Wildcards: Book One - The Dread Pirate
At the District One Invitational, a rookie eSports team defied all odds and reached the finals. Their underdog story and humble beginnings elevated them to worldwide acclaim. Media corporations dubbed them, The Paragons. With their main competition eliminated from the tournament during the semifinals, the rookie team sailed through the live finals and won by a landslide. Their prize was to become the first ever players in the most exclusive VR game yet, Abidden.
The Paragons never celebrated that semi-final victory. They lost a friend in that match, who never appeared online again. Ten years later, the gaming landscape has changed and Abidden with it. Helena is the last remaining Paragon. Her team now consists of celebrities, influencers and musicians. Abidden has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory, but is the most streamed and viewed game in the world, despite having only a handful of players.
None of this matters to James Sylvester. Finally out of hospital, things aren't good for James. He's found himself crippled with medical debt, his gaming licence has been revoked and he's permanently lost his place in society. He now spends his days competing in illegal slum arcades to manage the repayments. When a high-profile job comes along, James gets temporary backdoor access to his blacklisted gaming account. After reactivating it for the first time in ten years, James receives an invitation that could change his life forever.
Disclaimer: This story is in no way or form associated with the works of George R. R. Martin and has no link to the popularised series, Wild Cards. This is a LitRPG story of my own creation that shares that name.
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Overall, the story is worth checking out and I think it looks promising. Though the main character is a bit confusing in his intended personality.
The style of this book is great, I can tell the author has really put some thought into the background of the world and its interactions. There's nothing here to really give criticisms on except maybe some wonky character behaviour, but well get to that further down.
The grammar's great, with very little or no mistakes per chapter. Nothing but praise from me there.
Story is a shining point for this book, it really encapsulates an aesthetic and stick with it. That aesthetic being a world in which class discrimination is turned up to 11, with people being stratified into ranks going from E-class on the very bottom to S-class at the very top.
Think of E-class like permanent dept enforced labour, with only E-sports as entertainment and a way up the ranks. While S-class is 'buy a skyscraper in an evening as a show of force' type mega-rich.
Now I gave story a four star rating becasue while the world is very fleshed out and interesting the events surrounding the main character, James, are a little too cartoonishly evil, in terms of putting him down and out for ten years.
I gave the character score a 3.5 because James seems to switch to a completely different personality after he is reunited with his Paragon friends, which are highly successful E-sports players of the VR game Abidden.
The reason I think this, is beacuse James has been downtrodden by nearly everyone for a full decade as an E-classer and has been playing illegal and shady VR games to make payments for his illegal physiatrist dept and hosptial bills (the hospital dept is the normal crippling non-illegal kind).
James is portrayed to be bitter about this to a bartender earlier in the story, and that makes perfect sense. I know if I was in James' postion I would be bitter, pessimistic, and jaded about the state of the world or at least his position in it.
However, after this point James is almost portrayed as child-like, slow, and naive. In almost every interaction he has with another person he is either shocked, dumfounded, bewildered, or a nervous wreck.
Of course, this could just be an extremely long character building process to show how he differs before and after he is successful. At least, I really hope it is.
I don't write many reviews but I thought this story was worth one. Overall a very nice start. The grammar is clean, with nothing major to jar you out of the story. The start of the story is interesting and is a slightly different take on the immersive gaming world, think Ready Player One but the corporation won. Everything is in the beginning stages but I like what I have read so far. Most important is that I wanted more to read when I caught up to the author.
"Wildcards" - The title of this work is really fitting as it feels like ice and fire reading it. Not the story mind you but this work is excellent in many aspects but utterly lacks in other ways that leave me dumbfounded how this can be one and the same work.
In my eyes the biggest strength of this work is the worldbuilding.
The story takes place in a corporate dystopia, a world where big mega corps rule over everything and society is based on a caste system. We learn about the world from the perspective of our main character who is part of the lowest caste as we follow him trying to make a living with (illegal) competetive VR gaming. We are witnesses of the sheer inhumanity of society in form of unpayable bills, segregation, and the seemingly impossible made rise to a higher caste.
How such a twisted society came to be is left up to the readers imagination (which I might add is a good thing in my eyes, nobody likes info dumps that do not progress the story, take away any imagination of the reader and would probably not make any sense from our point of view of todays society).
