This week on the forums, poster Elikal brings up a hot topic in the MMO world - Instances: Taboo or Holy Grail? Citing several games that either embrace instances or avoid them, Elikal poses his question and his own opinion to the MMORPG.com community.
"My first MMO was SWG," states Elikal, "which is quite devoid of instances, which shaped my understanding of a MMO greatly. Then I move to EQ2, which uses instances, but only sparsely. The only game I played which uses a lot of instances was CoH, since all your missions are instances, but as CoH is shaped, you just cant make those missions otherwise, so it wasn't a big deal either."
Elikal also mentions the Guild Wars build: "The entire world, besides the cities, are instances (at least in the original version, I never tried the later versions), and so the very idea of a MMO - meeting other people and see a living world - was kinda ruined."
Like Elikal, my first MMO(s) were mostly instance-free: Until the conception of this article I would say my first instanced game was when CoH came out, but I guess the first "instance" I saw were the Inn rooms of Lineage: The Blood Pledge. These rooms were vastly unpopular, used mostly for jokey hangouts with friends or meetings with other Pledge (guild) leaders via multiple purchased keys. There was a slight HP/Mana regeneration associated with these rooms but...who really cared, or noticed?
As said above, the first real instancing that I would cite in my gaming career was City of Heroes. Coming from a long line of Lineages (I and II), a brief stint in DAoC before they added any instanced area (that I knew of!), and a year or two in A Tale in the Desert, the idea of private missions seemed kind of silly to me. And while I think CoH was a marvelously innovative game in certain ways - character creation, genre in general, etc. - the instances, to me, were fairly boring: Kill 20 of these, find and touch this glowing thing, etc etc, just do it all without company. I never even maxed my City of Villains character out, I grew bored with the repeated and similar content.
EQ2 I tried out as well, but I wouldn't say I really remember much instancing there, besides my house (which was mostly used for rousing games of The Floor is Lava).
I would say that the first well-done instancing game I played was Guild Wars. While I agree with Elikal that GW takes away many of the fundamentally MMO features that we know and love (or hate, but keep playing anyway), the game used instances extremely well: for story telling, for progressing the player and their character through an evolving world.
As Elikal said, this was further developed by Lord of the Rings Online. "One of the best manifestations to show what good instances can do if they are implemented well, is LOTRO. Really, the instances there are one of my main reason now to play the game. About 80-90% of the game is open space. But what can only be done in an instance and never in open space is story telling. I love story telling and before LOTRO I never had seen anything like this! For the first time I ever saw A REAL, compelling story in my questline, going on around me, making ME part of the story and the world I am in. Such a deep, emotionally catching scene could never be made without an instance. In an 100% non-instanced world those stories are always merely told by a text."
And again I agree with Elikal. While some of the nuances of the LOTRO storyline don't sit well with me - why am I hanging out with Elrond at level1?! - the game, in terms of instancing, has found a perfect balance with unique and interesting storytelling.
Bama1267 agrees with Elikal's reservations about Guild Wars, and extends them to MMOs in general. "I feel instancing takes a way from the MMO feel. Take GW , it felt like Diablo with a city for a chat room."
Lomiller gives an analytical response, pointing out that "Instances are a tool developers have that can be used to achieve design goals in their game. As such they are neither good nor bad, but their use can be either." He continues, pointing out several places where he thinks instancing can be healthy for the game. For example, he cites raid zones and raid content: "Some people like fighting over bosses and actively blocking other guilds from content. I don't. Having some non instanced raid bosses/zones can be great but you need to have instances as well so guilds can schedule their raid nights."
As an avid EQ player, I sort of like the competition you experience when racing to a non-instanced raid (mostly Planes of Power and pre-PoP content, in the case of EQ). Just like PvP, it's a form of competition that plays Darwin to guilds: move it or lose it, quite literally. Josher, however, quite violently disagrees with me: "There has to be instances. Memories of healthy competition like in EQ or DAOC makes 99% of current players puke=)"
Read more and join in the discussion here.