Notice anything similar between the two largest upcoming MMOs? I've mentioned my recent thoughts on the Star Trek Online (STO) MMO, but hadn't really gotten into the amount of instancing it does. Almost everything is an instance in STO. From the public quests, to the quests, you will jump from instance to instance and only interact -- however limited -- with other players in the sector zones, space stations, and whenever someone ventures into the same public quest instance as you. For all intents and purposes, outside of that you are screaming through what can only be said to be an RPG. Replete with NPC party members, AKA bridge officers.
A lot of this has been available through other sources, but this recent IGN video about the Old Republic (SWTOR) certainly cements things together in a way that I don't think has been done previously anywhere else. Like STO, SWTOR will be repleat with individual instance environments where you will spend a majority of your time.
Bioware has said cities will be open zones, which can be equated to the space stations in STO. And it struck me that this design premise has become more prevalent lately and seemingly started with Age of Conan. Only now it's been taken to the Nth degree and represents a large departure from traditional MMO design. I'd already remarked how the feeling to me in STO was that I wasn't playing an MMO, but rather a simple RPG that just happened to have some other people in it (rpg w/coop) and I'm really wondering at this point if SWTOR will not feel the same way. Interaction with others is important in an "MMO", yet in these two MMOs that interactivity is specifically and intentionally limited. And I have to wonder what would be driving this design premise. Whether this is a reaction to years of failed bids to dethrone WoW, or reaction to a common design problem in other MMOs; that low player base destroys much of the playability of the game; we can only surmise.