Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen June 2022 Newsletter

While Visionary Realms’ party-focused MMORPG Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is still not quite ready to launch into alpha, we get this here newsletter featuring a producer’s letter, a general progress report, an in-house interview with the project’s creative director Chris Perkins that tells us a thing or two about the game’s dungeons, and the customary community spotlight.

Here’s the interview:

Anyone who’s ventured into an MMORPG knows what it’s like to tackle a dungeon head on. It can hold desirable, fantastic loot within its depths. It can create legendary tales of overcoming as a team. However, It can also create painstaking memories when being overcome by its dangerous challenges. At Visionary Realms, we hold these moments as important, distinguishing pieces of a proper MMORPG experience. That is why creating dungeons that drive these memories is at the forefront of our design for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. In this article we will dive into some of our core philosophies on dungeon designs, encounters within, and what tools we plan to use to create unique experiences across the dungeons of Terminus. We took some time to dig into the thoughts of Creative Director Chris Perkins and ask questions on what explorers of terminus may encounter in these environments.

Let’s start with diving into why you believe dungeons across the genre hold such an important role in MMORPGs.

There’s something in the word itself: dungeon. For fans of fantasy roleplaying, the word captures our attention and fills us with thoughts of danger, traps and treasure. For gamers specifically, the dungeon has become the place where players go to test their mettle. But perhaps most importantly, the dungeon in MMORPGs is often the most intensely memorable part of the experience. It’s the setting in which friends and strangers alike band together to overcome challenges too great for any of them alone. By combining these social contracts of teamwork and the all-important element of tension, a great dungeon is uniquely capable of providing the most impactful experiences MMORPGs have to offer.

Can you highlight some things across the genre that you feel takes away from the dungeon experience?

I would boil it down to two things:

First, dungeons have largely become too linear. Most dungeons today are built on a track, with a starting line and a finish line. As long as you move along that track, you will see everything the dungeon has to offer, hitting the sub-bosses along the way and finishing with the big baddy at the end. This linear nature leads to dungeons being “run”, over and over again on a loop, eroding the sense that dungeons should be places players can inhabit and explore in an open, non-linear fashion.

Second, the move away from players inhabiting dungeons has taken a major toll on socialization within these games. The degree to which instant travel, instancing and linear loot-route design has taken over dungeons is the degree to which most MMORPGs don’t feel like MMORPGs anymore.

In Pantheon, we are looking to bring back large scale open world dungeons. Why do you think this is important in relation to the experience Pantheon looks to deliver?

Because when you play Pantheon, we want to maximize the feeling that you are immersing yourself into a believable world.

A dungeon is crafted in a non-linear way to encourage exploration. The nooks and crannies, the traps, the hidden doors, the passageways deep under a flooded trench, the magical talisman that fits into that strange and easy to overlook indentation in the wall, the places you can climb to or swim to, the items and abilities that help you traverse across to previously inaccessible areas… and all of this without a mini-map or a pre-defined path to guide you. Just as in the overworld we have gone to great lengths to encourage the player to make the world their own through exploration and discovery, we aim to achieve that experience with our dungeons as well.

In the past we have talked about having content of various level ranges across each of our dungeons, why is this important?

We do this intentionally to create opportunities for higher and lower level areas to inhabit the same spaces. There is a natural, symbiotic relationship that happens there.

For the lower level players, they get to see higher level players in action with their awesome gear and abilities. They may also see the higher level players accessing parts of the dungeon through much higher climbing skill or special items/abilities that the lower level player can’t access yet. All of this creates an organic forward lean for the lower level players, putting some of the things they have to look forward to on display.

For the higher level players, it provides a sense of prestige to show off your gear/abilities/knowledge in the context of adventure (not just being gawked at while standing around in a city), as well as the opportunity to provide a helping hand.

When designing a dungeon for Pantheon, we have a lot of tools at our disposal. Can you talk about how acclimation and fractures may play a part in creating unique experiences within our dungeons?

Ensuring the environment is playing a meaningful and often dynamic role in our content is one of our key game design tenets. Acclimating to various climates you may find within a dungeon (and you may encounter multiple within the same dungeon) will be one way we unfold access to certain areas and develop key themes regarding the Lore and various characters or events within our dungeons. Some of these dungeon-based climates will be expected (like the Frigid climate of Amberfaet), while at times we will drive more dynamic or event based climates that are temporary in nature.

Fractures are similar to climates in that they will affect players in a certain area by applying various benefits or detriments based on the type of Fracture. One difference is that Fractures will emanate from the location of the Fracture itself and affect the area surrounding the Fracture (the range of effect will vary based on the type and strength of the Fracture). They will often be used to create environmental riddles for the players to circumvent or mitigate through the use of certain abilities, special artifact items, etc.

The goal with these systems is to work with our other game systems like NPC Dispositions and Traits to create a much more dynamic and interesting setting every time you return to one of Terminus’ dungeons.

