Reviewed: October 31, 2003
Released: September 9, 2003
You probably canít name another MMOG thatís online world has grown as much as Norrath has in SOEís EverQuest. They bloody ran out of planet and sent players to the moon in the Shadows of Luclin expansion, and now, theyíve gone and tried something pretty cool.
The recently shipped EverQuest: Lost Dungeons of Norrath has taken the already popular gameplay formula that has made EverQuest a success in general, and added a classic RPG staple, the dungeon crawl. Along with taking players into the dank, foreboding, mob packed underbelly of Norrath, LDoNís new content pushes the envelope for what the four year old game engine can produce in terms of visuals and gameplay dynamics.
The Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion is centered around the Wayfarers Brotherhood, a group of NPCs that have taken charge of the newly discovered dungeons. By accepting ďadventuresĒ from one of a few Wayfarers camps, your party is given a mission to complete in one of 48 dungeons scattered across the world. Accomplish your goals you will be handsomely rewarded in adventure points and as much primo loot as you can pack. Now, whereís my long sword?
One of my gripes about EverQuest up to this point has been the lack of depth and variety in the gameplay, Lost Dungeons of Norrath goes a looooong way towards rectifying this problem. Sure you could camp bandits all day or cash in bounty related items after 8 plus hours in the wilds of Norrath, but finally, LDoN gives players a real choice as to how they want to spend their game time.
Getting into the meat of the new expansion is pretty simple, go to your characterís home city and you receive a message in your chat window giving you the name and general location of a Wayfarers member in the city. Make contact with this NPC and after you finish talking to him he will give you the names of the Wayfarers that are running the camps in Everfrost, Northern and Southern Ro, Butcherblock, and the East Commons.
Now, in order to actually receive an adventure from one of the Wayfarers camps, you need to have at least a level 20 character but you can have lower level players in your raiding party. Raiding parties can be huge, up to 36 players. Perhaps one of the most pleasing aspects of this expansion is the fact that your party strength is gauged by the game and the adventure you are assigned and the monsters you encounter in the depths will be challenging, but conquerable within the two hour time limit that is placed on all LDoN adventures. If you are feeling a little self destructive you and your party can also opt to undertake a ďhardĒ adventure - with the greater risk also of course come greater rewards. Of course losing people will hurt your chances for success, but if everyone is on their toes you may still be able to pull it off with a slightly depleted party.
Dungeon goals range from assassinating a boss-type NPC to rescuing individuals that are hidden in the depths to killing X-number of NPC mobs. One last note on the rigors of EQ dungeon crawling, all of the dungeons inhabitants only spawn a single time so no camping, the only way to ďwinĒ in LDoN is to cut yourself a swath of destruction (looting) and accomplish your goal within the allotted two hours.
Once you make it back to the Wayfarers camp, report in to receive your adventure points for a job well done, you can spend these points here to obtain some rather nifty items. Not to say that there arenít nifty items in the dungeons themselves, LDoN introduces treasure containers to the world of EQ. They come in a variety of types, you know, barrels, chests, some are locked and trapped and will need to be unlocked and disarmed, others are free for you to bust open for the looting of assorted goodies. Now check out your loot. You may discover that during the fray you obtained some interesting jewels. By examining them you can get your first look at the new augmentation system.
Each of these new jewels is imbued with special properties that will boost your various abilities when they are fitted into the corresponding slots in your weapons and armor. This system is similar to stuff weíve seen in other games, like the Diablo titles or even Final Fantasy 7 and is really a lot of fun to play with and tweak. I found that a lot, and I mean a lot, of the upper level players seem greatly offended that newbies wonít have to work quite as hard as they did to survive in harsh world of Norrath. I guess that I can sort of understand that, but the overall focus on short term gameplay teamwork and thus the improved accessibility to a greater gaming audience I feel more than compensate for a few slices of digital humble pie served to a select few.
As for the EQ community, like I said before I was pleasantly surprised by the character and generosity of the folks playing EverQuest in general. But boy, do I hate some of the elitist screw-heads I encountered while working on this review. My appraisal of the community in general is still that they are a good bunch, that really like this title and welcome newcomers, but bear in mind, there are a few uber-trash-talking worms in this apple.
While the look of Norrath hasnít been totally overhauled this time out, the new NPCs and their animations show that the creaky old EQ engine still has a few tricks up itís sleeve. Iím talking about casters waggling their fingers as they blast you with a magical onslaught. Iím talking monsters that are whirling vortexes of air and bones.
The expansion still has all the normal EQ issues, the boggy fame rate when there are a lot of characters on screen, though the draw in problems arenít super noticeable in the dungeons themselves, which is good because the dungeons are really uber. The layout and general feel of each one is certainly the best Iíve seen in an MMOG to this point.
The audio is exactly the same fairly high quality that you can expect from an EQ title. Big symphonic sound, no glitching, the score really fills its role even if it does seem to repeat a little too often. Same goes for the sound effects if youíve played EQ before youíre not gonna hear anything new here, but quality is no issue.
I donít know about you but $30 bucks seems like a small price to pay for an expansion that really revitalizes a game thatís been pretty stale for three or so years. The augmentation system that can help alleviate the Level 65 Cap of Boredom, the dungeon crawling, the looting (mmm, looting) it all adds up to a package thatís very much worth your time and money.
Lost Dungeons of Norrath is just the shot in the arm that EverQuest needed at this juncture. A graphical update would be nice, but the new mission based gameplay and the augmentation system, have really brought my opinion of EverQuest and SOE to a new, higher level. There are still some things Iíd like to see fixed in the game overall, but my admiration for this title is expansive.