Norrathian Notebook: Happy 15th anniversary, EverQuest!

This past Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of EverQuest. Any way you look at it, 15 years is a long time, and few are the games that can make this claim to fame. Such an achievement is certainly worth a hullabaloo! Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've witnessed a bit of this celebration; it's been touted across the entire franchise (not to mention the rest of SOE's portfolio!). Much has been said about the journey from day one until now, with folks sharing stories that span the entire life of EQ. Devs even offered an infographic highlighting how far the game has come since 1999. What a difference 15 years makes! But what about the difference just one year makes?

Today's Norrathian Notebook is an anniversary retrospective that looks back at the last 12 months in the life of EverQuest. Join me for a jaunt down memory lane to see how Norrath has evolved this past year, then take advantage of the special deals and festivities commemorating this auspicious year.

Starting the year off right

Although it didn't technically happen during this 15th year, one event really set the stage for it. Not even a week before the 14th anniversary, EQ repealed its free-to-play restrictions on race, class, and more. When it comes to F2P, restrictions are always a turn-off, so this opened the world up and invited more folks to come check things out. Players still had to abide by the given class/race combinations, but no longer were any of those off-limits just because someone lacked a sub.

Another event that happened mere days before the commencement of the 15th year was the announcement that one of the original creators, Brad McQuaid, had returned to his roots at EverQuest. However, that return didn't last though the year; after being let go in August during the layoffs, McQuaid set about making another new game that went back to the fundamental roots of EQ.

The players make the game

No one can dispute that the whole reason EQ has enjoyed such a long life span is the players. (If you have any doubts about the passion of these players, just check out SOE Live!) During this year's event, SOE introduced incentives to bring friends to the game as well as entice former players to return.

In July, the studio implemented a recruit rewards program that offered in-game items to vets for convincing new folks to play and a special pack of goodies for the new players to get them started. Then in October, a Welcome Back to Norrath promotion gave returning players a gift of potions, a large bag, and a temporary gold membership for returning. Those who converted to a permanent gold membership got even more goodies.

Even more recently, changes were made to the Alternate Advancement system (AAs) to help returning players get back into the game and experience the newer content. With the changes, gold members could opt into an auto-grant of all AAs up to level 85 (scaled to their level). And since just before the anniversary celebration, players have been able to make instant-level-85 Heroic Characters -- including the new player-chosen race/class combos.

Expanding adventures

While the change to free-to--play happened during EQ's 14th year, it was over the next year that players really felt the new approach to delivering content. Instead of publishing one massive expansion, the game moved to spread a larger story arc between one expansion and two subsequent additional major content updates. Although the expansion Rain of Fear was released in 2012, the first update, Shadow of Fear, was launched in April 2013. This second installment of the story introduced the Shissar city of Chelsith Reborn and gave players their first chance to chat it up with one of Norrath's gods (who happened to reappear and nab herself a fear shard).

Heart of Fear, the third and final chapter in the Rain of Fear saga, came along in July. Instead of focusing on the goddess Luclin, HoF continued the House of Thule story from 2010 and featured Cazic Thule, the god of fear. If you'd ever wanted to bring a god back to life, that was your chance! Like the previous update, this one added plenty more to the world of Norrath, expanding the land with more zones, six more 54-man raids, and new class-specific weapons that are obtained after following the content of all three fear updates.

With the whole arc of the 19th (and 17th!) expansion wrapped up, it was time to bring on a new one. The next expansion -- the big 2-0 -- hit Norrath on October 8th. First announced at SOE Live 2013, Call of the Forsaken was launched a month later than anticipated, bringing merc customization, a brand-new storyline, four more zones, Heroic Adventures, and the two Hardcore Heritage zones of Nagafen's Lair and Castle Mistmoore. Three months later, the second installment of this latest arc, called Hate Rising, hit live servers; that update added scaling to Heroic Adventures so more could participate, even more raids, and new rare loot.

A farewell for Norrath

Not everything in the 15th year was about expansion and growth, however. Norrath also experienced some shrinkage. In October EQ said a final farewell to the Mac version, the game that held so true to its roots that it was frozen in time and never advanced beyond the Planes of Power expansion of 2002. A number of Norrathians lost their beloved home when this version shut down.

Celebrate the good times

Feel like celebrating? Plenty of opportunities abound for jumping into the festivities. If you haven't had a chance to make a Heroic Character yet, you still have until the 26th to make one for free. And whether or not you play a level 85 character, grab something lower, or start a new one from scratch, through tonight players can enjoy reduced lock-out timers, more loot, and more frequent spawns of rare mobs. For a limited time, the player-created missions from the 14th anniversary are available to run on top of the new ones for this year. Or if you prefer, you can just wander a bit in the Plane of Knowledge and you'll be greeted by birthday banners and 15th anniversary tapestries.

What's a party without prizes? In honor of EQ's anniversary, the official wiki is offering a special contest that will net winners a copy of EQ's Call of the Forsaken expansion, EQII's Tears of Veeshan expansion, or an EQ Next Landmark Trailblazer Founders Pack. All you need to do to be entered is register for an account on the site and leave a comment before March 31st.

Any way you slice it, 15 years is a grand accomplishment. Congratulations to EverQuest for a decade and a half of grand adventures, and here's to another decade or three!

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 biweekly on Thursdays, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II. And keep an eye out for MJ's Massively TV adventures!
This article was originally published on Massively.