Michael Atamanov: Videogame Plotline Tester

Videogame Plotline Tester: Dark Herbalist #1
by Michael Atamanov
(LitRPG, fantasy)

I picked this book up because I was curious about the LitRPG genre. According to other reviewers on Goodreads, this book is a good example of the LitRPG genre. Those reviewers rated this book highly.

I cannot.

This is NOT a well-written book. I can’t even blame that on the fact that it was originally written in Russian and then translated. That could have caused strange word choice or different cultural situations. (There’s a scene where the MC meets a lady who has just come out of the shower, and she ends up “accidentally” dropping her towel in front of him — a co-worker but otherwise complete stranger — and doesn’t seem to mind at all. Not something that’s believable in the US, but might be seen as okay elsewhere. That’s not the type of thing I’m complaining about.)

To give a fair look at this book, I’ll start with the things I enjoyed. The premise, for one. Essentially, a company is hiring gamers to play rare characters (race & class) in their MMORPG in order to prove to the customers that they don’t have to play the typical human fighter or elven bowman to enjoy the game. It’s indicated that there’s a YouTube-esque video stream associated with this game where players can show off their exploits, though details on that are hazy. This is a fun concept. And the game itself is written in such a way that I would want to play it, if a single-player version of it existed. (I don’t do MMO’s.)

The character set the MC is given to play also was interesting. He’s supposed to be a goblin herbalist. (Other testers are given things like dryad dancer, or naiad trader, or orc builder.) It’s a really great concept. I’d love to have an RPG where you have the option to try a non-combatant role instead of the traditional warrior or mage class. However (and here we get into the stuff that bugged me), the MC didn’t do the non-combatant stuff much at all. He’s an herbalist? Oh, well, we’ll have him collect plants in-between taming a wolf pack and making a dart gun and killing frogs. But when it comes time for a potion to be useful, we’ll assume he was able to craft a high-level potion that does exactly what he needs it to even though all he’s been able to do so far is make very minor healing potions.

Also, there was no real conflict in this book. The MC had every problem he faced solved either by coincidence, the aforementioned unbelievable potion-making ability, or someone else. An assassin (another player who enjoys PKs (player-kills, rather than taking out the monsters)) is after him? Oh, well, send a message out and let a bunch of other players handle him for you at no cost to you. You need to beat some challenges in the goblin village? Well, let your sister (who acts nowhere near the 14-years-old she’s supposed to be) do all the heavy-lifting while you pretend to do the work. You need money in real life? Well, look at that, you (accidentally) found bugs in the game, so we’re going to give you a bonus. Your NPC friends died? Well, we don’t want to lose their unique programming anyway, so we’ll resurrect them for you.

Anyway. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that this book had a good premise, but very poor execution. If this is a “great example of LitRPG,” then consider it my first and last foray into that sub-genre.

Rating: 1.5 stars.

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