Despite the presence of a growing number of competitors, 1999's EverQuest continues to be a powerhouse among massively multiplayer online role-playing games. In some ways, the game's age is certainly a limitation, as some of EverQuest's once-remarkable graphics look dated by today's standards, and some aspects of its gameplay can seem antiquated. Yet, EverQuest's age is also to the game's credit, in many ways. No other such game offers anywhere near as much content to explore as this one does, which is probably why EverQuest retains many dedicated players after all these years. The latest retail expansion pack for EverQuest, Lost Dungeons of Norrath, adds to the core tried-and-true gameplay a dynamic element similar to what can be found in some other online RPGs. Furthermore, the addition of "augmentations," items that may be used to enhance a character's precious gear to make it even better, adds a desirable new type of loot to look out for. Nevertheless, though Lost Dungeons is clearly suited for dedicated EverQuest players, it offers little or nothing to bring new players into the fold or to lure back those who might have given up on EverQuest some time ago. As such, it might have made more sense if this expansion were only available for purchase online, like its predecessor, The Legacy of Ykesha.
Most notably, Lost Dungeons introduces the concept of zone instancing to EverQuest, by means of the expansion's new "adventure" system. Similar to the randomly generated missions of games like Anarchy Online and Star Wars Galaxies, adventures in Lost Dungeons are missions exclusively assigned to the player groups who accept them. Player groups who accept an adventure have less than two hours to complete it. While adventures start at specific points that have been added to some of EverQuest's more popular zones (a waypoint on your compass is added to point you in their direction), once you cross these thresholds, you and your party will enter an instance of a dungeon that no other players can get into. That means no more camping spawn points and no more crowding around with a bunch of strangers, though some of the places at which adventures are assigned, the Wayfarers' Camps, draw large numbers of players.
The dungeons themselves are not randomly generated, though there are dozens of them, featuring five new graphical themes. By and large, they're the fairly straightforward dungeon crawls that you'd probably expect. Though your objectives may differ from one adventure to the next--you may need to slay a particular creature, find something, or rescue someone--they obviously boil down to your party having to cut a swath through room after room of bad guys. Mobs in these lost dungeons don't actually respawn, and since you have a time limit, you're compelled to press forward rather than sit around--this can inherently make some of these romps a bit more entertaining than a typical afternoon in Norrath, though, after a while, you can imagine how the dungeon crawling can start to feel quite repetitive in and of itself.
What you'll end up fighting in the lost dungeons depends on the experience level of your party members (players between levels 20 and 65 may accept adventures), which in theory ensures that a suitable challenge is guaranteed. You also have the option of going on a "hard" adventure rather than just a regular one, if you believe you can take on a greater-than-usual challenge. Adventures, hard or not, are plenty rewarding in terms of experience and loot--too much so in the opinion of some hardcore fans who worked harder to get their characters to elite status. Adventures are also designed to put most all the character classes to good use--rogues, for instance, will be in demand for their lock-picking and trap-detection skills, since Lost Dungeons introduces treasure chests and other items that may be locked or trapped. By bringing the adventure to you, rather than making you go out and look for it, Lost Dungeons changes one of the fundamental dynamics of EverQuest. Then again, increasingly so over the past couple of years, EverQuest has allowed you to cut to the chase and get right down to killing mobs. For better or worse, the early days of traveling across and exploring the world of Norrath are pretty much long gone; so are the days of being impressed at the sight of a high-level character.
The fact that these dungeons aren't randomized is one of the differences between EverQuest's implementation of a mission generator and how other, similar games have done it already. Another difference is that EverQuest's missions are available only to groups of four or more players. EverQuest has never been a game to really endorse solo play, though some of the character classes have always been viable on their own. Those who prefer soloing simply will not be able to accept any of the lost dungeon adventures unless they find a group, though.
Finding a group is arguably somewhat easier these days than it used to be in EverQuest. On the one hand, relatively new interface features have been added, which allow you to locate any other players in a predefined range of experience levels who are also looking for groups; or, you may search for groups looking for players. These player searches won't necessarily produce the results that a relatively inexperienced player would hope for, though. Most EverQuest servers are filled with characters who've reached or nearly reached their characters' level limit of 65, and they won't so much as talk to newbie players and are filtering their chat windows to accept messages only from their groups or from their guilds. So, as mentioned, Lost Dungeons really isn't ideal for someone who isn't heavily vested in EverQuest already; most everyone who is has already purchased this product.
These high-level players are also finding and using the new augmentations featured in Lost Dungeons. These are essentially the same as the gems, runes, and jewels found in Blizzard's Diablo II--magically imbued trinkets that lend their properties to whichever item you attach them to. Augmentations are intended for high-level players to further differentiate their equipment from other high-level characters and to create another incentive to keep on playing, since once you've passed level 65, you're no longer leveling up in any conventional way. Augmentations are varied and can be quite powerful. Since high-level encounters in Lost Dungeons can be so difficult even for dozens of level-65 characters, the benefits afforded by these augmentations don't seem like an unfair advantage.
Organized groups of high-level players may also participate in special raids in Lost Dungeons, which become available for each dungeon theme once you have completed a couple of adventures in that theme. These raids, designed for 18 to 36 players, take several hours and are obviously even more difficult than the standard adventures can be. They offer what EverQuest's designers believe to be the most challenging content featured in the game, to date.
EverQuest has aged pretty well, graphically, for a 1999 game. Granted, that's because a lot of the graphics were redone a couple of years ago with the Shadows of Luclin expansion pack. These visuals continue to hold up well--in fact, some of Lost Dungeons' new character models, environments, and spell effects look at least as good as, if not better than, anything added to the game thus far. However, the game still bogs down when many characters are in the vicinity, even on a system well in excess of the recommended specs, which can make the game's fast-paced, high-level encounters difficult to manage. Meanwhile, EverQuest's audio is nothing special, and never has been. A few minutes' worth of symphonic music pieces is hardly sufficient given the kind of time this game requires.
Available for $29, Lost Dungeons of Norrath could theoretically provide many dozens or even hundreds of hours of gameplay to the dedicated EverQuest player. Indeed, it's very common to see players looking for adventure parties shouting "LFA" on the game's chat channels, since these dungeons effectively package a good-sized EverQuest experience into a more-manageable chunk than the notorious eight-hour-or-longer marathon sessions the game is known for. So, the main feature introduced in this expansion certainly seems to be popular among the game's audience, if only because most EverQuest players, like most people, will always take the path of least resistance. Yet, these relatively brief romps don't succeed in making EverQuest more recommendable than it already has been for those who haven't played online RPGs lately or ever before. Despite some improvements to the interface and to the in-game help system over the years, EverQuest continues to be a very time-consuming and intimidating game to get into, or get back into, though as history has shown, it has the uncanny ability to keep players glued not just for months, but years.