I was lucky enough to read a beta version of this trilogy, so thank you to Phil Tucker for providing me with early access. This review is of the final product.
This was my first foray into the LitRPG (literary role-playing-game) subgenre, and I'm glad I waited. Phil's books are a pleasure to read because they're written in a "blockbuster" style: they're very cinematic, they move at a wonderful pace, the characters are fun to root for and against, and the battle scenes are creative and engaging. All these elements are on display in full force throughout “Death March,” and it led to one of the most addictive trilogies I've read in quite some time.
Exploring the world of Euphoria through the protagonist Chris is like experiencing a shiny and massive open world video game. Whenever I started playing games like The Witcher or World of Warcraft, all I wanted to do was sink dozens of hours into it, level up, discover new secrets, play with new weapons, and gain awesome powers on my quest. That feeling of excitement and discovery is captured perfectly in this story, with an added tension of knowing that Chris only has one life to live in the game: his own. Game Over is permanent. Phil does an admirable job explaining why Chris chooses which classes and abilities will help keep him alive the longest, and I kept nodding my head at the strategies employed. It made me think of what I'd do in the situation: how differently would I approach a game if I couldn't die even once?
The LitRPG elements and statistics are present throughout the story, but they're presented in a simple manner, so it never felt like I was getting bogged down with too many rules or things to remember. Even if you're not a fan of video games or RPGs, the system that Phil created is very straightforward and easy to follow. If you do happen to enjoy fantasy-based gaming, then you’ll have plenty of easter eggs and references to sift through.
The motivations, quests, and characters that Chris interacts with along the way help to flesh out an impressive and engaging world-building experience, both inside and outside of the game. There's a good balance of action and mystery, a bit of humor and perhaps a bit of romance. It all meshes together so well that the pages just flew by. The gaming world is made up of the usual classical fantasy races: goblins, ogres, undead, and the like. But Phil puts his own twist on these tropes to create fun and fresh ideas.
There’s also an overarching plot thread that revolves around Alberto, the AI that has created and maintains the Euphoria game system. The present state of near-future Earth in the book has crumbling economies, environmental disasters, and toppling governments. Alberto was designed to help usher in a solution for the human race, and somehow Euphoria is the key. There are tantalizing hints of something larger at play as the story develops beyond Chris’ Death March journey…
If you're a fan of Phil's previous works, The Chronicles of the Black Gate series, of the in-progress Godsblood trilogy, then reading this new series is a no-brainer. If you're on the fence, then I encourage you to check out this fast-emerging LitRPG fantasy subgenre that seems to have exploded over the past couple of years. Highly addictive, imaginative, and entertaining, this series is level 50 awesome.
8.8/10 - Adam Weller
I received an advanced reader copy of Death March in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Phil Tucker for the opportunity.
Death March, the first entry in the LitRPG Euphoria Online trilogy was my first time reading Tucker's work although I am familiar with him from the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off. I am also pretty new to this blossoming and booming subgenre of computer game RPG inspired fantasy. Having recently enjoyed Andrew Rowe's Sufficiently Advanced Magic and the fact that I'm currently replaying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim it seemed only right that I leapt at the chance to review this story early and carry on with those vibes.
The main character Chris is a college lecturer and an ex-professional gamer who resides in the not too distant future in approximately 2050 A.D. Advancements to our current technology and existence are realistically presented and projected in this almost sci-fi environment. Chris has quite a few things haunting his mind at the moment most notably caused by the fact his brother could be facing the death penalty and also that he and his girlfriend have recently split up. Surprisingly, after weeks of radio silence, his ex-girlfriend offers him a ticket to the new computer game experience everyone is talking about. Euphoria Online, where you don't just play or see the gaming environment, you live it. Chris accepts the chance and decides to play it on the hardest mode, Death March, and if he survives 6-months in-game play then his brother could be granted a pardon. The only issue is that during this most difficult of settings if he dies in the game then it is game over in real life too!
At 70,000 words Death March was an extremely enjoyable, fast, and exciting journey and Chris was a protagonist worth rooting for due to the extremities placed on his scenario and fate. This novel features sections where the main character explains leveling up, new skills, statistics upgrades, the in-game world, local environments, and the monsters lurking throughout as he learns it himself for the first time which creates great affinity. Unfortunately, Chris soon finds himself seriously underpowered in a very difficult area which is haunted by Ogres, Goblins, Wraiths, Dread Lords and even a Wyvern. Every choice he makes could mean life or death which is familiar to the Fighting Fantasy novels I used to read yet there is no cheating and turning back to the last page here. Death March also includes puzzle rooms, boss battles, and confrontations with certain characters whose loyalties are uncertain.
Initially, I thought we might spend the whole narrative just following Chris solo throughout his hardships, however, I'm pleased to announce that there is an eclectic and colourful mix of supporting characters here to root for too. In this advanced gaming world, a few standout individuals were non-player characters such as an enthusiastic goblin that's lovingly named Dribbler. Character development was surprisingly deep and believable for a relatively short novel.
Death March is gripping, with intense action segments, awesome characters, and a detailed magic and perks system. I don't know how complex this is compared to other entries in the LitRPG genre but to me, it seemed well thought out and interesting and I'd say even someone new to LitRPG could start here and be rewarded. We don't visit too vast an amount of the world throughout this narrative but for what we witness I can confirm that the world-building is smooth, clear, precise and colourful. The ending offers a rollercoaster of adrenaline and wraps things up nicely. Although there are unanswered issues and I was left wondering what may follow next, this does work perfectly as a self-contained novel. Death March is exciting, engaging, but more importantly, it's great fun. All the books in this series have been completed so there shouldn't be too long a wait between the release dates either.
8/10 - James Tivendale
8.4/10 from 1 reviews
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