VR gaming seems to have replaced any other kind of entertainment and is therefore watched and practiced across all castes. The most popular one is the online multiplayer game Abidden, a fantasy VRRPG. This game is exclusive to not even a 100 players which are hired and appointed by the Abidden company but financed by their own sponsors. I think this system is compareable to Formula 1 in a way, concerning the big sums of money and the large fan base.
Our main character is obviously frustrated with his situation and we readers feel with him. The author does a really good job portraying his situation as well as his place in society. Emotions and actions are understandable or relatable. Even though his environment is pretty alien to us everything seems believeable and it just works. This is also the reason this story shot through the roof as it started.
Then through a stroke of luck our main character gets the chance to be a player in Abidden and leaving his bad life behind. We follow him inside and outside the game, meeting old and new friends and working himself slowly out of the slum he lived in.
To recap: The author has an idea that is seemingly novel compared to other stories on this site, gives us a believeable character in believeable circumstances and we get to satisfy our guilty pleasure for LitRPG, right? Wrong.
What started off really good became a complete disaster as soon as the story shifts its focus on the ingame world. The problems our main character faced in the beginning disappear completely and some in the absurdestly ways I could never come up with. The question of how to have enough money for eating changed to which goblins to kill next. The medical issues changed to issues about which settings to choose in the game.
The main character was presented as clever, making the best of his shitty situation. Now he is overwhelmed from tying his shoes. Emotional conversations with his friends changed to conversations with his AI on how to display some tables. His immense struggles of the past are overcome by talking to his friends about it once, that's it.
The whole amazing set up of the author just falls apart.
The MC's friends from the beginning were just replaced by his new ones and never heard of again. Why does the author even create deeper connections if they have no relevance in the future. The new ones on the other hand treat him like family right from the start even though they only played together in a team years ago and have not even seen each others faces ever before. This is again just a jump from credible to unbelieveable that shows itself in the whole story.
Yet the worst offenders are the NPCs. I will talk about it later.
This is the worst offender here for several reasons. First off I want to make clear that some of the aforementioned points are already part of my style review as I understand style more or less the way the author brings the story and characters to the readers. Therefore the big drop in quality of the story and characters is bound to the style and could have been avoided even if the author would stick to what he is good in, and it is definitely not the game aspect.
The author struggles immensily with the balance between the game and the real world aspect as well as with the high amount of characters that suddenly popped up as soon as our main character joined Abidden.
STYLE - INGAME
In the beginning we learned about Abidden through its broadcasts of raids and the conversations of people watching these. This was very well done.
The very first chapters of our MC in the world of Abidden have to be the low point of the whole work. We see our MC quarrel with NPCs, choose some familiar in some confusing setting, save some slave in the most cliche way possible and walk through some forest and killing stuff. The author bombards us with useless notification windows and monologue about weapon and player stats and switches the MC's personality from outwitting gods to asking NPCs about the game rules.
Watching the MC play a RPG as in 1,000,000 other works on this site is not only boring but the author is not even learning from others mistakes and repeats them. You could delete every chapter where we follow the MC ingame and the story would not miss a thing. There is absolutely nothing in them that is needed for the story to progress. The author suffers by writing it, the story suffers by having it, the readers suffer by reading it.
If I were the author I would keep the ingame stuff to an absolute minimum or even leave it out completely. The broadcasts are written so well and have a really good athmosphere and also work really well in a bar setting. It is hard to believe the same author wrote them.
But the worst of it all are the many different POVs and especially the NPC POVs.
Why do NPCs get a POV in the first place? I think the author like many others want to give us some outside thoughts that portrait the MC in a different light. While this can bring some understanding about the decisions of characters in the MCs surroundings it has absolutely no place here. My whole immersion died when my POV was a NPCs suddenly thinking human. The world of Abidden is a game, NPCs are AI, why is the author going this way?
As main locations or rather settings we have in this story: the public (e.g. bars and the broadcasting), MCs private life, Abidden management, other Abidden players. And now we add to that the personal life of NPCs. Wow. "Wildcards" is a fitting name title indeed.
STYLE - OUTSIDE OF GAME
This took a downfall, too. As already mentioned, we see MC talk with an AI so much about table styling and statistics that I am wondering why the author did not just include some YouTube link to a statistics class and leave it be. If this info dump is really necessary, why is it not given to us in some other way? MC monologues are really lazy writing, talking to an AI does not change that fact.
