Dungeons, keeps, and other confined areas can have sub-areas called instances (aka instance dungeons). These instances are special areas in the World of Warcraft where your group or raid party is able to interact with a dungeon privately; that is, without interference from other parties or raids. It is also a respite from the global PvP environment on a PvP server. The term instance has been often conflated and interchanged with the term dungeon.
Instance dungeons tend to feature the most difficult and rewarding content, both in terms of enemies and items, but also in terms of level design. Most mobs inside the instance are elite, with the exception of some mobs, and perform well above their level. Instances feature multiple bosses, all with special abilities and immunities. Getting through an instance normally requires a well-trained and well-balanced group of players who are of an appropriate level for the challenge.
Lower level instances can be soloed by a higher level character. While an interesting challenge, most drops will not be particularly useful anymore. However if wearing a tabard, a great deal of reputation can still be earned, as can the achievements for passing the instance. Keep in mind that soloing an instance usually requires a player to be about 25-30 levels higher than the minimum requirement, with high-quality equipment.
Farming for gear
Instances are often farmed for gear by having a high level character tank a low level character through the instance; either a friend or for a fee. Boss drops typically BoP, so the lowbie has to be present.
The lower character is going to get a lot of XP in the instance. If building a twink you will need to plan for this; start farming as soon as you are able and be selective which instances you farm. XP is not your friend (twinks); you want as little as possible so that you can continue to farm without dinging past your goal level. You should focus on specific gear and bypass kills you don't need. Note, however, that this is less of an issue since patch 3.2 and the ability to turn off experience completely. Whereas formerly creating a twink took careful planning of gear attainment and experience gain, the main limiting factor now is initial experience gain to the desired level.
Because instances are in effect separate from the actual main World of Warcraft maps such as Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, Outland, and Northrend, much like the Battlegrounds, players too are literally moved from one part of the map to an artificial creation of the main map sections. However this is not to suggest that Blizzard did not go to the effort of re-creating instance geography and terrain within the main maps. Areas like Zul'Farrak are fully constructed within Tanaris though it is impossible for players to enter this area without any way to climb over the hills. This is a rarity since in order to save processing power and make the world smoother to run without rendering useless features that no one would ever see, Blizzard creates a "false" portrayal of the instances such as Shadowfang Keep where only what the player sees is worth rendering. Another difference worth noting is that within instances, the corpses of boss characters will remain intact for 1 hour to ensure that players do not miss out on loot.
Because map viewers allow players to see everything there is within an instance, it is revealed that instances will include the sections before the instance gates itself to give a feeling of authenticity that they are leaving one world and can look back to see where they came from. Such is the case with all instances. Some bugs can allow the user to see what actually is available, for example, Mages can Blink past the instance portals in many places and see what is beyond, like the entrance to Stratholme on the dead side.
Blizzard may allow cross-realm grouping sometime after Patch 4.1, but it may be a pay service.
Faction specific instances
Deadmines, Wailing Caverns, and Shadowfang Keep
- Wailing Caverns: There are horde and neutral quests.
- Shadowfang Keep: The only SFK Alliance quests are class specific for the Hunters, Paladins and Warlocks only. Also it should be noted that as of there is a Horde Paladin quest that involves SFK.
Ragefire Chasm and The Stockade
These are instances located on the capital city for each faction (Ragefire Chasm in Orgrimmar and The Stockade in Stormwind), and as such it used to be very difficult for opposite faction characters to get to the entrance at an instance-appropriate level (about level 15 for Ragefire Chasm and level 25 for the Stockade) without the help of other max level characters. However, if they get there, they can enter through the portal. Since Patch 3.3.0 appropriate level characters can use the Dungeon Finder feature to gain access to these dungeons, regardless of faction.
There is an achievement called which requires doing both of these. Unless the character used the opportunity to complete them at the appropriate level through the Dungeon Finder, this would typically be done at near max level or with the help of others at max level. While the instance will be trivial, getting in will not be. A group of max level characters can race past the guards. Fighting your way in is an option, but you are then essentially raiding the opposing capital, so be prepared. Rogues or druids can stealth in; and there are summoning stones near the entrance, so a small stealthed group can summon others.
See also other Dungeons & Raids achievements
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