Okay, so this review ended up being way later than I had anticipated. Unfortunately, I’ve been in a bit of an emotional/motivational slump for the past couple of months and this has impacted on a lot of my more creative and feelings-intense hobbies. Of which reading and reviewing is one. So I apologise to all of those anticipating reviews from me, they are still in the pipeline. I just haven’t been in the right headspace, and might take a while to get back into the rhythm of things.
With regards to HOPE Engine, I had been looking forward to it, given my enjoyment of my previous LitRPG book, Battle Spire. It seemed to have the sort of underdog main character that I’m fond of too, so that was definitely a plus starting off.
HOPE Engine follows Severo, a new graduate who has chosen to spend the majority of his life in the Fantasy MMO named Tulgutha, rather than face the real world on the brink of war. While he finds himself enjoying the game, he seems to have joined up at a time where an army of glitched NPCs is taking out player settlements. And their next target is his starter village. Banding together with some displaced player characters, he tries to ready his followers for war. On top of all that, strange things are starting to happen in the real world as well.
I’m not sure quite how I feel about HOPE Engine, and a lot of that is down to events about two thirds through that are a bit… spoilery. I will discuss them, but later in the review.
Given that this is a LitRPG, the actual game portion plays a big part in how it comes across. My previous experience of the genre, while limited, had made me expect something reasonably crunchy, with a lot of numbers that you could potentially lift from the book and use elsewhere. The numbers were definitely there, but they were a lot less prominent. Given that the main character is trying to speed through the whole levelling up process, it does make sense, but there are times where the combat can seem a bit arbitrary. I’ve been a low level player against enemies way above my level, and for someone who is meant to be a low level newbie he does get away with a lot more than you would expect. Some of that does get explained by the end, but it’s still distracting in the moment. The main draw for HOPE Engine‘s RPG setting was actually the NPCs. If I’m honest, the other player characters were a bit underwhelming compared to some of the NPCs, in particular Horace. Horace is the first minion that Severo finds in the game, a cultist who both believes him to be an incarnation of a dark god and is perfectly aware that he is just another player. Horace is easily my favourite part of the book, because he can absolutely be counted on to be the agent of chaos that messes up or inadvertently accelerates Severo’s plans. He tells Severo that he’ll ease up on the conversions, quite happily making alterations to new cultist robes throughout the conversation. I look forward to seeing more of Horace.
Right, so now to mention the part that has been bugging me, which is primarily related to revelations about what has been happening to Severo in the real world while he was focusing on taking down an army several times his size. As it turns out, an incident towards the beginning where he had to be evacuated from the game to prevent getting some kind of MMO-induced virus causes a shady group to take an interest in him, and deliberately trap him in the game while they carry out a variety of augmentations on him. So when he inevitably wakes up in the last chapter, he finds that what felt like a few weeks or months to him was actually 2 years. Which raises the question of how much of his interactions with the other players that he allies with are genuine, given that it should be pretty obvious when someone that you are spending a lot of time with gets stuck in a loading screen for a couple of months. With those interactions in doubt now, it sort of tempers whatever enjoyment I got from player interactions. Given that HOPE Engine ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger I imagine that it will get tackled in the sequel, but for now it’s something that just bugs me.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, although my thoughts on the last third or so are decidedly mixed. The RPG world is a bit vague at times, but issues with the realism of it are more than balanced out by some great characters, in particular head minion Horace. The cliffhanger ending does intrigue me enough to want to pick up the sequel whenever it comes out. 3.5/5
Next review: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett