What is Wicked West?
Sammy Howell died at 89, but she signed a contract to continue on as a digital avatar. She didn’t expect it would be the bloodiest wild west game ever.
When Sammy passed, she chose to continue on as a digital avatar in a game world, downloaded and considered dead by her family, but her avatar could stream games and earn revenue. Revenue that could be put toward helping better her granddaughter, Winifred’s, life.
Sammy could be her guardian angel.
She wanted a basic farming simulator, perhaps something set in the 1800’s, like those old shows she used to watch.
That’s how she found herself in Wicked West.
What Sammy didn’t realize was that Wicked West wasn’t some hokey and fun old-timey show. Wicked West is a bloody war between players in an wild west setting. Kill or be killed. Survive or… wait an hour and try to survive again.
And if she doesn’t start figuring it out soon, she’s going to fail in her only promise to herself…
To spend her death helping Winnie.
WICKED WEST: A LIT-RPG WESTERN by Matthew Davenport was a hesitant buy for me as I am a big fan of the Andrew Doran series by the author (Indiana Jones vs. Cthulhu basically) but I’m not a fan of Lit-RPG at all. I think the only Lit-RPG I’ve ever enjoyed has been the Matt Dinniman DUNGEON CRAWLER CARL books. Still, I had an extra Kindle Unlimited slot so I decided to give it a shot and had a lot of fun with it.
The story has a unique premise that combines Upload and Red Dead Redemption Online. Samantha Howell is an octogenarian grandmother who discovers that her insurance covers an option to upload her post-mortem to a digital afterlife based on a variety of popular video games. Samantha is initially nonplussed by this and has almost no knowledge of what sort of games or afterlife she’s going to be choosing but clicks yes anyway. She ends up in Wicked West, a simulation of life in Westerns, and almost immediately gets shot in the face.
After respawning, Samantha is forced to acknowledge that she’s trapped in an environment that is more Westworld than Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. Death may be cheap but the pain and confusion of being killed most certainly is not. The MMORPG is also overrun with griefers and jerks who prey upon helpless noobs that are just trying to orientate themselves to their new eternity.
Samantha soon finds out that life isn’t great for 1st levels like her and the conflict between her own morality with the simulated nature of the game irritates her as well. The fastest way to level up is to be a murderous bandit after all. Really, it seems like she would have been a lot happier in a reality based on Star Dew Valley but you can’t switch afterlives until you’ve hit level 250. So Samantha starts gathering a posse of her fellow white hats and tries to figure out if there’s something they can do about the obnoxious jerks in her afterlife. Also, how to figure out how some players monetize their feeds in order to get some money to her adult but struggling daughter back in the real world.
I have to say that I like this book even if it’s fairly low stakes and more of a slice-of-life than an adventure. After all, Samantha’s biggest worry is being temporarily inconvenienced by griefers as opposed to being permanently killed. There’s a lot of fun humor from her bemusement at the idiosyncrasies of how MMORPGs work as well. A murder spree, for example, would hurt her reputation but not so much that brushing her horse a few times wouldn’t get it back up to “Beloved.” The NPCs are also irritated with her constantly questioning the logic of some quests like why does she get to keep a horse if she’s been hired to steal it?
Samantha isn’t like the vast majority of Lit-RPG heroes with their large harems and incessant power gaming. She’s a likable protagonist who is mostly interested in figuring out how to help her daughter and enjoy this weird new world without having to engage in too much violence. The fact she’s really good at it and head shots are instantly lethal, no matter what your level, gives her at least some ability to fight back as well. Plus, she gets a talking horse and an old coot miner with their own secret past.
If you’re looking for a enjoyable fantasy/scifi adventure without much in the way of permanent violence or hostility then this is a fun story to engage with. I have a lot of questions about how the world works and will probably pick up the sequel when it comes out. It’s not an absolute must buy but definitely a good afternoon’s read.