Simply by the sheer number of zones available, the EverQuest: Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion wins out as being the largest expansion for the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game to date.
Available as both a download and a shrink-wrapped package, Lost Dungeons of Norrath features 48 new zones, with each zone based on one of five dungeon themes -- Deepest Guk, Rujarkian Hills, Miragul's Menagerie, Mistmoore's Catacombs and Takish-Hiz. The name of this new expansion says it all: Players will have the opportunity to explore freshly-unearthed dungeons throughout the lands of Norrath.
Each dungeon features several new monsters and spectacular settings that are worthy of screenshots. For good or for bad, Lost Dungeons of Norrath is only useable by characters of 20th level and above, and only groups of at least four can adventure in any of the new zones.
Upon installing the expansion, adventurers are greeted with what at first looks like a typical message-of-the-day from Sony Online. However, the message suggests adventurers return to their cities of origins and seek out a member of the Wayfarers Brotherhood. Once a character has returned to his or her city of birth, another message will appear guiding the character to a specific NPC. Through talking to the NPC, the character will find out more about the Wayfarers Brotherhood, as well as gather some information on how he or she can be of service to the Brotherhood.
After the discussion concludes, the character is urged to seek out one of five different Wayfarers Brotherhood camps, which all happen to be set in what often enough are abandoned zones. All of the zones have been around since the original EverQuest launch days and have been turned into ghost towns by players who have moved on to newer and more exciting zones. Lost Dungeons of Norrath gives new life to those old zones (namely East Commonlands, North Ro, South Ro, Everfrost Peaks and Butcherblock). Zones that were quiet up until the expansion's release, except for the odd newbie character and the occasional higher-level character passing through, are now brimming with activity. Outside of peak hours, it's easy to find several high-level characters milling about looking for groups.
Each Wayfarers Brotherhood camp will have an adventure recruiter, a raid recruiter, an adventure merchant or two, and a magus, in addition to other notable NPCs lurking about. Once a character has become inducted into the Brotherhood by talking to a specific NPC at any one of the camps, he or she will be given an item called the Adventurers Stone. By having this stone in their possession, characters can use the camp's magus to instantly be transported to any of the other camps.
However, the highlight of the expansion is the adventure system. Once a group has formed (with four members being the minimum, and there must not be any more than six levels difference between the lowest and highest members of the party), one member approaches an adventure recruiter and requests an adventure. Adventures come in the form of slaughters (killing X number of monsters), rescues, collection missions (bring X number of a certain item back) and assassinations (kill a specific monster inside the dungeon). If an adventure doesn't appeal to the group, it can be turned down and another requested. Once an adventure has been accepted, the group has 30 minutes to get to the entrance of the dungeon and start the adventure. As soon as a character in the party enters the dungeon, the clock resets itself to 90 minutes. If the clock runs down before the goals have been completed, the adventure is a failure. However, the group will still be able to hunt in the dungeon for another 30 minutes before getting booted out.
By successfully completing an adventure, a character will earn Adventure Points, which can be spent at any camp's adventure merchants for various items (sometimes nothing more than charms that work only during a Lost Dungeons adventure, but as a character progresses in levels, more and more items, including some very nice equipment, will be available). If the adventure is completed within 120 minutes instead of 90, the party can earn partial credit for the task (i.e. fewer Adventure Points than if they'd succeeded).
Although the adventures are quite fun and will likely be attracting players for some time, there are a few faults in the concept and execution that should be pointed out. The first problem is the fact that characters under about 40th level will have a difficult time finding a party. The majority of players hanging out in the camps looking for an adventure party are above 40th level. It's possible to even find a camp completely filled with nothing but characters of 60th level or higher. In that respect, the expansion fails those in their 20s and 30s. Outside of prime time hours, just forget about finding a Lost Dungeons of Norrath adventuring party if your characters haven't attained 40th level or beyond.
A more serious issue is that the servers have become somewhat more laggy since the release of Lost Dungeons of Norrath. Each party's adventure is generated so that the group has its own private dungeon to explore. While this is great because it prevents kill stealing and claim jumping, it also seems to have created so much lag that it's nothing to see at least one group member go linkdead sometime during the adventure. Someone (usually me) has gone linkdead on just about every adventure I've participated in. However, the lag also seeps into the rest of the EverQuest world, creating a frustrating experience at times. Hopefully SOE will get this sorted out sooner rather than later.
The two points can't discourage me, though. The expansion's adventures are fun, the settings are interesting to explore and the new monsters are enjoyable to fight. Any serious EverQuest player absolutely must look into the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion. The hours of dungeon crawling are worth the price of admission.