May 7, a certain famous crab went trolling on Twitter. He felt trapped, and he wanted to be in a dungeon.

And I sympathize! Back in The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, I definitely enjoyed dungeons more. Outside of raid times, I’d be hitting them with guildmates and pugs alike. I appreciated Challenge Modes, too, when those rolled around. What changed? I lay my dissatisfaction entirely at the feet of Mythic+.

In those early expansions, heroic dungeons got you loot on par with the early raids. You could roll into Heroic Slave Pens as soon as someone farmed the reputation to buy the key, and start dropping blues at the same item level as most of Karazhan. You could start collecting the Primal Nethers to craft things that matched the loot from Prince Malchezaar and the legions he commands. You could pick up those sweet exclusive epic gems. When Wrath rolled around, you got the same deal with less attunement: Heroic Halls of Lightning is equal item level to Normal 10-person Naxxramas.

Importantly, you got all of this without needing to put yourself out there or prove yourself beyond whispering someone in Trade, “hey, I’ll go.” Item level wasn’t nearly as visible to the community; the early addons that exposed those numbers caught on later in Wrath. No one was expected to have a tightly choreographed pull sequence memorized. You never risked your keystone; if your run fell apart, you were out your time and consumables and maybe your Gordok Ogre Suit, if you really wind the clock back.

You weren’t trying to get past dungeons so much as you were playing them for their own sake.

It’s worth noting, though, that even in The Burning Crusade, we were starting to lose that. The LFG tool has taken its share of the blame, but RNG-proofing currencies, from Badges of Justice to Antique Bronze Bullion, also devalue dungeons and raids. They expand the gameplay loop and shift the objective from “engage with these encounters” to “farm this mechanically.” And Blizzard is aware of this! We went several expansions without any such currency, until the introduction of Dinar and Bullion, which are only allowed to exist in the waning days of the final season, when the intrinsic value of the content-as-itself is already spent.

The developers for Cataclysm instead guessed that what they’d lost along they way was difficulty, and their response… well, I can’t say I’ve heard much nostalgia for Grim Batol. Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor gave us Challenge Modes, and while they lacked any power-level rewards, they were still enjoyable. They presented a fixed but significant challenge, you could trivially reset a bad run, they encouraged exploring the game’s cornucopia of quirky items, and they offered cosmetic prestige items.

In the Mythic+ world, none of that applies. Mythic+ has an uncapped difficulty ladder with no endpoint, and bad runs either end early when people drop group, or later when they slowly grind through the finish point. Those clever items have all been restricted to level the playing field: Mythic+ is competitive, rather than collaborative. Every run needs to be optimized and executed with precision. What good is a run that doesn’t increase your score? How important is that chest at the end, compared to filling out your vault? You’re compelled to slam lots of high-quality runs to optimize your odds this week, and buy access to higher-quality runs next week by driving up your social credit score Mythic+ rating.

A crowd of players surrounding the Great Vault on Tuesday.

Yes, you can get raid-equivalent gear in dungeons now, still, but it means engaging with that mindset. The dungeons are no longer the destination. They’re merely the stepping stones on an infinite path. Showing up to play your class merely “well” is inadequate; the expectation of competence has long since left behind a thorough understanding of your rotational priorities. There’s never an objective “good enough,” no stopping point, until you’ve at long last hit this season’s item level cap, and can rest your wrists and let the burnout cool before the next season picks up and you do it all over again.

Dungeons weren’t always like this, and I think the ever-accelerating treadmill is to blame for the malaise that Ghostcrawler called out.

(I would be remiss if I failed to note that in spite of this, there are millions of M+ runs each week. I hope those folks are enjoying themselves much more than I would, in their shoes.)

Blizzard Watch is made possible by people like you.
Please consider supporting our Patreon!

Filed Under: Dungeons, Mythic Plus

Join the Discussion

Blizzard Watch is a safe space for all readers. By leaving comments on this site you agree to follow our  commenting and community guidelines.

Toggle Dark Mode: