The Path (Just Cause Universe Book 14)

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TRAPPED IN THE GAME

Vanitha is the world's greatest parahuman hacker, who can physically enter computer systems to control them from the inside. To relax, she's created a Hindu-themed multiplayer online role-playing-game called The Path. When a mystery presents itself, she goes to investigate the strange, new Malevolence.

It kills her.

She awakens inside the game as a new character, unable to use her parahuman powers to return to the real world. Nor can she access any of her administrative privileges. She can't even speak her own name. With no other options, she embarks upon a desperate quest to locate her body, a corpse run that may present her only chance to escape. All the while, the Malevolence is spreading like a cancer, rewriting and corrupting the game. It's a speedrun where failure will be lethal: get her body and her powers back before the Malevolence destroys the game and everything inside it-including her.

 

My Opinion: 237 pages, $4.99, Not available on Kindle Unlimited

This story is a mix of sci-fi, hindu fantasy, and LitRPG. It’s a bit overpriced at $4.99 for 237 pages and because it’s also not on KU, it’s less likely people will take a chance on this one. It’s by no means a perfect story but it is LitRPG and it has some interesting aspects that I think will intrigue some readers.

The most interesting aspect of the story, and what really sets it apart, is the inclusion of non-western influences in the MMO game world. The main character, Vanitha Bhat, is a Pakistani American parahuman with the ability to transform herself and enter and control computer systems. She creates an MMO that uses Hindu ideas for advancement. For example, in the game players need to earn Karma and Dharma to advance. Dharma earned from completing quests or tasks. Karma earned from acts with good intentions, selfless acts. Without enough of both, a player will be stuck at their current social class level and have limited job choices, levels, powers, and ways to advance.

When characters have enough Karma and Dharma they can reincarnate and create a new character with a higher threshold for Karma and Dharma points, thus potentially more powerful. Like increasing the level cap for a character. A player can reincarnate 4 times until they reach highest level Brahmin and become content creators for game.

There are still more traditional MMO aspects like character sheets, classes, XP, stats, and skills. Quest rewards include: Soma (rare health potions), XP, Rupees, and Dharma. XP can be used to upgrade skills, or stats. Or get new skills. Karma is not given as a quest reward though, and must be earned through acts. For example, early in the story the MC gives food to some street urchins to gain Karma.

Storywise, there is a kind of convoluted premise that doesn't make sense. The MC gets stuck in her own game by a mysterious force and is stripped of her admin and cyber powers and is sent off to a beta version of the game to start over. Oh, also, if she dies in the game, she dies permanently. It’s a bit frustrating but very in line with older cyberpunk concepts. To me, the entire ‘die in game die in real life’ is not a needed but understand why it’s there. To increase stakes. Every time I see it, I think it’s a lost opportunity to learn from death as a game mechanic.

Still, once the MC is in the game (7% mark), the story gets interesting. She has to power level through as much of the MMO as possible to get powerful enough to try and stop the mysterious force that’s destroying it. It’s a bit slice of life, in that you follower her as she creates a character, goes on some adventures/fights, reincarnates, and then creates another character with a completely different class. Then it cycles again. Each reincarnation is almost like a short story, with gradually revealed backstory for each new world, class, and adventure. Of course through each reincarnation, the MC is still working towards her main goal and more info is revealed about who/what the big bad guy is. Pretty neat, and it fits well with the reincarnation theme of the game world.

At the 80% mark, the story essentially abandons being LitRPG, and returns to the main series super hero thing or maybe just cyberpunk. It’s also kind of wand wavy how everything is resolved, but it likely fits with the larger series which I haven’t read.  

Overall, I like this story in spite of itself. Mostly because the author tried to do something different in mixing Hindu concepts with the game mechanics and the story world. You can tell that the author tried to straddle the line between creating a litRPG story and keeping it faithful to an existing series, but the game mechanics were consistently implemented and they mattered to the story. Yes, there are some flaws that will annoy LitRPG readers, but if you like the unusual or can appreciate it when someone is willing to try something different, you may like this story like I did.

Score: 7.1 out of 10

The Path (Just Cause Universe Book 14)

https://amzn.to/2LHHGwc