Developers will often say that these games live and die by their communities, but never has this been truer than with what is, unquestionably, the oldest running MMO in existence. And now that Meridian 59 is totally free, surely it's absolutely bustling with jaded MMO veterans looking for a verdant little Portland, Oregon in which to settle down and compose idylls about the unmitigated beauty of raid parsers or whatever?
I disturb the carnal bliss of two copulating flies on my keyboard to type in "who", and get a sense of exactly how many players one can expect to find in Meridian 59 at any given time. 36 names are beamed back to me. It's not really peak hour in the land of milk and honey and adolescent angina, so I try again a few times later on, and get 100 people at the most. It's quiet, too, because Meridian 59's developers wisely made it such that the global chat command consumes half your available mana whenever you use it, effectively preventing the spam and obnoxious debates that seem to plague chat channels in every other MMO.
At the risk of wasting mana I'll never use, I broadcast a question: why keep coming back to Meridian 59? "It's different to anything else out there" is the common consensus, and there's also an undercurrent of relief that Near Death Studios is no longer in control. I get the sense that there isn't much turnover in Meridian 59's core user-base, and the obviously tight-knit community is well-acquainted with the game's various quirks and charms. It's a small club, to be sure, but it's not a rude or unwelcoming one: quite the opposite, and I suspect that were you to take the plunge into this ancient virtual world, you'd have to be a complete Gordon Ramsay to have trouble finding someone to guide you along.
Of course, the accumulated experience of Meridian 59's player-base is also going to prevent you from accessing one of the game's key attractions - PvP - until you're heavily entrenched. I discovered this the hard, albeit quick, way. But there are other unique aspects to explore. For example, Meridian 59 features a dynamic NPC faction system, which players can become involved in and manipulate so as to secure dominance for their chosen leader.
A similar system reportedly applies to player-run guilds, so it's theoretically feasible for your guild to take over the entire sever, tiny as it is. It would be difficult to give you a sense of how these mechanics affect the grand scheme of things in Meridian 59 these days, though, without spending months as an embedded reporter in this tiny community.
That shouldn't stop you from giving it a swing, though. You could easily do worse than to engross yourself into such a well-worn and detailed virtual world, and even if it ultimately leaves you jonesing for Naxxramas, at least you've spent a few hours perusing what's arguably an extremely important historical document in the history of (online) videogames. Steel yourself, though: them blacksmiths have it going on.