What do you do when your game is too tough? Bring in a ringer.
On his first night as a beta tester for Sicora Online, twenty-one-year-old Galen Cole meets the clone: Prairie 'Ringer' Powell. He isn't sure what to make of Prairie; she's engineered for violence, a maestro with a bow, and a real wild card. But they need each other. Galen and Prairie are two of the first batch of testers for the game that has a tendency to stomp its players.
Fresh from debugging, Sicora Online is an ever-shifting world whose AI has been programmed to alter its level based on the personalities inside it. But Sicora needs to feed before she can blossom into an MMORPG: she must learn human behavior, motivations, and reactions to setback.
Enter the level crawl.
Ten days. Ten unpredictable worlds. If Galen survives, he’ll be granted his heart's desire: a lifetime of free access to Sicora Online.
But first he has to survive.
My Opinion: 149 pages, $2.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
Galen, a guy, is the main character (MC) of this story, not the lady on the cover. He is one of 24 testers of a new full immersion game called Sicora. They’re supposed to test the game in some way and if they make it through all 10 levels they win a lifetime subscription. Honestly, this part of the premise is pretty thin and is described very poorly. After all no directions about what it takes to beat the 3 levels is shown. The MC is just dropped somewhere and he has to do stuff.
The early part of the story introduces this premise and describes the MC’s infatuation with Prairie a clone and I can only assume, the lady on the cover. She partners with him for no reason that is ever given.
By the 8% mark, the MC is dropped in game world and he finds himself meeting magical creatures and helping them to stop the bad guys killing them. Along the way, Prairie is found and joins him. This part of the story is also where both the MC and the reader get most of the information about the RPG game mechanics of the world. Character sheets, stats, health and mana bars, item and skill descriptions. Nothing special but it’s at least thoroughly used in this section.
Unfortunately, even though there’s a bunch of info given, it also seems like the game mechanics don’t mean much when it conflicts with desired story progress. At one point an NPC centaur one shot kills 5 players with a bow and arrows, even though he struggled mightily to kill the MC, a level one player only a few hours before.
The entire scene in this fantasy game world is abruptly shifted forward in time without any transition to suddenly find the NPC centaur dead, and the MC, and prairie at 1 HP. This kind of sudden time jumping is an annoying event that happens repeatedly in the novel.
After that the MC is pulled out of the game because someone else beat the level (not explained how). After the 33%, the novel ceases to be a LitRPG story. Instead, its becomes this poorly executed attempt at creating a VR version of West World. NPCs being repeatedly killed in game then their characters being recycled in the next level/ temporal scenario. A threat to Prairie getting stuck in the game as another NPC character. Heck, the 2nd level of the game is set in the Wild West which really doesn’t make sense when character sheets are clearly geared towards a fantasy magic world.
Also, starting with this 2nd world, Outside the character sheet update and distribution of stat points, most of the RPG game mechanics disappear. You see an occasional item description or loss of health. From this point on, the mechanics of the game world don’t matter to the story and almost feel inserted after the story was written.
The 3rd level is a modern world set in the year 2102, but again, the game mechanics disappear mostly. Instead, anything in the game world feels more like a VR simulation with a few game notifications added in post.
I sort of liked the first 30% of the story and think that part had potential to be very interesting. But after that the story loses me when it stops feeling like a LitRPG story and becomes a VR simulation that’s mimicking West World. Had the game mechanics continued to matter in the rest of the story or even been more present, it would have improved the score. But the shifting rules and time settings of the story still would have been an issue.
Score: 4 out of 10