RPG Nostalgia: The Realm

by Casey Lynn
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Remember when Sierra ruled the PC world? At least, that’s how it seemed to me in the nineties. Most of the my favorite games were from Roberta Williams (King’s Quest & Laura Bow), and when I was in high school and finally ventured past the white picket fences of AOL, I discovered Acrophobia, and my very first MMORPG… The Realm.

It was one of the first of its kind, beating Ultima Online‘s launch by about a year, but I suspect it was kind of overshadowed after that since you don’t really hear much about it in the history of the genre. The graphics were great for 1996, very cartoon-like, similar to King’s Quest VII. The gameplay was easy and intuitive, combat turn-based, and role-playing actually pretty common. Even from the way that you moved, going east/west/south/north from any given screen, it was basically a graphical MUD. (Random trivia: You could buy dye to change the color of your clothes, which I always thought would be a great improvement to World of Warcraft, where half the characters walk around looking like they were dressed by blind circus clowns.)

Of course, here’s the interesting thing: it’s still around! Twelve years later, the number of accounts has dropped from about 25,000 at its peak to about 3,000, but there are still 100-200 players online at a given time during peak hours. Now run by Norseman Games, the Realm Online website boasts “Dial-Up Friendly” and “Basic System Requirements.” Well, I would hope so, for a 12-year-old game! Of course, that means I can play it on my laptop with no problem (something I can’t say for the newer MMORPGs).

Feeling nostalgic, I signed up for a seven-day free trial, downloaded the game, and played it for a while. It’s exactly as I remember it, if a bit emptier. I’m a little surprised that there haven’t been any improvements made at all, but I suppose that just adds to the “classic” feel. Of course, after that free trial, an account is $6.99 a month. Which, in my opinion, is a bit steep for nostalgia. It might be half the price of WoW or City of Heroes, but it’s also less than half the game.

Still, for those who have dial-up, or less powerful computers, or an even bigger sense of nostalgia than I, The Realm might actually be the perfect MMORPG.