The new AP from Fire Mountain Games is possibily even more ambitious than the first one, which (succesfully!) dealt with managing an evil campaign all the way up to the 20th level.
This time we are offered both an evil campaign (as wicked drow upstarts), and an heroic one (as brave and honor-bound dwarves), both of them integrated in a sandbox style tale of exploration, war and empire-building. In future installments there is hint of other thematic races to use, which is something I actually look forward to.
This first issue deals with a rather large but nonetheless limited area, with some excellent suggestion on how to deal with a campaign set underground right from the start (travelling, resource gathering, etc.), a number of very different places to explore, factions to fight or to ally with, tasks and quests, and a rather clear overall mission to tie everything together. It just works, and it almost constantly has you eagerly wondering what's next.
Being a sandbox campaign, be prepared to have the adventurers take every wrong turn in the map, waste time following red herrings they almost made up from thin air, step ahead of their abilities with the worst enemy available, and such problems. But it's also the best part of a sandbox campaign, so roll with it and have fun.
Unfortunately it seems that the product was originally written with the dwarven heroes in mind, and the drow faction developed later; thusly some pieces do not fit perfectly together for our dark-skinned subterranean elves - they must be retro-engineered by the GM after a careful and complete reading of the whole adventure.
Also, there are no custom tables for encounters in the sprawling tunnel complex that crisscrosses the area map.
The patron system in the appendix is a very nice atmsphere piece, which helps a lot creating a tight group. Moreover some of the ideas proposed for dwarves or drows are just genius, and ooze future epicness even at these low levels.
Art and layout: art by Michael Clarke is even better than what I've seen in WotW, and that was very good. Maps are great, portraits characterful, illustrations inspiring, and page layout on par with the best big-time publishers out there. Outstanding.
Writing and editing: Gary McBride is good at writing stuff, and it shows in the original NPCs, weird subterranean races and exotic places he describes. There are some really fresh ideas, and the GM will always have a rather clear idea of what to describe or use, even when the characters will take an unexpected turn (like they always do).
A few typos creep up here and there: none of them are an obstacle in reading or understanding the problem/location/NPC at hand, nor they are the usual it's/its, than/then or the dreaded rouge/rogue, but they are still there.
Overall: the adventure is very good, the campaign is promising, the concept is a bold move after WotW. I'm not really fond of gnomes, but Knivy Ivy may easily be the most interesting NPC I've seen in a while. The war between intelligent fungal gatherers and intelligent spider hunters - and the survival problems each faction is facing - is simply great.
Having to rework some elements for the drow campaign (eg. it's not really clear where in the map drow characters start, while it's really obvious where dwarven characters do), the missing encounter tables, and the necessary work a GM has to do with a sandbox campaign to customize it for his/hers group of players, detract a bit from the otherwise excellent and tight product.
A solid four stars, and looking forward for the new installments.