Armageddon MUD (Arm) is set on the harsh desert world of Zalanthas; a world devastated by terrifying magicks, where tyrannical sorcerer-kings rule and people exist in a wide and weird variety of races. If this sounds familiar to you, then it will be no surprise that Arm was largely inspired by the AD&D Dark Sun setting. The two are not the same, but the themes are similar. Zalanthas is a brutal environment where only the fittest survive. Food and water are precious commodities. Magick is widely feared, and those who wield it are despised and persecuted. Metal is virtually nonexistent. Arms and armor are made mostly from bone, chitin, leather, obsidian, and wood. Civilization exists in isolated pockets, between which stretch vast expanses of hostile desert and barren wasteland. It's a game setting radically different from the typical medieval fantasy world.
As might be gathered from my e-mail address, I'm one of the staff members on Arm. The obvious disclaimers apply (i.e., my personal views don't necessarily reflect the views of Armageddon MUD, and of course I will be encouraging you to play the game!), but I've tried to keep this review fairly objective. I play the game regularly, in addition to working on it, and am basing this review mainly on my experiences as a player. To me, the purpose of this review is to help you decide whether or not to try playing Arm. Arm has its good and bad points, just as any game does; the question is whether Arm would be enjoyable for you. In trying to help you decide, I'll start by considering the game's strengths.
First, Arm is a role-play intensive (RPI) MUD, and the staff are very strict on you staying in-character (IC) all the time and not abusing out-of-character (OOC) knowledge. I see this as one of the game's strongest points. While these policies may seem harsh at first, you learn to appreciate them after a while. Everyone staying IC really makes the game gripping and intensive, and this is probably why most people play Arm.
Second, Arm is an ongoing story. It's not a static entity, but something that both staff and players constantly put effort into. Things have consequences on Arm, and there are no set quests or missions to do, in terms of blindly going off to kill X or locate Y. There are exciting times and there are quiet times, just as in real life. The staff (who are all unpaid volunteers) put an incredible amount of work into the game, and it goes off-line every Saturday to be updated.
Third, the game world is all original and excellently written. To see what I mean, you really have to play the game, since I can't reproduce a sample of room, object, or NPC descriptions here. It's also a huge world, encompassing two large city states (one of which is currently in ruins), several outposts, and vast expanses of desert and wasteland. The desolate setting of Arm isn't for everyone, but it can grow on you. The description 'hauntingly beautiful' comes to mind.
Fourth, the players as a whole are good role-players. They stick to the rules and play in the spirit of the game, and this makes all the difference. You can have a beautifully written setting, but if people don't role-play intensively and realistically, it's wasted. Arm has a dedicated and fairly large core playerbase, given that it's an RPI MUD (hack-and-slash MUDs tend to have a lot more players than RPI MUDs).
While Arm has its strong points, there are also weak points as well. I suppose the biggest weakness is that many new players don't fully understand why the staff enforce role-play so strictly, and can be turned off by it. If you're used to happily chatting OOCly in a MUD, it will seem harsh for an immortal to reprimand you or tell you to read the rules, even though they do it politely. But once you've played a while, you'll see why it's so important. Strict role-play is what makes an RPI MUD an RPI MUD.
A second weakness (yet also a strength, depending on your perspective) is the sheer depth of the game. There is a fair amount of documentation to read before you even make your first character. Once you've played for a while, though, you appreciate why this is necessary. If you're the kind of person who devours novels and thrives on detail, I think you'll love Arm. But even if you aren't, I think that if you're willing to do a little background reading before starting play, you will come to enjoy the richness of the game. Arm is more for the long-term player than someone who wants to 'finish the game' in a few hours.
A third weakness, as far as many new players would be concerned, is perma-death. In other words, each character has only one life, not a few lives. If your character dies, you'll need to make an entirely new character. This can be hard to learn to work with, but it adds to the intensity of the experience. It forces you to value your character more, in terms of not doing things 'just because you feel like it.' While you still take risks, they tend to be risks that the character would ICly make, rather than things done on an OOC whim. You are also allowed only one character at a time, so multiplaying (one player running more than one character) is out. Again, this is done to strengthen the role-playing experience rather than being a rule for its own sake.
The staff try to address these weaknesses, of course, but some of the weaknesses become strengths after you've played for a while. One of this review's main themes is that you really need to play the game to understand what I've written and why I've written it. Another theme is that you should be prepared to play Arm for a while in order to truly appreciate it. I suppose these things could be said for many games, but I believe they hold true for Arm.
If you are planning to start playing Arm, I think these suggestions will help: (1) read at least the Introduction section of the game's website (http://www.armageddon.org/), as it has almost everything a new player needs to know; (2) contact one of the helpers, who are listed in the Introduction section; and (3) approach the game with a willingness to try a strict RPI style of play, even if you may not be used to it. Like a large but masterfully written novel, Arm may seem daunting at first, but after you've read the first few chapters, I trust you'll find yourself looking forward to the rest of the story.