Next week's snapshot build will include Gazluk Keep, the new group dungeon. It will be the highest-level dungeon in the game for a while, so we're working hard on making it a fun place. It's intended for groups of five or six level 65-75 players. (Of course, if you have ultra-high-quality gear, you'll need fewer people.) It's a pretty dangerous place, and pretty chaotic, but I'm hoping that it's paced a little better than the other full-group dungeons. We'll see.
This is the third full-group dungeon. The first two are known in-game as "dark chapel" and "lab", short for "labyrinth". (To be clear, there are other dungeons where you can't solo, but they're mostly "small group dungeons", like the lower parts of Yeti Caves.) These big group dungeons are supposed to work like EQ2's "community dungeons" used to work: these are large areas that you know to go to if you want to group up. In fact, when there's a full server population, you should be able to enter the dungeon and ask in Local chat for a group, and have a decent chance of finding a pick-up group to join. For that to work, this dungeon needs to support multiple groups wandering through it at once. It's not a place where you run to the boss and call it quits, necessarily; your group can take one of several wandering paths to different areas, potentially staying a very long time, or a short time, depending on what the group members want to do.
This goal of supporting multiple groups is something I tried to accomplish with Dark Chapel and Lab -- they're both supposed to support multiple groups... but Dark Chapel proved to be too small for that, and feedback suggests Lab is too small too -- or perhaps just too linear. So this dungeon will be REALLY large, with a lot of branches and offshoots, so that two or three groups can wander through it. Groups will occasionally run into each other at crossroads, but they shouldn't get in each others' way too much. Of course, this is just the goal -- we'll need your feedback to make that work! And since we need that feedback about the dungeon's flow, only the first two floors of the dungeon will be included -- the lower two levels will wait a bit. But don't worry; the two existing floors are BIG, with many hundreds of monsters in total.
This is the second dungeon that Sandra ("srand") has helped on. She's worked on the layout and decorations, mostly, and though she's still learning the tools and getting up to speed with the process, I think the impact of her work will be clear if you compare Gazluk Keep to earlier dungeons. While it isn't exactly a "realistic" place (for instance, there's far more hallways than any real place would have -- they're needed for monster flow), it at least makes nods toward realism: it's clear that somebody (not me!) thought about what the orcs in here do every day, how they live, where they go. It's a slightly higher quality bar than I've tried to achieve on my own in the past, and hopefully that's something we can include in future dungeons, and maybe retrofit some of the weirder existing dungeons. (Not every little cave needs a backstory, of course, but some existing dungeons are kind of... inexplicable.)
Gazluk Keep is also being designed with an eye toward longevity: players will be returning here many times, hopefully, so they should find different things now and then. Part of what they can find is unique loot: there's lots of different orcish-cultural things to find, such as recipes, meditations, and so on, plus unique armor and weapons and skills to learn. But there's also secrets to discover in the dungeon itself. Not really any puzzles, though -- I've found that puzzles don't really fit these group dungeons too well. A puzzle in a solo dungeon is fun to figure out. But in a group dungeon? Super stressful, because you're holding up the group. In fact, EQ2 had some puzzles and complicated quests in their group dungeons, and it was considered polite for you to wiki the puzzle and learn the answers before you ever entered the place, so that you didn't hold up the group. That seems to me like a waste of development time.
So full-size puzzles are being saved for solo dungeons. But I still want secrets to discover! As long as only one group member has to know the secret, it ends up being an opportunity to share expertise, instead of something stressful that everybody needs to know. We'll see how you feel about the handful of relatively easy "secrets" in Gazluk Keep, and if they're fun we'll add more in later levels (and in other dungeons).
A Gazluk Taskmaster oversees wrestling practice.
While Gazluk Keep is the main priority for the next snapshot, there will also be bug fixes, more work on the in-combat/out-of-combat logic, and some other little things to find.
And what comes after this Gazluk update? More content! The next few updates after this one will have more low-level and high-level solo content, including improvements to outdoor areas, improvements to some solo dungeons, and adding some crafting skills. And we're very close to having all the assets in place for the Bard skill -- I can't tell exactly which snapshot will have bards, but it'll be pretty soon. Very excited about that one!