Also we get too much POVs that are not the MC's one. For some reason the author decided that every side character needs his extensive screen time. This also spoonfeeds the readers everything. Apparently we are not allowed to find things out about the new rival from the MC perspective but we have to sit at his table while he talks down to his subordinates so we can understand that he is a one dimensional evil guy right out of a childrens comic book.
As this review is already longer than some novels on this site I want to conclude:
The start is phenomenal. Everything fits there. The author struggles with adding the ingame aspect as well as the high number of characters in a meaningful way and the whole work drops dignificantly in quality.
Just the amount of work I put into this review should be a testament to the great potential this work has and I hope the author decides to revisit some of his work and/or change back to his strong writing for future updates. I will continue to follow this work and update my review if things change.
I must say that the author's writing style is quite good and I can appreciate a man or woman who would rewrite their chapter one midway through a book, just to keep the quality up and the coherency of the story intact. As in fact most authors will try and finish an arc or story first before a rewrite making it not only annoying to match the story up, but also affecting the quality of the whole book. And the plot so far is quite unique compared to other litRPGs, not that boring plain op from the start. Unless you count powerful friends ;), but also contains details on the MC's present and past life story.
It is still early in this story's lifetime. But I must admit I am waiting eagerly to see a new chapter, and a small bundle of joy joins me when I see it in my follow list.
The story is well written and not typical of other stories in this genre. There is more focus on the players real life, the business side of thing and the relationship between the players.
The story is set in the future, which I would both call and "Science and Technology Utopia" and a "Technological Dystopia". Depends on which side of the rich scale you are in.
I really recommend people reading this and checking it out. All said and done I love this story and hope the author updates often.
Disclaimer: I am supporting the author on Patreon, so I might be a little biased.
update: slow progression along with slow updates combine to ruin my enthusiasm for the story, and I no longer hold any anticipation as to what will happen. An average litrpg story with a supposed OP MC, but we're moving too slow to ever see if he's actually op or not. Also, for some reason I don't like the writing style as much as I first did. Seems quality is sorta dropping, and grammar errors are popping up. The MC's overall personality is good, just that there's not enough development to see how he'll respond to different situations.
The rest of the review are my old thoughts.
Hey! I have read up to chapter 18 as of 8/3, and I find the story to be amazing.
I've loved your style, story, character development, and grammar has been excellent, I think I only saw one error.
The only reason I marked your story score and style score by half a star was because some parts of the story, like his quest for the platinum player, and chapter 18's pantheon scene, I had a little bit of confusion understanding what was going on. For example, the chapter ended without showing James' participation in the quest, and the next chapter announced him completing it very vaguely, so I almost didn't catch that. Also, for chapter 18, I found that James realizing the goddess' plans was a little confusing.
Otherwise, I'm loving the story so far, and I will edit this review once I've read another 5-10 chapters.
This is really well written and the set up for the story is quite neat. The worldbuilding is great, but be advised that pretty much the entirety of the first book is outside of vr.
The author has done a great job of establishing characters and setting their motivations for what I expect will be a grand adventure. But if you are the type of reader that requires constant action and overpowered mc's, this might not be the story for you.
The setup is kind of like The Count of Monte Cristo in a future dystopia with VR.
Really one of the better new stories on RR. It is a lot of fun and has good LitRPG elements so far.
It has VR and IRL elements and does them very well. The story wraps you up and the characters are great. Give it a shot.
It started strong but as others have noted the actual gameworld is a little dull and generic compared to out of game. I would expect something a bit more unique from a game that is made for and balanced around a small handful of players.
I feel like for two or three months now the sporadically released chapters have been just talking about what is going to happen next. This wouldnt be as much of an issue if you are reading this in the future but its little like a striptease that keeps pausing in the middle.
Overall a decent book, but one that so far has fallen a little short of its initial premise.
PS: I just checked and this current arc has been going on for more like four months. It started, then we had a break for several chapters in the real world, then we had the cut up teaser chapters.
I lost interest in the story, mostly due to the game world.
Turns out I wanted to read about a corproate dystopia more than I wanted to read about a VRMMORPG.
All the story so far is worldbuilding out of game.
The worldbuilding is very good. Some of the best I've read for a vrmmorpg.
There are 19 chapters before we even get to character creation.
So often with vrmmorpgs, the in game, and out of game don't feel seamless, but more like two stories that have been shuffled into eachother.