Norrathian Notebook: The EverQuest franchise through the ages

Our notebook is tattered no longer! We've filled so many pages over the years that it is time to set the dog-eared, fraying sheets aside and take up a fresh new notebook with plenty of room for all the upcoming adventures. And on this fresh new slate, you will see a slightly different focus from that of its predecessor. As you may have noticed, over the past few months, The Tattered Notebook dipped into coverage of more than just EverQuest II. As of this moment, it is official: Our notebook now chronicles Norrath, in all its shapes and forms. These pages will fill with all things EverQuest, from the original game to the next incarnations.

On top of the franchise focus that includes four major titles, the notebook is moving back to a weekly time slot every Saturday, so you'll get your Norrathian news more frequently. To kick things off, let's a look at the history of Norrath, from start to sequel to sandboxes, and everything in between.

The one that started it all

Every story has a beginning, and the beginning of this franchise launched on March 16, 1999. Little did Sony Online Entertainment know at that point that its little title, EverQuest, would still be influencing game design years later.

The fantasy game started with 16 races and 14 classes, adding two more classes with later expansions (one in 2001 and the other in 2004). The game has since added 20 full expansions, sometimes coming at a rate of two a year, and has more zones than you can shake a bushel of sticks at. The expansions, in order of release, are: In March of 2012, SOE switched EQ to a free-to-play business model. As a part of that, content release methods were altered a bit, and players who owned the Rain of Fear expansion also enjoyed two major content updates in 2013: Shadow of Fear in April and Heart of Fear in July 2013. For a quick rundown of the special bits of each expansion, check out The Game Archaeologist's compilation.

Over the years, some players lamented the changes in EQ that led it away from the hardcore game that it started off as, but the game retains a loyal and devoted player base to this day.

Norrath expands

When you think of all things EQ, do you envision only the four major MMO titles? If so, you are missing out. Much more sprang from that first title than just a sequel in 2004. There have been mobile games, console games, a roleplaying game, a card game, and even a few novels set in the wonderful world of Norrath.

Players who didn't mind skipping out on the MMO part of the equation could enjoy some good RPG on the go with EverQuest Hero's Call for the Pocket PC, which debuted in January 2003. A sequel, EverQuest Hero's Call 2, was launched just over a year later.

The same year the Pocket PC got a game, the console received some attention; EverQuest Online Adventures came to the PlayStation 2 in February 2003. This version of Norrath was set 500 years before the one in EQ and had 15 classes and 10 races to choose from. Just nine months later, EQOA added its first (and only) expansion, EQOA: Frontiers, which brought in another race and class along with more quests and items. After that, all other updates were free content. Sadly, EQOA closed its doors for good on March 29th, 2012.

One year to the month after EQOA's introduction to the world, Champions of Norrath brought another version of Norrath to the PS2. This version had co-op capability such that up to four friends could adventure together. In 2005, this game saw a sequel of its own in Champions: Return to Arms, this time with an online mode.

Not to leave the PC out (and to cover pretty much every base there was), the EQ family added an RTS to the mix in 2003 called Lords of EverQuest. Those who preferred to use a Mac also got in on the action with EverQuest Macintosh Edition, or EQMac. This Mac version of the game was frozen in time; the game included only the first four EQ expansions and never received a single expansion after that, nor much dev attention. Despite that, the community remained dedicated and even weathered one shut down scare in 2012 to continue on until the game finally shuttered just last month.

Also on the PC, folks can play a virtual trading card game set in Norrath -- Legends of Norrath. Introduced more than five years ago, the game has seen its share of expansions in the form of new themed decks (most recently released: Drakkinshard). Players can access LoN from inside EQ and EverQuest II or they can log in and play completely separately. LoN actually offers loot cards that can be redeemed in either of the two games.

For those who didn't/don't want to visit Norrath on any PC, SOE also introduced a table-top roleplaying game in collaboration with White Wolf . Named EverQuest Role-Playing Game, the books can still be found on Amazon, so you can grab your d20 dice set and dive in. No d20? Then you can just settle in with one of the books published about EverQuest. Not even counting the five (and counting) e-books already published for EverQuest Next, you can choose from EverQuest: The Rogue's Hour by Scott Ciencin, EverQuest: The Ocean of Tears by Stewart Wieck, EverQuest: Truth and Steel by Thomas M. Reid, and EverQuest: The Blood Red Harp by Elaine Cunningham.

The sequel

Perhaps the second thing to pop in anyone's mind when talking about EQ is the official sequel to the maiden game, EverQuest II. Released in November 2004, EQII was a whole new iteration of Norrath filled with familiar names and places of the original, but it was still very different. For one, this Norrath has been affected by several cataclysms, and you can even see Luclin blown to bits in the sky. Additionally, besides being 500 years after the time of the original, EQII implemented a number of dramatic gameplay changes. Players seem to prefer one or the other but rarely both.

Another difference in EQII is that the first big content additions to the game after launch were not large expansions but small adventure packs. These packs cost about five dollars and opened up a new adventure line for players. In total, there have been three adventure packs -- indicated below with an (A) -- on top of the 10 expansions over the course of the game's nine years. Those are, in order: EQII actually converted to free-to-play before its older sibling did, changing payment models in December 2011, the same day AoD launched. The two games followed a similiar pattern after the switch to F2P, however, as EQII players who owned the DoV expansion had access to two major content updates free: Scars of the Awakened (April 2012) and Darkness Dawns (July 2013). Also like the original, EQII started with a set number of classes and races -- 24 and 15, respectively -- and added more over the years (two classes and five new races).

The final similarity between the two games? EQII also has a loyal playerbase that has stuck by it through thick and thin.

Next up!

First announced at Fan Faire 2010, the next step in the fabled franchise was being developed under the working title of EverQuest Next. While the name actually stuck, nothing else about the game's development did; at SOE Live 2012, CEO John Smedley famously blew up all that was ever known about the game's development, literally making the only known screenshots explode on a large screen and telling players that it would be a massive sandbox instead. And he left it at that.

Come convention time in 2013, the world finally got to see what became of EQN -- and what a sight it was! This sandbox would have a world that was quite literally shaped by the players: Player decisions and actions would influence events, AI would actually be intelligent, and the multi-layered voxel-based world could be manipulated to be used during battle or even destroyed (although it does eventually heal again).

Is EQN just EQ3? No, and that's for the best. Players who want EQ have EQ, and those who want EQII have EQII, so why re-do what's already been done? Instead, players who want something different will have a chance to experience Norrath in a way never before imagined. Sadly, the game is not expected out any time soon, and there is still much to learn about it as 2014 progresses.

Making a (Land)mark

The final piece of the known franchise is the game that totally came out of left field. EverQuest Next Landmark was announced publicly at SOE Live 2013, and other than a few press folks who got to speak with SOE beforehand, not a soul had any clue that it was coming. There were no industry rumors, no leaks; the info was a smack-in-the-face surprise. Although, unlike an actual smack in the face, this surprise was a pleasant one! EQN Landmark is going even further then its close sibling (twin?) EQN in redefining how we play MMOs by giving us access to all those cool systems going into EQN.

Although we still don't have all the details, we've had some hands-on experiences and seen gameplay footage in various videos and livestreams. This could turn out to be the ultimate sandbox experience. Only time will tell. Luckily, we won't have to wait too long as Founders get into beta come February!

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running every Saturday, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II -- and catch MJ every 'EverQuest Two-sday' on Massively TV!!
This article was originally published on Massively.