For starters: I am starting this thread influenced by series of videos titled “Boss Keys” by Mark Brown analyzing dungeon design in Zelda series:
While I played a lot of games clearly influenced by Nintendo's work, as someone who never owned a Nintendo console I found his videos on Mario & Zelda series fascinating. The only Nintendo games I played were: Super Mario Bros on Comodore 64 (was it even official?) many many years ago, and Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros, Brawl for Wii, thanks to my modest undergraduate social life.
I am very impressed by design of dungeons from old Zelda games – how much clever exploration and interaction with environment can be done with low tech. As limitations of such game resembles constrains a pre-rendered isometric game has to face, I started to think, if complexity of Zelda games could be(or should be?) implemented in cRPG like Deadfire.
When I think about my favourite RPGs dungeons I notice some similarities in design – unique mechanics, a bit of backtracking, multiple locked doors to open, puzzles to solve, a feeling of exploration in a linear dungeon. Naturally, adopting some of the key tricks from Zelda games is impossible in cRPG – after all our party’s skills can vary and forcing player to play or interact with dungeon in one certain way goes against what cRPG is about.
Vanilla PoE had some fine areas – Roderick’s Hold, ruins in Cliaban Rilag and Lle a Rhemen but unfortunately, I found majority of vanilla PoE dungeons disappointing. While beautiful to look at the interaction with them was minimal. The most disappointing to me was the Endless Dungeon. While I was hoping for something as unique as Durlag’s Tower or Watcher’s Keep, what we got was a stretched out combat gauntlet filled generic enemies. Instead of a break from main game, it was more of the same, just with different backdrop.
White March has improved so much on dungeon design. Even the most basic areas have unique features, with main path being a stand out – clearing Durgan’s Battery was a joy. For example the mines – while getting to the exit is simple, it will take some exploration to open the doors. There are couple different areas in this level, all unique – ambush in a mine, a ride in a cart, Hall of Remembrance for which we need to find sigils to disable traps, locked Workshop. A well designed, varied environment, requiring conscious exploration, interaction with environment and utilizing different branches of gameplay (puzzle, conversation, scripted interaction, combat). The Abby of the Fallen Moon only expanded upon design, combining an open nature of Roderick’s Hold with complex, multistage design of WM dungeons.
Tyranny’s dungeons were really neat as well – gradual collection of wall “keys” encouraged backtracking and gradually unlocked the whole area. I liked how new paths were opened, puzzles to solve to unlock spires.
Dungeons we have in the beta for Deadfire isn’t much to brag about. While combat is much more varied than PoE1, it is once again a linear dungeon consisting mostly of couple combat encounters. I am not saying it is necessarly a representation of what will get, but after WMes I would be disappointed if it was. Now with expanded “scripted interaction” system we could get some really special ones.
What are your hopes for Deadfire dungeons? Any particular likes or dislikes? Do you think that additional mechanics like vertical dungeons or special hazards could improve exploration?