First of all, don’t panic, Asheron’s Call is not going offline. In fact today’s announcement by Turbine appears to guarantee the future of the game, only perhaps somewhat restricted, I’ll get to that in a sec.
What is happening is that Asheron’s Call is, after the February content patch is deployed, going into maintenance mode according to this forum post by Severlin.
This means that any future updates will only contain bug and security fixes, and perhaps some minor itemization updates. But no new story.
AC is unique in MMORPGs as it has each and every month since it was released on the 2nd of November, 1999 been given a story update. These updates have added new monsters, dungeons, items, and quests (though not always all of these each month.) I don’t know of any game that has achieved that.
So yes, sadly, it’s the end of an era.
Having said that, the announcement also states that the game is going Free for all active accounts, meaning that there may be no way to create a new account after this update goes live.
If we allow new any accounts the keys would be limited distribution. This isn’t to drum up last minutes subs, it’s because we won’t have the capacity to ramp up the server hardware to handle a potential flood of players jumping into the game if it is completely open. — Severlin
If you are interested in playing this game (or Asheron’s Call 2) I suggest you create a new account, quickly, and start playing. You may not get another chance.
There is also mention of allowing players to run their own servers, with the team working on that. It looks like there is a bit of work needed to separate account servers from the login servers. I imagine the code for various functions when the game was created was somewhat intertwined, and probably hasn’t changed all that much (as code is wont to do.)
With that news, the future of the game is assured. Even if Turbine take the servers offline at some time in the future, there should be enough private servers around to take up the slack.
Of course this makes me wonder if the oft rumored Asheron’s Call 3 is in the pipeline.