Book Title: Warcross (Duology) Author: Marie Lu Number of pages: 368
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Vibrant settings with augmented reality and video gaming at the forefront
– Warcross as a game, although flashy, has so many moving parts that do not make sense in the grand scheme of the competition
– The pro-gaming community is diversely represented
– Plot is predictable; romance is rather bland
I am transferring this review from Goodreads to my blog. I have many thoughts to share. Please be advised I write this from my own gaming experience.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Warcross from PenguinTeen at an author breakfast
Honestly, Warcross isn’t terrible. It’s just that the flashiness of the world sparked more questions than answers. So if there’s any consolation to everything I’ll say hereafter, it’s that my nitpicky thoughts will not be in the minds of many readers. It’s still a fully formed narrative that utilizes Warcross, as a game, to be a vessel for conveying Emika and Hideo’s story. My main concern is with the design of the game and how little I thought it was explored.
I’ll gladly admit that the game itself is a thrill to follow; especially when it’s set in vibrant Tokyo with sub-characters who, among other things, are fully invested in their craft while breaking the typecast mold of what “gamers” are and can be. It’s a thing for everyone, and Warcross exemplifies that flawlessly.
But I still have concerns, and so I’ll try my best to outline them clearly. There may be slight spoilers to properly explain myself, so you can read under the spoiler tags at your discretion.
Let me break it down for you (from what I understand):
Warcross is the polygamist child of Super Smash Bros., DOTA/League of Legends, Overwatch (a la Team Fortress), many MMORPGs…and apparently at times, Mario Kart. Top tier players worldwide are pooled into a draft and get chosen to compete on teams of 5 (each typically having a standard mix of DPS/Damage dealers, Tank, Supports, etc.) After players are drafted, teams get a month to hone their roles, teamwork etc. before the competition goes live. It follows a one-game elimination tournament set in various maps/landscapes (like how 74th/75th Hunger Games was on different terrain). The goal of each Warcross match (that I know of at least) is to obtain your opponent’s artifact, a trinket of sorts.
8 Criticisms To Warcross As A Game:
Thought #1: Warcross’ draft is counter-intuitive for all parties.
It’s fair to say that winning is better than losing. And Warcross, by-in-large, is team oriented, so it is made known that when players do stupid shit, it jeopardizes their team. Simple. However, it then mentions that many teams are sponsored by wealthy patrons. Like many pro-gaming teams today (in real life), visibility is brainless branding, so it only makes sense that the longer a team stays active in any tournament, the better it is for those who holds a stake in the team. So why would it be that these patrons fund unfounded teams that have to be built-and-rebuilt each year through the Warcross Draft? Would it not make sense to have an already established team of players enter together, or at a minimum, be so familiar with playing together that they would just draft each other when the time comes?
The rules established in Warcross is not made clear, so there’s a dissonance that forms between what the teams ought to want and the players that find themselves in the draft. For Emika’s sake, it is certainly based on circumstance that she’s able to partake but I did not find her draft selection warranted based on curiosity (?) and seeing-something-in-said-special-snowflake (?).
Thought #2: The failure of safeguards for plots sake.
I’m not saying it’s impossible for Emika to be as capable as she is re: “hacking/glitching”. I’m just saying that as the pre-eminent game featuring augmented reality, I would hope that Henka Games (developer of Warcross) would at least employ White Hat Hackers to limit the slew of other hackers (sans Emika) who maneuver their way through the dark web.
Got hacked once? Shame on you.
Got hacked several hundred times? Damn, that’s some awful protection.
The argument can be made that Hideo, Warcross’ CEO, made the conscious decision to lessen its security (but why?), to essentially give Emika a free pass into his information systems to get shit done (and he does that to a certain extent). But I’m certain that Emika was a nobody to him before she sparked the whole predicament, so the world building from a technological side is extremely questionable.
Thought #3: The diluted importance of player roles (and it’s inclusion).
Now that we established that Emika made entry into the Draft and ready to participate in Warcross, we should consider the importance of “roles”.
