Publisher: Sony Online
Developer: Verant Interactive
Release Date: February 14, 2005
Buy 'EVERQUEST: Dragons of Norrath': PC
Entering the world of Norrath is an escape from the every day world for thousands of people the world over. The escape can, however, grow in to a feeling of repetition as the existing world comes to feel overdone. So when an expansion pack comes along, it is a day of celebration for the residents, be they Halfling or Froglock. EverQuest: Dragons of Norrath is the ninth (!!!) expansion in the classic EverQuest franchise, and it is undeniably a beautiful expansion well worth the celebration. DoN is designed around instanced , sequential questing instead of mass raiding , so it grants more instanced dungeons, in addition to a number of other enhancements. Overall, the expansion is a solid piece of work, but it does suffer from a hazard that all games in the genre will eventually have to face.
Graphically, the new zones are beautiful. The terrain ranges from the burning wasteland of a massively altered Lavastorm , the only old world zone changed in this expansion (a volcanic caldera with flowing lava and rocky mountainous terrain), to the ordered beauty of a feng shui Japanese garden compound. The new zones are populated with creatures that are gorgeously rendered and very smoothly animated. The graphic improvements are one of the first things that strike a player entering these areas, but unfortunately, they do create a contrast against which the players appear to be something of stick figures, with clumsy animation and jerky movement. This is especially blatant when you see a player falling as they run along the mountainous terrain, as they seem to be having more of a seizure than a smooth falling animation. This is just an extreme example, but it really shows how the game has aged since the Luclin expansion improved character models and animation.
However, there is much more to Dragons of Norrath than the visual component. DoN has taken the instancing that was introduced with the Dungeons of Norrath expansion and substantially improved on it, generating a new questing model that is extremely satisfying in its progressive storytelling. Instead of the usual quest built around the classic model of "go get item x and take it to NPC y," the instanced quests now tell a story, in which there can be a number of "quest segments" that do not require running back to the quest giver or other NPC, but lead in a natural-feeling progression. A quest will start with something as simple as reaching a location and progress in steps until you find yourself facing a boss in a final battle.
Other, shorter quests can be as simple as the standard "collect x of y" missions, where you simply hunt a particular type of creature until you have collected the items. Rewards are essentially point-based, in which you are awarded Radiant Crystals, which can be used to buy items from special merchants who are found in the same areas as the quest givers. The items available for purchase are very nice, improving a large number of stats significantly, from the lowest end and improving as many as eight stats by six or more. As with many things in EverQuest, a player must choose sides between good and evil. A player must be careful when first exploring because if their existing faction is inappropriate for the camp, they will be attacked by the NPCs there.
Sound was also well done with the expansion. The ambient sounds of the world lend realism to your wanderings, while the music holds its own, although the tune repetition does start to get old.
Also added in the expansion is a very nice improvement to the map component, where the maps can be much more easily navigated via an atlas, which allows easy transitions between zone maps, and clear detailing of zone proximity. Also improved are guild features, including guild banks that allow for much easier exchange of items between guild mates. Alongside the guild banks, players can now find two very useful new features: a healing pool, which regenerates both health and mana at a highly accelerated rate, and a mass graveyard that facilitates recovery by summoning when a large raid goes terribly wrong.
The greatest weakness of the expansion has nothing to do with what has been added but involves the dilution of the player base. The world has simply grown too large for the number of players in it. This could be blamed on attrition of players to other games Ever if attrition had not occurred, and the player base were as large as its peak, a game that continuously adds to the size of the world will eventually not have enough players to populate it. This is a hazard that really is new and unique to the MMO world since MMOs are organized around groupings of players. When the player base has thinned out, as it has now, it becomes very difficult to build groups, even from large guilds, due to people being spread all around.
All in all, the EverQuest: Dragons of Norrath expansion is a very solid piece of work, one of the finest that the developers have brought to the table. Sony has even worked to attempt to alleviate the player density problem by merging servers, but it seems that the time has come for the world of Norrath to begin shrinking in some way. This is a problem that all MMO games will have to face eventually, but only time will tell how the situation is resolved.