So now Ian’s chipping away at his bandit quest. He has a new power that allows him to temporarily summon a four-imp hit squad to help him out on a two-minute refresh, so he just hangs around waiting for the timer to recharge between kills. This isn’t necessarily bad game design – Ian might just be pushing up against quests he’s a little underleveled for, and using what’s intended as a bosses-only panic button for clearing regular mooks. On the other hand, we’ve yet to see any sign of any stats besides health, mana, stamina, and intelligence, so giving this book the benefit of the doubt on game design decisions is probably unwise. Look at this, for example:
The bandit’s corpse yielded another 80 coppers, plus something else: a silver necklace with some sort of religious symbol made up of overlapping circles. When I inspected it, I found out it was the sign of Bartok, patron god of thieves, and added +3 to intelligence.
Why would a symbol of a thief god add intelligence and not agility or dexterity or some other stat associated with stealth? Well, because this game has two stats, which is insufficient to even cover the distinction between warrior, rogue, and mage, so the rogues have to timeshare with the mage stat, and it’s not clear if the stamina stat does anything except determine how much health you have – at which point why not just have a health total by itself?
When Ian’s stat sheet was so sparse early on, I kind of assumed it was because the author was introducing stats piecemeal rather than all at once. He felt the need to explain what Health and Mana were, after all, so maybe he was only going to have other stats added to the sheet as they became relevant, but for that to still be true it means that a god of thieves is handing out INT bonuses, which seems unlikely. If AJ Markam (our author) really was introducing stats piecemeal, now would be a spectacular time to tell everyone how DEX works, but it’s not happening.
But, wait, there’s something just a page later that makes this sloppy game design seem like peanuts. Remember how earlier I said that the best thing Succubus had managed to do so far is not fuck up, failing to manifest any strengths and instead just avoiding any serious failures? Well keep your arms and legs inside the ride, because we’re about to nosedive hard enough to make Zuula seem like sledding in a field.
As I hung back amongst the trees, trying to figure out how to handle them, I heard one of the bandits speak – a man with a full beard.
“After we eat, we should go help Von and his men with the Olmsted farm.” “They’ll wait for us, won’t they?” asked the other man, who was clean-shaven.
“Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. He can do all the hard work, and we’ll just sweep in and have fun with the wife when he’s through,” the bearded bandit laughed.
Gonna remind you that this book was released in April of 2018. This is a book which, even after Game of Thrones pushed the issues with using rape for shock value into the public consciousness of anyone who consumes significant amounts of media (which you would hope would include someone who is trying to create media professionally), asked themselves what sort of wallpaper they needed on this scene and thought to themselves “I know! Rape! That’s all in the news these days!”
My skin crawled. I knew exactly what they were talking about, and it revolted me.
Well thanks for establishing that! Have a fucking medal for being averse to rape! Let’s give you a goddamn parade because your revulsion to rape is something you think is so notable that you need to stop and point it out! It turns out I’m pretty revolted by rape, too, so revolted, in fact, that I don’t like seeing reference to it casually tossed around in a book about getting up to shenanigans with a sexy succubus sidekick! Fuck, at least Game of Thrones has the excuse that it fits the tone!
So, alright, let’s see what fascinating insights AJ Markam has about the subject of rape to justify bringing it up in what was marketed as a fun romp at a fantasy world.
“What about the kids?” the female bandit asked.
“They’re to be sold into slavery in Visiron.”
“To the orcs?”
“I don’t like messing with kids,” the woman said.
The bearded bandit shrugged. “The Spider’s orders.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” the woman said.
“No, but you like the bonus: three gold for each brat.”
The woman smirked. “I guess I can get over it, then.”
Oh, good! We’re already moving on to the next act of overt villainy tossed out for crass shock value! We’re going to go ahead and bring up another reference to hideous human rights violations in a book that aspires to be a wacky sitcom set in a full dive video game that doesn’t even have fucking gore! What’s next? Are they going to talk about how much fun they have waterboarding people? Maybe they’ll throw in some racial slurs, reduce a few more real world issues that traumatize and kill real people to fucking sign posts for shitty hack writers who can’t characterize villains without resorting to just slathering on the worst crimes they can think of onto them, practically screaming at the audience about how evil they are.
So what could possibly make this worse? Maybe a direct acknowledgement from the narrative that this kind of thing can still affect people, even if it’s fiction? You’d think that “it’s just a book” would be pretty much AJ Markam’s only possible defense at this point, right? You’d think he’d at least have the basic intelligence to make sure he doesn’t personally undermine that defense in the same chapter that he gives himself need of it.
I would’ve gone and killed the bandits anyway, even if I had to pay all of my own money to do it. The idea of what they were planning for the wife and children made my stomach churn, even if it was just a videogame.