So, here I am, doing the same thing I was doing twelve years ago.
Running amok through a dank cave, dodging crocodiles, huge spiders, and angry frog-people in an effort to better myself.
That's right - I'm playing Everquest. Again. How did this happen, you ask? The progression servers happened; a chance to experience the earliest days of the game on up through the most recent in modestly paced chronological order. I mean, how could I not play it again when they did this? Everquest was not only a huge milestone in online gaming, but in my life too.
The game still hasn't lost its signature feel. The dungeons are perilous, the world is large, and the mechanics are delightfully clunky. In my book, the game did a lot of things right, and what I'd like to talk about concerning that, are dungeons.
Less Linear - These are not linear in the same way that most MMORPG dungeons/instances/whatevers are, in that you don't go in and walk a very linear path with the sole purpose clearing the entire thing to get to the last boss. Take a look at this map of one third of one of the more popular dungeons from early Everquest (And this was 1999 people!);
Adventure - Part of the challenge is navigation and adventure. You don't "check in" at boss A, B and C in the same order every sing time. You have to navigate the halls and do it well, or else you might find yourself in big trouble. (See map pic above!)
Danger - There is actual risk here. Plenty of situations could leave you unable to get back to where you were in the dungeon, especially if your character were bound far away and died. Death also equals experience loss, in addition to time loss. What does this mean? Don't play like an idiot. Use your brain. Be on your toes. Know your way around? Great, because there was no in game map back in the day. You don't? Better go find yourself one online and be prepared.
It's Not Endgame But It Feels Like It - Probably one of the single most paramount ideas that so many forget these days. The dungeon was difficult, but it was highly rewarding. And it's something you could start participating in when your character was in their teens (out of 50 levels, at release). And not long after you started dungeon diving Upper Guk, you were getting loot. Good loot. Loot that you could potentially use for the next 20 or 30 levels without drawing the scorn and belittlement of your peers. The point is - you're level 20, but you feel like you're doing something epic that can have lasting rewards. Why wait till level 50 to let players do that?
You Are Not Alone - That's right, this is before the era of instances. Before the era of 'I have a dungeon just for me'. These were living, breathing dungeons in which you might encounter dozens of other players. While this did lead to some overcrowding, it also was part of what drove the economy. An economy that let valuable drop items largely be traded, bought or sold. Not having a private dungeon with items you can never give someone else works well when your game is set up around that kind of economy. MMOs are supposed to be a living thing, and this way fits the bill. Handmedown economies rock!
Bonus time - the other two thirds of the previously posted map!