EverQuest II's 8th anniversary: Celebrating a pivotal year

EverQuest II's 8th Anniversary  Celebrating a pivotal year
What a difference a day makes. And what a difference 365 days make! Every EverQuest II anniversary retrospective notes a number of changes, tweaks, and additions to the lands of Norrath, but none can boast the depth and breadth of changes that have happened over the previous 12 months. Between adding brand-new systems and altering the very landscape itself, Sony Online Entertainment has changed how players relate to -- and even access -- the game in fundamental ways.

What's new? For starters, new lands, new sandbox features, a new payment model, and a new class have all appeared over the course of this past year. But that's not all; no one can accuse SOE of just sitting on its laurels because the changes keep a-comin' at seemingly ever increasing speeds. Not only does this anniversary sit literally on the cusp of even more major dramatic alterations (the dust's hardly settled from SOE Live and the ninth expansion, with all of its content, launches in just five days), but two innovations have slid in right under the wire!

Whether you've been away or you just want to reminisce, let's take a moment to look over the past year in EverQuest II before we lose ourselves in Chains of Eternity.

EverQuest II's 8th Anniversary  Celebrating a pivotal year
Freeeeeeeeee-dom!

Without a doubt, the most fundamental change to EverQuest II happened on December 6th, 2011. The game was altered in a very basic way, abandoning the basic subscription model and moving to the realm of free-to-play. At that point, there were many restrictions for free players, with characters, races, classes, gear, bank slots, and even coin locked behind the pay wall. And as after any major change, the playerbase was shaken up.

EverQuest II screenshotOne of the greatest uproars was over the fact that returning and current players alike found their favorite characters locked if they were a class or race that was restricted from the bronze (free) accounts. Wisely preventing a riot (though possibly already having lost the interest of some returning players), SOE issued a grandfather clause allowing access to all pre-made combinations, as long as players had available slots.

But adjustments to the free-to-play model didn't end there. Last June, SOE quietly removed the ability to purchase gold subscriptions with Station Cash from the marketplace, causing yet another uproar. This time, the company apologized and in recompense re-added the ability for a limited time, allowing folks who had plans to sub to do so while they could. (Luckily, players got a warning before expansions were removed from the marketplace!)

And those changes keep rolling in. This past week, the Krono was introduced to game, giving players the ability to purchase subscriptions from others using in-game currency. And even more recently (as in yesterday!), the coin limitation for all levels of accounts was removed, giving free players access to enough plat to buy Krono.

EverQuest II screenshot
A new age

That fateful day last December brought more than a new payment model; it also heralded the launch of a new expansion to EQII. While unremarkable for being an expansion (after all, there have been eight already, as well as three adventure packs), this one set itself apart from all other expansions. Instead of including new lands to explore or a level cap increase and all those trimmings, Age of Discovery added many new systems to the game and a brand-spanking new class too.

Moving away from the philosophy that new content just equals new mobs to kill and new quests to complete, AoD branched out to add in new sandbox features. The Dungeon Maker system, while also used by grinders just to get tokens for stuff, gave storytellers and decorating aficionados a new canvas for sharing their talents and ideas. But the system wasn't just dropped in and forgotten. SOE has added to this system over the year, including non-combat NPCs for dialogue and the ability for players to use the Dungeon Maker as their own avatar! And lest you think that this system was the only bone thrown to decorators, note that throughout the year, an ever-increasing number and variety of player houses have become available.

EverQuest II screenshot
Another game-altering addition to EQII with AoD was Mercenaries. Soloing became exponentially easier as these highly powered companions-for-hire joined players on their Norrathian adventures. Whole scores of dungeons became solo-able, and some folks wondered whether grouping would go the way of the Dodo. Not so, however, as nothing really can compensate for the skill of a good player -- not even oodles of power. But mercs do give folks another option for exploring content regardless of their playstyle.

And finally, AoD granted access to something never seen in all of EQII's previous seven years: a new class! While previous expansions offered new races, AoD was the first -- and only -- to offer a new class, and Beastlord joined the ranks of scouts.

EverQuest II screenshotNorrath beautification project

December 6th also sparked the beginning of the Norrath beautification project. Freeport was the first area to be attacked by the clean-up crews, but come summer, Qeynos had its turn. In both cases, the cities were given a fresh coat of paint, and the multiple zones were removed in favor of one continuous city (or in the case of Qeynos, two). Sadly, these revamps also caused the loss of each race's individual borough, such as the Baubbleshire and Longshadow Alley. Except for race specific quest lines, players can no longer visit these areas that were home to many Norrathians for years.

In between these changes to the two major cities, the starting zones of Darklight Woods and New Halas also received some artistic attention.

The Skyshrine's the limit!

Although the paid expansion AoD didn't deliver new lands and levels, the free content update in April did. GU 63 introduced players to Skyshrine. Besides the Withered Lands and a level cap increase to 92 (with all the accompanying gear and crafting recipes), this update included Prestige Points, new raid zones, and solo/duo dungeons.

Prestige Points, a new tier of special AA-type points to spend to further customize your character, are acquired simply through leveling from 90-92. The solo-able dungeons in Skyshrine are open to two, so a player and a friend or a player and a merc can storm through them to collect valuable loot.

EverQuest II screenshot
What you see...

A controversial addition that accompanied the revamp in Qeynos Rising was the SOEmote. Along with in-game voice (that can be altered for different in-game races), avatars can mimic the expressions on players' faces. Opening up a new realm of roleplay and just plain fun, this feature can be addicting once you start using it. And word has it that someday, when the technology catches up, SOEmote will expand beyond just facial features.

With so many changes over the past year and even more right at the doorstep (like tradeskill prestige points and Player Studio), if you don't play EverQuest II now, you are definitely missing out. So hop in! And if you hurry, you will even catch this year's Festival of Discord going on now.
This article was originally published on Massively.