Teams in Warcross generally have players assigned to specific roles (e.g. damage dealers, tanks, supports). But what is the point of having roles when it’s being used inconsistently (if at all)? There is little merit in building that aspect of the world if it isn’t applied in practice. I understand that positional roles become more fluid as most games progress (and as you learn more neat tricks that build upon the current meta), but throwing around namesake roles like “fighter” and “thief” while not really showcasing that in practice is kind of a let down. Only the Shield and Architect were really featured, and that was mostly by circumstance.
So what is the point other than having those buzzwords?
Thought #4: Real time in-game commentary heard by Emika re: POV
So, I don’t know about you, but the idea of soundproofing during tournaments is to achieve:
a) to cut yourself off from undue advantage from listening in on your opponents strategies (naturally);
b) to dilute the rowdy spectacle of the audience; and,
c) to also mute in-game analysts and commentators critique you that would otherwise gnaw away at your mentality if you make a move that could raise/lower one’s morale or forcibly make you think of something that might not have occurred as you play.
For Warcross to have these systems in place but then allow, as displayed through her POV, Emika capable of listening in on said commentators specifically — whether by her glitching in or not (it’s not really made clear) — is simply not fair nor is it written in a way that made sense in cultivating a pro-gaming environment.
I will admit that although it is not Emika’s objective to “win”, by having that ‘assistance’, it does give her the chance of staying in the tournament longer…so that could it be it. The caveat is that Hideo clearly indicates that he has no part in how the games play out (e.g. how she got drafted). So I am just baffled.
Thought #5: “Real Money Trading” during a championship
The thing about most video games in a tournament setting is that there’s typically a neutral playing field players start off with and the only thing you bring in is your acquired skill (and teamwork). So can you tell me why Warcross has been designed to allow players to bring in “power ups” in their inventory to be used in the game? By power-ups, I mean just imagine if you were playing Super Smash Bros. and you were able to suddenly whip out a Smash Ball.
That is just awful (and unfair) game mechanics. It’s great that it’s flashy as hell, but it rewards those with the most money. While it is true that many pro-gamers are able to reap the benefits of their fame and skill, most of the time (if not always) what they gain are benefits of aesthetic value and NOT itemized attributes that could affect the course of a game or future games. Sooooo…
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the story acknowledges ‘paying to win’, but paying to win in a real time strategy game is a different realm of video games than ones that reward time and effort re: MMOs. If that were the case, then all new Wildcard entries into the draft would be rich as heck and not the myriad of characters featured in this story.
Add to that most games, and I do believe Warcross should also fall under this category, would have their matches paused/halted/disqualified due to these power ups. But no, the hosts of Warcross literally let this play out and “investigate” without pause. Hmmmm…
Thought #6: Romance as bland as unseasoned chicken breast (and it’s effect on Plot)
I can understand the romance developing from celebrity to something more (because famous people are !!!!) but I personally could not jive with it. That’s all. The chemistry read more to me like “wow…your brain is sexy, tell me more!” rather than “have unborn children”. I don’t know. To each their own.
I’m also of the belief that Warcross could have been a lot stronger without the need to push the romance but to let it develop as a naturally occuring thing (which is why my ship, if I were to have one, is NOT the main couple).
But speaking of romance, let me also just tangent to say this: if you’re attending [an event], and then your bae calls you up and is like “come over” and you leave the room and indicate that you’re “fetching drinks for everyone”, you best believe that as a friend, I will follow up if you go MIA without notification. Maybe not the cops, but at least someone. This isn’t about coddling someone, it’s literally so that we don’t have to find out days later that you’re actually dead in a ditch (or something equally awful). Just saying.
There’s also this one moment where her team literally says to her (paraphrased) “okay, you can chill today without the team, but after this, it’s all about the team!” and then she proceeds to spend another 100 pages spread throughout the rest of the book with Hideo. Cmoonnnnnn.
Thought #7: Narrative omissions
Warcross is narrated in first person, yeah? So it is of course reasonable to utilize pacing to omit critical scenes with word vomit-y dialogue to encourage “building narrative suspense”. I’m just saying that thisstuff happens, whether you like it or not.
Thought #8: The twist is predictable
Skepticism is your friend.
So yes, while I’m stuck with giving the stink eye to most of the above concerns, this is still a book that’s near and dear to my heart from a gaming standpoint…which is all to say I would still recommend it?
Warcross is like the Red Queen of Sci-Fi. That’s what I’ll leave it is.