This is a brief review of Travis Bagwell’s “Awaken Online 3: Evolution”. As noted, this is the 3rd book in the ‘Awaken Series” and is categorized as a science fiction litRPG.
A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. This is the third book in the series, and I was really looking forward to seeing what came after the cliffhanger in the end of book two, where the main protagonist murders two individuals in the real (i.e. non-game) world. Although the book quickly transitions into the game world, the opening was a little disjointed, and I felt a bit of confusion that second-degree murder was treated with such a laissez-faire attitude — it had virtually no bearing on the main character’s day-to-day actions, and certainly didn’t preclude him from extensively interacting with the AI after his initial trepidations.
One thing that I really enjoyed was seeing the plot progression of the series itself — the main motif that the book presents is how the main character finds himself and aligns with his mentor / in-game deity, and this book did a great job on illustrating a concrete progression (i.e. finding the grimoire and becoming more powerful). There’s a bunch of subplots in this book, with the most memorable ones including (1) the progression of the villain Alex and (2) the backstory dealings of Claire and her efforts to expose the artificial intelligence power in the game world. There’s a fair amount of interpersonal drama between the protagonist and his aunt and friends, but I thought this was handled very well.
In retrospect, the author appears to be exceptionally good at drawing an amazing environment — the world seems really believable and the descriptions of the dungeons and various game areas were perfect. It was a nice change of pace to break out of the gloomy setting of the undead and head out to coastal areas and lush jungles. One setting that I particularly liked was the puzzle room in one of the dungeons. Most litRPG titles that I’ve read don’t have a puzzle scene, which is unusual compared to most video games, which often have at least one box puzzle (I’m looking at you Prince of Persia). To be honest, it was a little cathartic to see the exacerbation faced by the protagonist when faced with one of these puzzles. I was a little surprised that the protagonist was allowed to use non-standard game mechanics to defeat the puzzle (i.e. importing search algorithms), but similar things have been done in other titles (Gam3).
One setting issue that I found rather jarring was the fact that the story was specifically set in the year 2076, rather than the ‘vague future’. In book two, there’s a reference that the main protagonist is being paid $3,000 per month for an exclusive streaming contract, which Is only worth about $800 in money today assuming an inflation rate of 2.5% — this comes to an annual inflation adjusted salary of about $10,000 per year, which is I believe below the poverty line. Storywise, this is significant, since it breaks character to see the protagonist jump from a undercompensated gig worker to someone with fully paid room and board in a 5-star hotel. I’m also not quite sure that it’s appropriate for Alex to have a gas-powered car in 2076, but maybe that’s just me.
The characters in this title are fantastic. In particular, I enjoyed seeing the protagonist mature, and take pretty inventive approaches to combat. I also liked to see how the nemesis Alex is steadily pushed down the villain pathway, but I’m not sure if the ‘hearing voices in real-life’ is intended to illustrate increasing an increasing proclivity to sociopathic behavior or simply a harbinger to schizophrenia. Out of all the characters in this title, the most memorable character for me is Claire — she is sidelined to a relative degree in the past two books, but she really shines as the Dolores Umbridge of this title. I’m quite looking to see how she develops in the sequel. Many of the side in-game characters were fantastic, and I particularly liked the protagonist’s mentor (for his pensieve-like sessions) as well as the Tentacled Horror (what a great battle scene).
This book was definitely a page-turner — I finished the whole book in about two days. The pacing was perfect and the text flowed very well. The multiple POVs were easy to read, and I actually found the change of scene from the protagonist to Alex and Claire to be refreshing. Paragraphs were well-formatted, and grammar was perfect.
Overall, this book was great. Although it was hard to believe that the real-life murders that the protagonist committed didn’t interfere with his career as a gaming streamer, the book is well-written, enjoyable, and very interesting. Definitely recommend.