A nice little dungeon of my own.
Lost Dungeons of Norrath is the latest expansion to Sony Entertainmentí¢â‚¬â„¢s EverQuest, the biggest massively multiplayer online role-playing game in the western world. The Lost Dungeons offer 48 new dungeons with plenty of new monsters and equipment for groups and raid parties levels 20 to 65. But the Lost Dungeons is not just any old expansion: it has also changed EverQuest in some profound ways, some for better, some for worse.
The gameplay in the dungeons is quite different from the usual EverQuest experience. First off, you now have to complete a certain task for which you receive rewards. Once the group leader accepts the mission and the group has reached the dungeon, it has 90 minutes to complete the mission and get their reward. This time limit makes gameplay in Everquest much, much more intense than it used to be. No more 'away-from-keyboards' to take a bio-break or get a cup of hot java - you just caní¢â‚¬â„¢t afford it.
Besides the usual experience points and loot, rewards give you "adventure points," which you can trade in for nifty, high-powered equipment. These includeí¢â‚¬Å“augmentation" items that you can apply permanently to your gear to give your character better primary statistics such as strength, stamina, agility, etc. And thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s nice ...except that the augmentations are too powerful.
Sony has also taken a new feature from the ongoing development of EverQuest II and put it into the classic EverQuest: exclusive dungeons, generated dynamically on the fly. The game will create a dungeon for your group and for your group only. No fighting with other groups for a "camp" anymore, which is particularly handy for raids. Nothing is more frustrating than putting together a 40-person raid, just to get to the camp and find a party already there. Those days are over now.
The auto-generated dungeon is also tuned to the strength of your group: the more people and higher levels in your group, the tougher the dungeon. Since the dungeon is custom-tailored for your group, the experience rewards are great. Higher level characters (50 and up) will not have seen experience this good in the many months they've been playing before The Lost Dungeons came out. This also adds to the intensity of the game, since people caní¢â‚¬â„¢t randomly drop out of their groups anymore. If even one character leaves the group, it becomes much harder to complete the mission, particularly at higher levels. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence is that if someone drops out because they lost connectivity or because they are just being a jerk, your remaining group may suffer for it.
í¢â‚¬Å“Automatically-generatedí¢â‚¬? also means that the dungeon content is sort of static and flat. The monsters doní¢â‚¬â„¢t hold any surprises. Fights are usually well-controlled and predictable. The dungeon layout is often simple, even primitive. Challenging gameplay and creative environments are somewhat lost in the Lost Dungeons of Norrath.
One good thing about the Lost Dungeons is that certain classes that were previously underappreciated are now in much greater demand, simply because it is hard to complete the adventures without them. No party is complete without a Warrior as a sturdy meat shield for the casters or a Cleric as a dedicated healer and resurrector, or an Enchanter to mesmerize monsters when a party has bitten off more than it can chew. Rogues are a definite must if the party also wants to loot potentially trapped treasure chests.
But the big problem is that Lost Dungeons is just to generous, giving out too much experience and astonishingly powerful items too easily, and that makes the game boring and upsets game balance. It promotes idiots. You used to be able to count on high-level characters to have enough real-life experience to know what they are doing, but now there are Enchanters and Warriors at level 65 who caní¢â‚¬â„¢t find their own butt in the dark of a dungeon. It brings a frosty note into your group's social dynamics.
Everquest has also been plagued for years now by an inflation of uber equipment, and the new "augmentations" simply add to that flood. Soon we will have level 2 Monks who doní¢â‚¬â„¢t even know how to use the bank, but run around with "Kwai Chang Caineí¢â‚¬â„¢s Invincible Staff of Butt Whoopery."
The bottom line? The Lost Dungeons of Norrath revives some of the excitement Everquest used to have, and the personal dungeons address some of the most pressing annoyances of current online RPGs. On the other hand, the Lost Dungeons are another step towards nerfing the game to death. Sony has tried really hard to open EverQuest to a mass-market by making it simpler and simpler. One has to wonder why; it is putting off the dedicated hardcore players, yet hasní¢â‚¬â„¢t really succeeded in creating a bigger subscriber base.