Call of Carrethen,the world’s first real Virtual Reality game, powered by the Wellspring device. Growing up broke in The Sprawl, I knew I could never afford one. But then I won a contest and the next thing I knew, I was diving into the most incredible world living out my wildest fantasies.
But now I’m being held hostage with no ability to log out, and the penalty for in-game death? Brain death. My soul will be lost forever in the “electronic void.”
The world has been taken over by a black knight calling himself The Ripper. I don’t know him—but he definitely knows me. He turned the entire server red and returned everyone to level 1. Everyone but me.
He’s gifted me 20 levels—with one single, deadly caveat: anyone who manages to kill me gets a free ride home.
I'm a marked man. In order to survive and to get back to my family, I have to level up and defeat The Ripper. But with more than half the server out to get me, that’s not going to be easy...
My Opinion: 437 pages, $4.99, Available on Kindle Unlimited
Full Disclosure: I received an advanced copy for review. I purchased the novel when it became available.
The story takes the Sword Art Online premise of ‘trapped in the game’ and ‘die in the game, die in real life’ and adds a bit of a twist. In addition to beating the big evil max level bad guy to get free, another way one of the many trapped players can get out of the game is by killing the main character, Jack. To make it a challenge for the other players, they’re all reset to level 1 and the MC is bumped up to level 20. This incorporates a race between the MC and the rest of the server to level up. It’s good motivation for everyone to continue risking their lives playing this game.
I was a little disappointed at how little progress the MC had made with a two week time skip forward, but understand that the author had to give the other characters a chance to catch up some. From there on it’s a story about how far the MC is being pushed to kill the other players to protect his friends and the guild that helped him out. There are many discussions about the morality of the subject, and while some people will find the MCs point of view to come off a bit whiney (i did), it’s the challenge he has to overcome by the end of the story.
On the game mechanic side, the author says he based the story and the game mechanics on Asheron’s Call. He even gives the game a nod in the story. There’s loads of detail about skills and how players can create truly unique builds. Most of this detail is front loaded in the story and as it goes on much of that variety and detail is minimized as the story shifts its focus to the PvP and PK combat. Crafting does happen in the story, but you don’t get much detail since it’s not the main character doing any of it.
Combat is good, mostly. There are several fights where things feel fixed or wand wavy and where the MC or more of his friends should have died. But overall, the descriptions are well done and there is a variety of combat scenes that kept me interested.
The things I liked:
In a story where death is permanent, the author was not afraid to kill off characters. Don’t be surprised if some characters you like end up dead.
The addition of the plot point that a player could get free if they killed the MC was a nice twist on what is otherwise a standard premise.
The twists at the end were foreshadowed but still came as a neat surprise.
The resolution was satisfying.
Game mechanics had good depth in principle and I could imagine many of the builds possible.
Running gag where one character quotes movies constantly. Good personality trait.
The things that bugged me:
Combat got a bit wand wavy sometimes. There were several fights where the MC or his group would fight characters 10-20 levels higher than them and struggled until the MC used a particular magic spell and then suddenly they just won. The math on the spell just didn’t seem like it would have made that big of a difference.
Crafting felt wand wavy. Most game mechanics are setup to let crafters make things that are just a bit better than what they could get from loot drops. But here, the crafters seemed to make items that made players 10 levels more powerful. Sometimes doubling or tripling the power of an already above high level item. All while the crafter themselves was 10-30 levels lower than the min requirements to even wield that weapon.
Why weren’t there any healers in the story? No one with a resurrection spell? In Sword Art Online, this is explained because there is no magic in the game. But here, healing exists, but no one decides to focus on it and get a simple resurrection spell to save people?
There’s just this dissonance in the MCs motivations and how he treats death. The MC cares enough about his survival to flee from everyone, so he clearly has survival instinct for self preservation. So much so that he jumps off a cliff and trusts that his friend is right about an exploit will save him. But when faced with men that are clearly described as remorseless murderers, who have clear intent to murder him, that same instinct disappears. Instead he has the presence of mind to whine about not wanting to be a murderer even though he knows these same guys killed people he cared about and will kill many more.
Overall, despite some of the issues in the story, I ended up liking it. The twists and resolution at the end was satisfying enough to just push it over into the 7 out of 10 range. But it was a close one.
Score: 7.1 out of 10