Ian finds another farmer and picks up your bog standard “kill ten rats” quest, except it’s pigs instead of rats. He goes out into the woods, and…
I turned around, expecting to see Wilbur out of Charlotte’s Web.
What I got was a lot closer to Bebop out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – just no mohawk, glasses, or standing on its hind legs.
Yeah, no shit. Why were you expecting an adorable little piglet as the target of an MMORPG quest? The only porcine creatures that exist in MMO-land are humanoid sub-species and boars.
The thing squealed – a sound more like the xenomorph’s scream from Aliens than an oink – and charged right at me.
This description-through-reference isn’t a bad way to go, especially for an author like this one who seems to have difficulty coming up with original character designs, which is not a deathblow by itself. Obviously good character design is better than bad, but it’s fine if a book is good at other things, and if it’s bad at character/monster design, then description-through-reference is a reasonably good way of getting the description out of the way in a hurry so the book can focus on things it’s actually good at.
No, what I’m bringing up here is all these references: Charlotte’s Web, TMNT, Aliens. This isn’t the random grab-bag of references that a mediaphile who casually references things from before their birth gets up to. They were all popular in the same time frame. Ian is a millennial, and from the status of his job hunt and what we know about his having graduated college, he’s probably no older than late twenties or early thirties, maybe even as young as mid-twenties. Being in his mid-twenties would make him on the young end for a millennial today. How soon in the future is this book set?
On the other hand, this is kind of a reign of terror thing (even though Succubus is giving me plenty of nits to pick without resorting to being wholly arbitrary). Succubus isn’t making a plot point out of the era it’s set in, and it’s fine to say that MMORPGs go from regular video games to full dive by the year 2020, while society is still otherwise fully recognizable, for no better reason except that you want to tell a story about full dive games in a society that’s otherwise recognizably similar to our own. Things are going to change a lot in the next couple of decades it’ll probably take to invent full dive (I am not particularly confident in any specific set of changes, but I am quite confident that there will be lots of significant changes), and not every LitRPG needs to also be sci-fi futurism. Indeed, I took Awaken Online to task for having sporadic sci-fi futurism that wasn’t nearly up to the task of making me believe Jason was living in 207X, when he seemed more like he was living in 2030.
I’m going to post the boar fight in its entirety, it’s only a few paragraphs long, in order to make a point about it:
I was able to get off my first shot. A roiling ball of black energy flew from my hands and hit the boar square in the face.
The Darkbolt took off a good 20% of the pig’s hit points. Unfortunately, my attack did nothing to slow it down.
I tried jumping out of the way, but the pig was just too damn fast. I knew the game only allowed you to dodge a certain number of blows from an opponent, calculated randomly. This was not my lucky round.
One of the boar’s tusks ripped across my thigh, sending a sharp stab of agony up my leg.
I screamed in pain, then yelled at Stig, “Help me kill it!” as I threw another Darkbolt.
Stig fired his little fart fireballs from the tree above, which did little more than shave off a couple of hit points from the pig. But at least it was something.
The pig charged me twice more and got me both times, knocking my hit points down to 10% of my total.
But I managed to fire off three Darkbolts in the same amount of time. Seconds later the pig was dead, and the words ‘25 XP’ shimmered in the air.
Specifically, the point I want to make about this fight is that it is not very good. It starts off with a full description of the action and then, realizing that it’s already exhausted all of the abilities that these characters have and everyone’s still above 75% HP, it retreats into executive summary. It’s very clearly just a World of WarCraft fight, not even a Tera Online fight, as is made clear by the fact that the game will prevent you from dodging if its RNG has decided the monster’s next attack is gonna hit you.
Also, the default level of pain is apparently pretty damn high by default, if a boar attack dealing about 30% of Ian’s HP causes “agony.” I’d expect that to be set to low or nothing by default, and I’d also expect new players to get a prompt telling them how to change it the first time they took damage. In fairness, Ian isn’t a new player, and if the game recognizes that his current warlock is an alt, it may have imported his settings from his other toon.
Ian uses Stig as bait to zap the next boar from the safety of a tree, basically the same way this last fight went but with the roles reversed. Stig is not pleased.
“Okay, new plan,” I said. “From now on, we’re both going to walk next to each other, we’re both going to fight side-by-side, and nobody is going to hide up in a tree while the other person stays safe. Deal?”
“So I don’t have to be bait again?” the imp asked with a trembling voice.
“No more bait.”
“Thank you, boss,” he said, exhaling deeply. The relief in his voice was palpable.
Robert the Rock ‘n Roll Warlock would not approve, a voice in my head whispered, followed by another voice that said, Screw Robert the Rock ‘n Roll Warlock.