One key feature of dungeons is the enemies you will encounter. Can you give us a synopsis of how players will discover boss level enemies within dungeons? As an example, Will there be keying; Will there be placeholders and rare spawns? Will there be value in what the genre has labeled “trash mobs?”

First of all, we really don’t consider any NPCs in dungeons or raid areas to be “trash” mobs. Whether it be uncovering more Lore about the area, gaining Mastery experience, rare items, etc. there will be ample reason to engage with NPCs that aren’t directly part of the boss encounter. (Yes you read that correctly, rare and powerful items will not always come from bosses in Pantheon).

As for keying, yes you can expect some of that. Some encounters will be “hard” keyed, meaning you need to have this specific item to be able to enter the specific areas. Other encounters will be “soft” keyed, meaning you can potentially enter the area at any time, but the Climate or Fracture or traversal requirements make it much more difficult to enter and/or survive there.

Lastly, you will encounter bosses within dungeons in various ways. Some bosses will always be present as a direct spawn without a placeholder. These will typically be more bosses that have a Lore-consistent reason for being regularly present. However, these bosses may not always be in the same location all the time – they could have a chance to spawn in one of many locations, or have paths they roam with the ability to spawn anywhere on that path. Other bosses may have placeholders associated with them, or require a certain event or the use of a certain item before they will spawn, or may have a chance to spawn only at night or during a certain type of weather.

And remember, “bosses” will not be the only thing you may be seeking inside of a dungeon. Rare Task and Storyline NPCs will have a chance to spawn in dungeons, as well as other unique, non-boss NPCs that may be very difficult to find, but could have extremely valuable rewards for doing so.

How does lore and discovery tie into creating meaningful experiences within dungeons, whether that be discovering a new path or engaging with an enemy you’ve learned a lot about?

Great question. At its heart, Pantheon is a deeply Lore-driven game, and through the Perception system we want to create an immersive vehicle to deliver that rich story to the player. This is particularly relevant to what I’ve mentioned earlier regarding the non-linear, exploration heavy themes of our dungeons. By becoming a Keeper, players who develop their skills within the Perception system will be poised to glean much more knowledge about the dungeon’s place in the world, its history and maybe even things to expect in the future. Additionally, Keepers will have abilities that allow them to discern important information about NPCs, find secret passageways and uncover the secrets behind certain triggerable events.

We’ve heard of and seen a number of Pantheon dungeons to date. These include Amberfaet, Halnir Cave, Black Rose Keep, The Gate, The Daedrym Ascent, just to name a few. If you were to give us one or two quick sentences about these dungeons to explain the experience, and differentiate them from one another what would those be?

Amberfaet– The coldest known place on Terminus. Highly vertical, both in height and depth, and harbors one of Terminus’ most terrifying secrets.

Halnir Cave – Filled with dark, winding caverns and toxic fumes from the crystal formations that natively grow there. Drawn Ratkin and the Blackrose battle for territory in the upper levels of the cave, unaware of the ancient evil brooding in the deepest chambers.

Black Rose Keep – The Keep Leon, known as Black Rose Keep, is home to the defected hero of Thronefast E’mani Karos and his Black Rose forces. The Keep is built precariously among a system of high standing rock tors and is said to be a tribute to Karos’ love, the Lady Wyn’Leon.

The Gate – An ancient, partially flooded temple network built within a sprawling cavern. Rumors of unimaginable treasures have lured countless explorers, but the presence of wraiths and reports of obstructed or water-filled passageways have kept the true secrets of the Gate hidden.

The Daedrym Ascent – Not much is known about this mysterious mountain peak, except the architecture and symbiology used in the structures that have been built here have a resemblance to dragonkind.

Another piece of the dungeon experience is loot. How do you address the rarity of drops or spawns, to keep loot meaningful and exciting, while not making it excruciating to obtain? Is there a balance between these two attributes?

We are definitely fans of rare drops and rare spawns, so you can expect that woven into the fibers of Pantheon. However, one specific way we want to balance out the pain of the past in acquiring these rare items is by expanding the offering of similar items. To make up an example, if there was only one lootable staff in the game that gave +5 to Mana regeneration rate, that staff would be heavily contested to the extent where we could start seeing multi-day camps by a single person or group or guild maintaining a monopoly over that item. Instead, we will be identifying alternative options for all of our itemization, especially the really high end stuff. So, there may be 3 or 4 or 5 different locations in the game where a weapon with +5 Mana regen can be found. This doesn’t fully solve the situation, but it will help alleviate it immensely.

Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to add to get the community excited for their experiences they will have within our dungeons?

As a team, we couldn’t be more excited to see massive, non-linear and open world dungeons back in MMORPGs again. Many of our favorite memories as MMORPG players took place in dungeons like this and we’ve identified several ways to preserve that magic and evolve the experience to be even more impactful.

Expect to be challenged. Expect to be immersed. Expect to be rewarded for making creative and bold decisions. Expect to keep finding new things in each dungeon after months of exploring them. And above all, expect to have an absolute blast adventuring within the dungeons of Pantheon!

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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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