Killer Dungeon by Phil Tucker (Euphoria Online #3)

Killer Dungeon is a surprisingly emotional and philosophically ambitious conclusion to Phil Tucker’s “Euphoria Online” LitRPG trilogy. On the surface, we are introduced to new LitRPG elements such castle management and guild support, as well as some fantastic new ideas (think The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but with goblins) are revealed with humorous and awe-inspiring results. But the battles are much fewer in this novel, as Tucker spends more time focusing on the greater mysteries of the Albertus AI, creator of the Euphoria Online VR gaming world. It’s an intriguing tonal shift in the story that elevates this adventure into something unforeseen and quite special.

There are still major threats that Chris and his team must face, but time is running out: the events in Nightmare Keep begin to affect the game world at large, and more powerful heroes and enemies challenge Chris and his team every step of the way. The neighboring horde of undead grows ever more massive while the hunt for answers leads Chris into a dungeon that borders on the very gates of Hell itself. As Chris begins to realize how deep this rabbit hole goes, he if forced strategize a new set of plans to solve the underlying mysteries of the game world… and how it ties in to humanity’s survival.

As a longtime fan of Tucker’s work, I’ve come to expect that the stakes will be ramped up to epic proportions by story’s end. Killer Dungeon is no different, though in this case the stakes go far beyond the victory or defeat of its inevitable closing battle. Chris' original plan to put his own life on the line to save his brother is almost an afterthought as the real consequences of his journey are ultimately revealed. Characters die, control is lost, and morals are questioned. I was genuinely surprised to discover that I wouldn't quite know what to do when faced with the choice that Chris had to make at the end of the story. This was a very cool trick that Tucker pulled: what started as an innocuous heroic adventure abruptly shifted gears into a disquieting moral dilemma that offered no easy solutions. 

That isn't to say that this book isn't as much of a blast as the previous two. We finally leave the castle grounds and explore other parts of the game world at large. We are introduced to what the rest of the players are experiencing, and how a society of overpowered avatars function. We visit new areas of magic-infused wonder, and experience heartfelt moments of companionship and romance, all leading to a series of massive battles above and below ground before tackling the final mysteries of the game world. Tucker once again nails the pacing of a blockbuster film franchise, keeping the pages flying by while showing a deft hand at designing unique abilities and epic conflicts. But since this is a review for book 3 of this trilogy, you already knew that. So, go buy this book, pop some popcorn, and enjoy the ride.

9/10 An appropriately epic finale, with an intriguing tonal shift in the story that elevates this adventure into something unforeseen and quite special.

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