Mystery of the Druids was Memed Back to Life

Initially teased in July of 2000 as Heir of the Druids, the game generated very little buzz. it wasn’t a triple-A production from a known company. It was the debut of a small adventure game studio called House of Tales. Previews of the time focused on the well-modeled characters, static pre-rendered backgrounds, and the staggering number of voice lines being promised by the team. I can’t stress enough that this game wasn’t making waves. It would be a footnote in-game release history if not for the meme. By the time of the first look at Gamespot, the game had become Mystery of the Druids. The title change, in my opinion, reflects closer to what the game was going for: A mystery.

The game was released in its native Germany on March 23rd, 2001 to decent, if middling, reviews.

“The exciting story and the atmospheric game design are big pluses, but deficiencies in control and some weak graphics are also clear negatives—with a little more care, The Mystery of the Druids could have been a much better title.”

Thorsten Wiesner writing for Golem.de

When Mystery of the Druids packed its bags and headed abroad in November of 2001, it was met with a much harsher reception. Reviewers found the game confusing, full of bugs, with a nonsensical plot.

“poorly designed, ugly, and rife with bugs.”

Brett Todd of Computer Games Magazine

After the North American launch in November 2001, Mysteries of the Druids faded into obscurity. It was forgotten about; not even considered a hidden gem among die-hards. It simply failed to take off and was never heard from again. Until…

2007: An image of the box art is posted on the hive of scum and villainy 4 Chan. The original post is lost to time, so far as I can tell, but it was the spark that got people re-interested in Mystery of the Druids. A screaming, low-poly druid stares out from the box, seemingly daring the observer to pick it up. It is aggressive marketing for probably the most non-aggressive game. It may not have helped sell the game, but it got people laughing. It could be added to any picture to elicit a chuckle. No one much cared what game it came from, and rumors swirled about Mystery of the Druids.

Many showed up to incorrectly state that the game was a famous canceled game that tested so badly it never saw the light of day. Others said it was released but was actually impossible to finish due to bugs. I first experienced the screaming druid in 2010 on Something Awful. A 17-page thread titled “Ancient Screaming Druid Game Box Art” took the image from internet curiosity to a full-blown meme. Users added the screaming druid to everything from movie posters to iconic historic photographs. The creator of the thread was quick to admit that they had never even played the game. Most people – myself included – figured it was a piece of shovelware released in the mid-2000s, during what is now considered a golden age for trash games released quickly.

Post-2007, the screaming druid became completely separated from the game it originated in. If you ask people now, you’ll get one of three answers:

  • I don’t know where it came from
  • That’s Mystery of the Druids
  • I only know about it because of that Youtube video

The biggest notability bump to date came along with a video by popular Youtuber MandaloreGaming. Their wry observations about the insanity of Mystery of the Druids brought in a whole new slew of potential fans. In 2014, THQ Nordic bought the rights to the House of Tales catalog and re-released Mystery of the Druids for modern PCs via Steam. I picked it up for 3 dollars during the Big Adventure Event. I’ve played some of it and can say that outside of the meme, Mystery of the Druids is a perfectly mediocre game. It won’t change the world, but it stands as a fun example of the internet’s power to bring things back from the dead…for better or worse.

In a time where it’s easier than ever for games to go completely unnoticed in a market that often seems oversaturated, it seems like infamy is one path to take to become memorable. Like Hatred after it, which traded things like being a good game, or being enjoyable in any way, for being talked about. Any attention is good attention in the realm of games. We may never see a piece of box art as outwardly goofy as Mysteries of the Druids. These days, even the worst of games have professionally made or at least competent cover art. The era of “anything goes” is long over for commercial releases. If Mystery of the Druids taught us anything, it’s that nothing ever really dies, so long as people are willing to laugh at it.