Starving Review: AlterWorld (Play to Live Book 1) by D. Rus

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AlterWorld (Play to Live Book 1) by D. Rus (Amazon, Goodreads)

The world of literary cuisine is constantly shifting, flowing, and adapting with new sub-genres popping up all the time. One of the newest in the science-fiction and fantasy recipe book is being called the LitRPG. Concerned with merging concepts of virtual reality, video game role-playing games, and other sci-fi concepts, it is a cuisine I’ve heard of and sampled in its ur-examples, such as Sword Art Online and Ready Player One, I have yet to take a bite out of the vast array of other meals that have spawned in their wake. Today, we’ll find out exactly how well one of the most prominent of those meals, AlterWorld by Russian chef D. Rus, matches up to those previous meals.

Before we log in and strap on our swords, let’s take a look at the Starving Review Wiki:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible

As an avid gamer and oft-addict to MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games to the uninitiated), AlterWorld should cater to my tastes, using a setting of a virtual fantasy MMORPG with a tantalizing backdrop of a future Russia plagued by a syndrome where players wind up permanently stuck in virtual worlds through their equipment, even after their bodies die. This idea of a ‘perma effect’ is quite fascinating actually and could be used to explore all manner of ideas, from spirituality to philosophy to religion.

In fact, the meal starts with hints of such as our main protagonist discovers he has terminal cancer and seeks a way to outlive his death. This starts things off with a sense of urgency and tension as Max tries to not only get together the right equipment but is paced against his own impending demise. Can he discover how exactly to go ‘perma’ and at least save his consciousness if not his life?

The problem comes in that this goal is achieved before the middle course of the meal. While there are some points of intrigue beyond this, much of the dramatic tension is gone, as death is far from permanent in the virtual world with respawns and resurrection being a part of the game. There are some hints of what could be worse at the VERY end of the book, but it’s a bit too late to add any drama.

But what about the game part of the meal? Much of the appeal of the LirRPG genre to many is the concept of the game and living in the game, regardless of threat or dramatic tension. Who doesn’t enjoy a good power fantasy from time to time? That also doesn’t taste right to me and to understand that, let’s take a second to talk about the appeal of the play of an actual MMORPG.

Achievements and gaining power in an MMORPG feels good (at least in a well-designed one) as they are accomplishments that you achieve as a player. You have to work to get those levels, to get that gear, to beat those bosses. Like anything that takes effort and skill, you get that endorphin rush from finishing it and reaping the rewards of that effort.

AlterWorld makes its biggest misstep in that regard as our protagonist has almost every big accomplishment (of which he makes many quickly) is either dropped into his lap by sheer luck or relies on illogical world-building or coincidences. Even when he seems to do something based on outside-the-box thinking, it relies on such basic ideas that it is totally unbelievable a game with millions upon millions of players as AlterWorld is supposed to have wouldn’t have had others come up with the same ideas first. Trust me, if you have any familiarity with how modern MMORPG players think and work, you will understand what I mean.

The core writing is solid, at least, if a little stilted because of the translation from Russian. There are some other problematic elements, though. The side characters are rather cardboard outside of an interesting military veteran who has found a life in the virtual world after his body was ruined in war and the romance subplot is practically dead on arrival. Finally, the game itself is extremely uninteresting, essentially being a rip-off of World of Warcraft and the venerated EverQuest.

In the end, AlterWorld teases at some intriguing tastes in a fresh genre but fails to follow through, winding up a half-baked cake at best. If you really love the LitRPG genre, you might enjoy a read through, especially as it is currently free on Amazon, but if you want more than a by-the-numbers recounting of someone playing an MMO that lacks much of the philosophy and interesting ideas of the LitRPG, go somewhere else.

FINAL VERDICT: ** (Some intriguing tastes in a fresh genre but fails to follow through, winding up a half-baked cake at best.)

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