So I ran my first instance the other day, called the Nochsana Training Ground, and after a few days of running it I have to say that it was not at all what I was expecting, and that is a good thing.
I have played many Korean MMOs before, from the free grind to the grind you pay for, but never have I really been intimidated or challenged by anything our friends from the far east have thrown at us. From my experiences with FFXI I discovered that the eastern market was capable of making challenging and fun unique monster fights, but whenever I saw an eastern market game take a stab at an instance it just struck me as lackluster and underplanned. It almost seemed like they just stuck really tough mobs into a closed in area in random locations and let you beat on them. There didn't really seem to be much direction to the instance, and the mobs really just seemed to have more hit points, but other than that there was no real additional challenge.
After Nochsana Training Ground (herein referred to as NTG), I am pleased to say that what NCSoft has done here seems to be an interesting and fun amalgum of the two. The mobs do indeed have a great deal more hp and hit a lot harder (probably more than in western MMO games), but they also seem to have interesting moves and mechanics to add some additional challenge. The mobs in the instance seemed to remind me more of raid level mobs from other games, as far as time required to kill and in some cases damage dealt, but scaled to a difficulty that was capable of being handled by a full group of players. This left a lot more time for your pulls to go wrong, and for additional patrols to come along and destroy our healer's bling, of course leaving him or her hugging his knees and counting ants in the dirt.
The boss mechanics were a lot more straight-forward than in the leading western market games, but with the added difficulty from beefier mobs, it added a sufficient amount of challenge, that in many cases seems to be lacking from a lot of western games. The last boss, the General, provided a tough enough challenge to be completable, and still preserve the "Oh S#%t factor". He summons you to him if you get within his aoe range, and he swings like a wild man, stunning any unlucky enough to get caught with a glancing strike. And of course, if you are not on the ball, and your healer chases a butterfly into the circle of doom, that quickly can spell lights out for the entire team.
Overall, I was pleased with the level of difficulty and creativity in the instance. While it may not necessarily be something ground-breaking, the toughness of mobs and the sometimes-crippling mechanics given to them made for an experience relatively devoid of auto-pilot. Plus the added length allowed me a lot of time to flip around like a mad man shrieking like Bruce Lee and making little chopping motions with my hands in real life.
Plus it felt good to get the crap kicked out of me from time to time and for no reasonable explanation other than "You had a purdy mouth". I dunno maybe some level of my subconscious is into that sadomasochism thing....who knows. Either way, it at least encourages me enough to try the other instances NCSoft has placed in the game, and gives me hope that I will not be disappointed by them.
The next on my list is the instance known as the Fire Temple for level 30-35 characters, which I hear is much shorter and has better drops, but not nearly as good of xp (that is right, NTG was REALLY good xp). I have to get myself a key in order to attune to the Fire Temple, which I hear can be a daunting task in itself, but I will be sure to write about the Fire Temple once I experience it....or go insane from unsuccesfully grinding the key. In the case of the latter, be prepared for a conspiracy theory about an underground crime syndicate run by squirrels that dart out in front of your car in random patterns in order to cause you to freak out and ram your car into a tree, and the resulting kick-backs from the auto-repair industry that are used to fund the literal rat-bastard's whole operation.