On the one hand, yeah, screw that guy. On the other hand, fuck Stig, too. He’s been completely self-serving the whole time he’s been here. That’s not completely unjustified, because he was pressed into service against his will (although I will note: He is an NPC, so there is nothing amoral about violating his personal autonomy – he doesn’t actually have any, he’s just a digital polyp grown by an AI with millions of appendages, an unlimited ability to regrow them, and no particular reason to care about any of them), but if you’re going to try and peel all that back and be a nice boss, you need to actually peel all that back. Right now, instead of establishing mutual respect, Ian’s establishing that he doesn’t have the guts to retaliate against Stig for long even if Stig is directly harming Ian’s interests for the sake of his own.
It’s chapter 8, but instead of boars, he’s hunting foxes. Like, really, that’s it.
I’ve done my best to give Succubus a chance. So far, that has mainly consisted of giving the benefit of the doubt about how Ian currently aspires to be kind of a shitty person. And that seems to be panning out, because Ian has already taken a stance against Robert’s jackass philosophy. Right now he’s settled into the “pretending to be nice because I’m too gutless to hurt people” thing, where he still doesn’t really express any concern for his subordinate’s thoughts, feelings, or goals, but at least he’s decided not to actively dick them over. We’re 15% in, so it’s fine that Ian’s still got room to grow, and the last time I gave this book the benefit of the doubt that Ian’s shittiness is an intentional character flaw to be overcome, that panned out.
We’re 15% of the way in. It’s time for the book to start manifesting some strengths, and so far the only thing I can say in its favor are the backhanded compliments of all the fuck ups it’s not doing. The protagonist has a motivation and he’s going for it, so at least it doesn’t have Threadbare’s problem of an aimless, unmotivated plot where things just happen, one after another. The game world is extremely derivative, but at least that means it’s automatically designed to be a game, instead of hiding its game elements for fifteen chapters like Awaken Online did.
The thing is, so far Succubus hasn’t risen above “don’t fuck up.” If it keeps that up, it’s going to end up south of Threadbare. Threadbare fucked up hard, but it also had really good bits, and that’s ultimately better than a consistently mediocre experience.
I’ll at least give this until the hook kicks in, though. The interactions between Stig and Ian have been reasonably interesting, and so long as it doesn’t fall into the trap of “expressing concern for others’ well-being makes it okay to treat them like objects with no goals of their own,” the interactions between Ian and his succubus sidekick should be enough to at least string this book along to three out of five stars.
We begin with Ian picking up a quest to kill some bandits. This is not a good sign. Succubus does not have Threadbare’s talent for making fight scenes interesting. They read closer to a police report on a WoW quest than to an actual fight. Ian ends up locked in deadly combat with bandits as soon as he sets foot in their territory, and things go downhill from there.
I would have been toast no matter what, but it happened a little faster than you’d think because the woman was wearing an incredibly tight-fitting leather vest with nothing else on underneath. The deep V-shaped neck showed quite a bit of cleavage, and I have to commend the game programmers: they’d really figured out the physics of making boobs bounce up and down as women ran.
I stood there in shock, hypnotized by the bouncing breasts, and before I knew it I was dead.
What is it with protagonists of these kinds of harem anime-ish stories and being completely paralyzed at the site of boobs, or otherwise being completely incapacitated at the sight of sexy women? Why does every protagonist who has “bang a hot chick” as a goal also have to be driven into an immediate stupor by the sight of one? This guy’s an adult, why does he react to boobs like a fourteen year old? And if the target audience of this is fourteen year olds, why is the protagonist an adult? He’s not suffering the onerous demands of a manager who could plausibly map to a teenager’s experience with a teacher, he’s looking for work before his savings run out and he loses his apartment. The position of relatable hard luck he starts from is one that’s only relatable to people who are college graduates going nowhere with their degree (or who dropped out after finding themselves unable to get one), and yet his attitude towards sex is that of someone who hasn’t even figured out how to watch porn without their parents looking, let alone someone who’s actually had a girlfriend or two. Even if he’s particularly luckless in the girlfriend department, dude has internet and has played this game before. How is he not entirely used to seeing these bouncing breasts already?
The rest of the chapter – the entire rest of the chapter – is spent on Ian being insulted for the skunk smell that still clings to him, and being unable to purchase any good or service that might possibly solve it, until finally a shady merchant offers him some soap. I don’t know what the point of all this haranguing of the protagonist over the skunk smell is. I don’t know why he got skunked in the first place. My willingness to tolerate this bizarre obsession with the protagonist’s terrible smell is significantly reduced by that thing where Succubus has only ever managed to cling to mediocrity so far.
I probably won’t abandon Succubus halfway through. It’s not making me actively angry at anything. What it is doing is boring me, which means we may enter into much more broad summary mode soon. I had kind of hoped that even if it sucked, Succubus would at least have the decency to be suck in a weird way. I am only 17% of the way in, so maybe they can still turn this one around.