Awaken Online is repeatedly held up as a pinnacle of the American LitRPG scene’s potential, so I figure it’s only a matter of time before people from that scene realize I don’t actually like it very much and thus will need an easily navigable table of contents for my extensive review of how I came to that conclusion. This is that table of contents.
Part 1: That’s Not What Bemused Means
Part 2: Sue Territory
Part 3: Murder Lessons
Part 4: Being Conquered Is Profitable, Apparently
Part 5: Hope Spot
Part 6: You Fucked It Up
Part 7: Mary Sue Verdict
Part 8: Did Someone Else Ghostwrite This Part?
Part 9: Penultimate
Part 10: The Only Three Important People In The World
The tl;dr is that Awaken Online actually does fall smack into the trap that I’ve seen it held up as avoiding, that being the overpowered protagonist who is able to punch way above their level by taking obvious approaches that people should have discovered before him. Jason isn’t brilliant (with the exception of one genuinely clever trick that doesn’t come until well into his meteoric ascent), he’s just given a more powerful set of tools to work with by a game AI biased heavily in his favor and surrounded by morons who’ve never played a stealth game. The only stage at which the conflict is anything but one-sided is when he is pitted against Alex, his school bully who is also heavily favored by the Controller, which is weird as Hell considering that he turns out to be a sociopath.
The parts of the book focusing on direct conflict between Jason and Alex are better, but it’s still true that out of the twenty-five million people playing the game by the end of the book, exactly three of them have been given enough powers to actually play the game effectively (love interest Riley gets added to the group in the final chapters). Other players show up on-page by the dozens, but are merely cannon fodder for the only three important people in the world to mow through. The book occasionally stops to notice that the game’s AI is handing these characters all their success up until it pits them against one another, but only long enough to acknowledge that it’s happening, never long enough to give any good reason why. Maybe they’re saving that for the sequel, but the book I paid for should not ask me to buy another book to justify having read the first one. If the influence of the AI on the game was meant to be the main focus of the second book, it should not have been responsible for 90% of the events of the first.