How can a game based on endless miles of sand not turn out brown and dull? Somehow, the first EverQuest II expansion, Desert of Flames, mixes Ali Baba with ancient Egypt and shows how it's done. From desert oases (yeah, the plural of oasis ... look it up) to colorful djinn palaces to majestic pillars of stone abandoned in the wastelands, DoF demonstrates what a little imagination can do for a potentially bleak role-playing environment.
The desert is still predictably barren and inhospitable, but the golden vistas and outdoor bazaars are damned impressive, and they're balanced by rich foliage, palm trees, and even flowers in oasis areas. Rich, jewel-toned Arabian tents and bursts of gilded, domed palaces really stand out against all that bland, beige sand. It's not all just for looks, either. Climbable walls give some zones more of a 3-D, almost Prince of Persia feel, and the host city of Maj’Dul is a truly exciting environment, where warring labor unions, outlaws, and enforcers on flying carpets keep players on their toes.
Desert was built with level 45 characters in mind, and it raises the level cap from 50 to 60. If you're not at least level 40, the expansion won’t have much to offer you. But if you make the cut, you'll find this expansion builds on many of EQII’s strengths. New quests add to the lore of the land, while new monsters like the nasty Sand Goblins, winged Harpies and (of course) Mummies dot the landscape. There's still a good balance of opportunities for solo adventuring, group quests, and massive raid events, so those with different play styles can all find something worthwhile to do.
That said, one of the features we liked best about the original EverQuest II, the ability to level up without grinding through meaningless battles just to gain experience points, is gone. Although you can advance your character to some extent by completing quests, there's simply too much space between levels 50 and 60 to get there without banding together with a group of fellow adventurers and killing monsters solely for the sake of experience (and loot). A good team can earn a level in 10 to 15 hours, not including the time it takes to form the hunting party and to find a good campsite. For those who can only play a couple of hours a night, getting to level 60 can be a daunting task.
At launch, the expansion failed utterly in terms of loot; player-made items were better than items dropped by monsters. But the pot has gotten sweeter over time, making raids worthwhile again. In other words, if you're of the appropriate level, there are plenty of riches to be found out in this Desert.