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Ascend Online Kindle Edition
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|Length: 644 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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As someone who works in the gaming industry, I tend to have a hard time reading things in the up-and-coming LitRPG genre.
Many of the books in this genre have fundamental flaws in their premise that stretch plausibility too far for me to suspend my disbelief. Some of these problems are misrepresentations of how the gaming industry functions, how technology functions, design decisions that wouldn't make any sense, etc.
I'm pleased to say that virtually everything in this book felt plausible to me. There isn't a lot of in-depth discussion of the game designers, which is fine - leaving them out just prevented the author from making obvious mistakes.
The game itself within the story is very reminiscent of Everquest, with a combination of classic class-based gameplay, spell books and scribing spells, and skills that level based on usage. Other elements are borrowed from other real MMOs and RPGs, such as base classes that can eventually develop into more advanced classes, prestige classes, etc. This makes the game mechanics feel familiar, but with a few fun twists that help keep the story from feeling like a carbon copy of existing games - it's an extrapolation on existing systems that generally feels plausible.
The main character is both competent and likable. It's all too common in stories like this for characters to treat NPCs that clearly have emerging sapience as helpless robots or slaves. I was pleased that the main character treats NPCs like people from the outset - he's essentially "in-character" from the moment he gets into the game, which helped the immersion of the story and helped me empathize with the characters much more easily.
As others have said, the puma is clearly the best character. The author gets major credit for making me love a NPC as much as I did.
There's a lot of town building here and a focus on a small location rather than an immediate life-or-death struggle. I loved this. I found it far preferable to stories where the main character races to the top of the leveling experience within a novel or two or gets overpowered abilities from the outset of the story. This whole book largely focuses on low-level gameplay - and the story benefits from that significantly.
I will say that there were some elements of the game itself that I would consider tremendously unethical as an actual game designer, but in the world in which the book takes place, these elements still felt plausible (if disturbing). I won't say too much to avoid spoilers, but I'm curious to see if this will be explored further in the future.
There's no harem in this story, which I also consider a huge plus. I'm getting exhausted with all the harems in this genre. This is a plus for me, but it might be a minus for others who are looking for that sort of thing - so, just beware of that if you're considering reading it. Romance is not the focus of this story. There's some great friendship and comradery, though, both between different players and between players and NPCs.
This is my first time recommending a LitRPG written by an author outside of Japan, and I'm doing so whole-heartedly. The book hit my nostalgia buttons hard and I can't wait to read the sequel.
Aside from benefiting from some cleanup on the grammar, which was occasional and nothing that broke the flow of reading... Where I get hung up on it is with the core group. The character development with this group is meh... and for a group of people that have known each other most of their lives and used gaming as a means to keep in touch etc as stated; I found the interactions, dialogue, and development between them to run counter to that premise. To me, developed characters can still make a bad story readable if not somewhat enjoyable. So when it is missing from a good story...
The hush hush on the development of the game and details etc, I found to be a fresh take, and I enjoyed how the lore was presented in game rather than the typical 'look it up on the internet' that a lot of other LitRPGs do.
I closing it is something I recommend to people who enjoy LitRPG and hoping I have book 2 to look forward to.
Ascend Online does a few things that help swallow the idea of the full immersion fantasy world. Firstly, it's set hundreds of years into the future and sets up a world where technology, specifically nano-technology, has become so far advanced that many today's illnesses like cancer and disease are readily curable. The offset of this is that the population of earth has exploded. Despite that many live in poverty because of this, games have become a major spectator attraction, much like football or any other sport.
The company that premiers Ascend Online is using full immersion capsules coupled with nano technology and iv's to take care of the immersion component and to keep the player supplied with needed nutrients. Because of this, there's no need for a plot device to literally trap or transport players directly into the game itself. In fact, the players are often so surprised by the games realism that they have a hard time remembering it's a game. When NPC's are so convincing that they feel like real, tangible, living breathing souls, the question of how to treat the NPC's causes a great deal of moral conflict and confusion.
That's enough exposition. The story itself is superb. The characters are feel real and have a great deal of depth to them. The NPC's as well. Furthermore, the world story setup for the game is absolutely incredible. The second book expands on fleshing out the world but also has some last minute surprises to connect things.
While the story is LITRPG, I found the stat listings draw a good balance between informative, but not overwhelming. This is the first LITRPG book I've come across where the main character works in tandem with other real-world characters while in the game. I found that to be quite refreshing. The interplay between the main character and his friends is hilarious and paints a picture of a long lived friendship that's spanned across many games together, but none of them close to Ascend Online's level.